Lawson writes . . . sharing thoughts and memories

September 29, 2010

The Winecoff Fire

Filed under: Uncategorized — lawsonjolly @ 5:00 am

In 1913, the Winecoff Hotel opened in Atlanta on Peachtree Street.  It was declared “absolutely fireproof” and was built without sprinklers, fire escapes, or even an alarm system.  The 15-story hotel was a model for hotels.

Yet, the worst hotel fire in U.S. history occurred December 7, 1946 when the Winecoff did burn!  One hundred and nineteen people died in that fire.  Many of them died as a result of jumping out of windows.  There were Christmas shoppers, and tourists registered.  There was a group of teenagers registered who were attending a conference. 

The hotel reopened in April 1951 as the Peachtree Hotel on Peachtree.  However, it was never successful because of the tragic memories most people had.  My parents were part of that culture that feared such a fire could happen again.

I well remember their response when I shared with them that I was encouraged to attend the state convention of the Beta Club of America.  They frowned upon the possibility. The sponsor assured them that it was safe and that I needed to be there as I had been nominated for state president.  With those two factors, they agreed I could attend.

The hotel had not been open for more than a year, and I assumed that rates were very low because of the lack of people who were willing to stay there.  I soon learned that my parents were not the only ones with fears.  There were only a few clubs that were using this hotel.  Most groups were staying elsewhere.

I vividly remember the remodeled hotel.  The room was nice, and now there were sprinkler systems, an alarm system, and instructions as to evacuation routes.  I know that we talked about this a great deal.  I am sure that our parents had planted some fear in us.  I could remember photographs . . . and the story of how one man used a board to crawl across from another building to rescue his mother.  Being in the hotel caused much discussion about what we remembered.  We probably talked about what we would do if a fire started.

We were there only a couple of nights, but I doubt that we were very comfortable.  Even though it had been several years since the fire, and more than a year since the reopening, there was an eerie feeling with the thought of a previous group of teenagers being killed in the fire.

The fire still remains the worst in our history.  To know that one hundred and nineteen people died,  scores of others carried physical disabilities all their lives, and certainly all survivors lived their years with emotional scars, one cannot help but grieve over such a tragedy.

Yet, those who perished did not die in vain, nor did the survivors suffer for naught. Because  of this horrible tragedy, building codes and requirements for such places changed immediately around the world. 

From such hotel fires to men and women in war, we live a safer life today.  Regrettably, many times others must suffer or give their life in order that we can enjoy a better life.

That is what my Christ did.  He suffered and died that I can live . . . and that I can live my life more abundantly.

“I am come that they might have life, and have it to the full.”  (John 10:10)  “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Mark 10:45)



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