I have a copy of you book and enjoyed reading it. It is an excellent account of the fire. My dad was not in the fire, however it occurred on his 37th birthday. He and mom lived in Dahlonega, Ga. at the time and had to go to Atlanta the next week for an appointment. They passed the hotel "remains" at that time and were overwhelmed by the scene.
I found out about the Winecoff fire when I was in the 5th or 6th grade from an article in Guideposts Magazine in 1965 or 1966. One of the survivors wrote an article about surviving the fire for the magazine. Are you aware of that article and do you know if I could find a copy of it anywhere? I would love to have a copy of the article. I appreciate anything you can share on this and thank you for writing a great book on the fire.
Thanks for writing. The Guideposts Magazine article you read appeared in the June 1965 issue. It was written by survivor Gregory Vojae. His room, 1014, was on the Ellis Street side of the building. His article tells of his struggle against panic when he realized he was trapped by the fire.
Reciting the 91st psalm he prayed for Divine guidance. In his article he argues convincingly that it came to him, granting him a sense of calm, and commanding that he not rush his escape. When his only hope for survival arrived he was ready and empowered to seize it.
Outside his window and ten floors above Ellis Street he swung from a his sheet rope to a manila rope and then down to a fireman's ladder.
Gregory Vojae's amazing story is re-told on page 73 of our book, The Winecoff Fire: The Untold Story of America's Deadliest Hotel Fire.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Sunday, November 4, 2012
|Dresser Recovered From The Winecoff Hotel|
Allen B. Goodwin
Sunday, October 7, 2012
|This Winecoff Hotel Room Is |
Believed To Be The Bridal Suite
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Dear Mr. Goodwin,
I just finished your book this weekend. I plan to reread it. It is REAL! It breaks your heart on one hand but makes you marvel at the human spirit on the other. I love the fact that the little boy whose father threw him to safety became a doctor like his dad had been. Thanks again for your book.
Sunday, July 29, 2012
Dear Mr. Goodwin:
The book arrived today and is FABULOUS! Thank you so much for signing
it. It's a present for my brother and I know he's going to love it.
Thank you again.
Thanks for the kind words and all best to you and your brother.
I gave the book to my brother last night and he was over the moon, and your signing it made it so much more special. Lately, due to rising gasoline costs he has to take two buses and a train to get to work in another county and uses the time to catch up on his reading. He does enjoy non-fiction, and in particular, books on "disasters" (poor term, I know) especially when they are as thorough a work as yours (really cover the history of the "situation" as well the the event itself and the aftermath). I often read these after he does (he never tells me anything that would spoil the reading) and I find I am enjoying these tomes as well as I feel I learn many things as well, historically and on a personal level with those that were involved.
Thank you again and wishing you all the very best in the future.
Saturday, June 16, 2012
I was living in Atlanta at the time of the Winecoff fire. My Grandfather, Paul Fleming, heard about it on the radio and went to volunteer.
You see, he had only retired shortly before from being an Assistant Chief of the Atlanta Fire Department and thought he could be a volunteer that knew how to help.
Although he liked to reminisce about his past in the fire department, he never talked about that day. Apparently, it was all too much even for an experienced man like him.
My mother was rather protective and I was only 6 years old so she wouldn’t have talked about it to me at the time.
At one time, my grandfather’s assignment had been inspecting buildings for fire violations. Mom said he once commented about the central staircase in that hotel. He said he worried about it because, if a fire ever got started, it would act like a chimney to carry the fire upwards and also block the escape route for about everyone.
Unfortunately, there was little that he could do about it except point out the problem because it was an existing building. Apparently, his concern was born out when the actual event occurred.
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Dear Mr. Goodwin,
I was in the first grade living on Georgia Avenue, in what is today the parking lot of Turner Field at the time of the fire. I was 10 days short of my 8th birthday. There was a fire station about two blocks away on Central Avenue and fire sirens at night was not unusual. I recall how they went on for hours and the next morning we learned of the fire. My parents and I, like most of Atlanta, went to downtown to see the hotel. I recall we took the trolley to town and there were thousands of people staring up at the building and the sheets were still hanging out of the windows. The smell was bad.
One thing I will never forget, is in the alley behind the hotel and the Mortgage Guarantee Building were trash cans filled with bloody sheets. That I remember vividly.
I was living in Washington State when your book came out and immediately made a purchase. I have read it many times and still find the fire fascinating. Thank you and your co-author for this work.
Dear Mr. Dunn,
Thanks for your kind words and for sharing your eyewitness account of the fire's aftermath.
Friday, December 30, 2011
Lingering questions can lurk in the heart, un-answered. We've often found touching stories of teenage friends or even sweethearts left behind by the Winecoff fire.
Now, sixty-five years on, Charles Valentine writes to remember his high school sweetheart, his Bainbridge, Ga. classmates and the search that ended sadly.
|During her sixteen years Winecoff fire victim Maxine Willis touched many hearts.|
"Maxine Willis was - had been - my girl friend in High School in Bainbridge, GA. I graduated in 1946. I was a freshman at North Georgia College when I heard about the Winecoff Hotel fire. I hitch hiked to Atlanta and searched the morgues until I found her. It was heart breaking.
I knew all the boys and girls and had been a student of Miss Davis. I returned to Bainbridge with (Maxine's father) Mr. Willis and (her sister) Sarah Willis. It was a bad, sad time. I remained in Bainbridge until after Maxine's funeral.
|Fire victims Ruth Powell and Sue Broome|
"Ruth Powell was Maxine's best friend and I had dated Sue Broome a few times while I was still a senior in Bainbridge High School." --Charles Valentine, October 22, 2011
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
I've just learned of a distant relative's surviving this fire, which I knew nothing of. His name was Langdon Thrash. A photo of him in the hospital in Atlanta went out on the Associated Press wire and was subsequently published in several newspapers.
|Survivor Langdon Thrash and nurse Gloria Horton were pictured on December 9, 1946 in the Atlanta Constitution and other newspapers.|
Thrash said he survived by putting his head out the window and shutting the window so he could not remove it. He was found unconscious--I never knew this story growing up but you can bet it will become a part of my own family records. Langdon died in 1970 in San Antonio according to Texas records.
I look forward to reading your book.
Debra Osborn Spindle
Langdon C. Thrash's room was on the alley side of the building. It's a miracle he survived!
Good luck with your family research. I hope you come across someone who knew Mr. Thrash. Please let me know if you should learn what became of him and how the fire affected him later in life.
Thanks for writing,
Friday, August 26, 2011
Just a quick thank you for working with my brother Mike on the newest addition to winecoff.org: A Mother's Poem Discovered. It's truly a beautiful memorial to Mary Lou Murphy and our Grandmother Pearl Cason Murphy. I sincerely appreciate it.
Heartbroken by the loss of her daughter, your grandmother used her own poetry to restrengthen herself and resume her life of giving. It could work for others. So...her giving continues.
Thanks for writing,
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Dear Mr. Goodwin,
I just wanted to thank you for writing such a wonderful book. The fire took place almost 30 years before I was born, but you made me feel as if I was there. It's no longer 2011, but 1946 again and you can almost feel the fear, smell the smoke, hear the sirens and see the horror.
I suspect that is what you and your co-author intended when you wrote the book. I have had it for about 6 months now and I've read it twice.
I live in Adairsville, Georgia, which is about 15 miles east of Rome and really enjoy reading books on Georgia history.
So often in tragedies, people just become numbers but you made sure that each person was given a name and the enormity and pain of their loss is evident. So many wonderful people died that day. It is a sad story, but one that needed to be told and should not be forgotten. You did a great job!
Thank you so much for teaching me about a part of history that I had not known before.
Saturday, April 2, 2011
This story I know well. My great aunt, Nell McDuffie lived and worked at the Winecoff. She pasted away in 1989.
Her brother Walter McDuffie was one of the firemen to fight the fire that night. When my aunt was still alive she told me the story of the Winecoff and how she climbed to safety across a latter to next building.
My mother has a bread platter from the hotel's china that my aunt got when she returned to her room after the fire. I have not read the book, but would like to very much.
Toby, Your Great Aunt Nell was a huge help to Sam Heys and me during our book research. We came to know her well and liked her a lot! She was a vibrant woman with a sharp memory.
She was our "go to" source for details about the hotel's day to day functions. Plus, her own rescue story is one of the most compelling stories I've ever heard face to face. She had to be brave to crawl across that ladder over the alley way.
My name is Anne Webb Desrosiers and I live in New Hampshire. I was born in 1941 in Atlanta. I was just speaking with an old Roosevelt High School friend and he reminded me of the horrible fire at the Winecoff Hotel. Both my grandfather and father were firemen present at the fire.
My grandfather was Assistant Fire Chief James Garnett Webb who was overcome by smoke and was taken to the hospital (as I remember being told) and my father was Garnett Pearson Webb. Not too sure of the numbers of the fire stations to which they were assigned.
My grandfather died in 1952 at the age of 64 and from what I remember, it was said that he never got over the physical problems he had endured at that fire. My father went on and retired from the Atlanta Fire Department in 1962 or 1963 and died in 1964 at the age of 49. Both died of heart attacks.
My memories of the fire are very vague as I was only 5 years old but I do remember the smell of the smoke and various cuts, burns and scratches on my dad when he got home the next day.
I intend to buy and read the book. Thank you. For years, I have wanted to remember and honor both my dad and grandfather and all the other firemen who fought that fire and had residual health, (both mental and physical) problems I believe caused by the fire.
Thank you again,
Anne Webb Desrosiers
Thanks so much for writing! Thanks also for remembering for us two heroes of the Winecoff fire. We are familiar with Assistant Chief Webb's name as it appears in some of the accounts of the fire. We did not realize his son was also on the fire scene.
They were not the only father & son team to fight the fire. Richard & Relford Ellington fought it too. Many lives were saved thanks to the bravery of the Winecoff firefighters. All of them were affected for the rest of their lives.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
Allen, --- Just reviewed your stories of the Winecoff Hotel Fire in Atlanta Dec. 7, 1946. I was stationed that night at the Naval Air Station barracks (North Atlanta Airport) near Doraville, as an incoming Veteran student on the G.I. Bill.
The first time I saw the results of the fire was on the next day when some of us came to town to see what had happened. Most of the debris had been cleared and the building was a burned out shell. I was struck by the silent immobility of the city, like time stood still.
What impressed me was that there was so little motion and stark silence in the streets especially Peachtree Street the next day as eventually things slowly came back to life. I remember how the entire city of Atlanta was stricken with grief as a result of the horror of that disaster.
As a soldier in Europe, I'd been in cities all over France, Belgium, Holland and Germany where destruction was rampant, but this was so different. Atlanta was stunned by this tragedy and people just seemed dazed by the impact of the horrible happening in their innocent peacetime city.
I thought I would thank you for doing tribute to those people you cover in your articles. I checked out your website and am very much impressed with the coverage from all the different sources.
One thing as a side issue are the videos you present. I am an avid student of southern accents. Here preserved for posterity, in your website, are those who speak with an authentic Southern Accent!
Thanks so much, --- Vaughn Wagnon --- Charlottesville, VA.
Thank you, Vaughn.
That calm that befell the city after the fire was, I suspect, a mixture of shock and respect for the fire's victims.
On Southern accents: there surely are a variety of them. Here in the Atlanta area you'll hear the Appalachian twang as you travel north and the South Georgia drawl if you travel south! And then there are the sub-groups. For better or worse, the accents instantly reveal much about the backgrounds of the speakers. I know mine could use a little polish!
You are fortunate, Vaughn. To my ear, nothing beats a refined Charlottesville or Charleston, SC. accent. All best, Allen
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Thank you for your e-mail about the book.
Yes, I knew 8 people in the fire.
Dr. Bob Cox and his wife Billie, "Little Bob Cox", Delilah Chambers, Bob and Pauline Bault, Emogene Bates and her son Gene.
Dr. Cox worked for my father at the hospital in Murphy. He delivered me. Emogene Bates was my father's nurse. Bob and Pauline Bault were the parents of my best childhood friend from Murphy, NC. Their daughter, whom you refer to on p. 31,lives in Atlanta and we keep up with each other.
I was at the memorial service on December 7, 2007. We went to the funeral for Arnold Hardy that afternoon before the memorial service that night at The Ellis.
Bob Cox and his wife had flown in from Hays, Kansas. I had probably not seen Bob since the fire. I was two and a half at the time and he was three. My parents received Christmas cards from the Fishers in Kansas (who reared Bob), so I kept up with him that way - through pictures, etc.
Last Sunday, I was teaching Sunday School to my ladies class and it was appropriate to use things from the book and my experience at the memorial service with the class. Some of my friends had heard part of the story, but not much. They were so enthralled with the story, that I decided to order a book for them. Many want to read it. I didn't want to turn loose of my copy which you and Sam Heys both signed in 2007. It was a book that my mother had had.
The Baults and my parents were best of friends. Bob Bault built my parent's house and after my father died, my mother moved into the last house that the Bault's had lived in in Murphy.
The Baults lived right above my house in Murphy when I was a child. I lived right next to the hospital and Sally lived up on the hill above me.
Thank you for the research you have done on the fire. It is an amazing story.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
My father was John Newton Irwin. He was the adopted son of Frances and Winifred Irwin. I do not have the names of his birth parents as my grandfather refused to discuss it with me. My mother said that she was told my father's birth parents were a supreme court judge and an English nanny. When you think about it, I guess it was pretty important to keep those identities quiet.
My father was born on September 19, 1923 and died December 7, 1946, at the age of 23 in the fire of the Winecoff Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia. I was one day shy of 3 months old at the time. He and my mother had been married only one year at the time of his death.
He served as a photographer in the Allied Air Forces, Southwest Pacific Area. He was the recipient of the Bronze Star Medal, 1st Oak-Leaf Cluster to Air Medal, 2nd Oak-Leaf Cluster to Air Medal, Good Conduct Medal, American Theater Ribbon, Asiatic-Pacific Theater Ribbon with one Silver and one Bronze Service Star for Bismark-Archipelago, Luzon, New Guinea, Northern Solomons, Southern Philippines, and Western Pacific Campaigns; World War II Victory Ribbon, Army Air Forces Technician Badge with Photographer Bar, Aviation Badge, Aerial Gunner, and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon with one Bronze Star.
It is my understanding that the photographers accompanied troops on missions. The following is a quote from a letter received from George C. Kenney, Lieutenant General, Commander and written to my grandfather Frank E. Irwin on November 18, 1944 regarding the Bronze Star Medal award for heroic achievement against the enemy on Manus Island from May 25, 1944 to June 5, 1944:
Your son was a member of a photographic party of three men who volunteered to make a pictorial record of the hardships and dangers encountered by ground troops on jungle patrols, armed with only .45 calibre automatics, and heavily laden with photographic equipment, they traveled with a ten-day patrol over mountainous country, through five malarial mangrove swamps, and across four crocodile-infested streams. On one occasion your son accompanied a four-man group engaged in a wire-laying mission, during which they twice surprised parties of Japanese. In the first encounter, your son wounded an enemy soldier twice, and the second time, he killed one who was charging another photographer. The heroism and devotion to duty displayed by your son are worthy of commendation.
My mother told me that when he was home he would take me out in my baby carriage and show me off to everyone he met. It makes me so sad every time I think of him and I have always wondered how my life would be different if he had lived. It is heartbreaking to think that he went through wartime without injury only to come home, go away on a business trip, and die in a hotel fire.
Although she (my mother) didn't give me many details, she did say that there was a lawsuit against the Winecoff Hotel and she and her father (John Godbout) received a very small settlement, but only after being subjected to humiliation in the courts and even being called "carpetbaggers." I can only imagine what she must have gone through as a young widow, trying to raise a baby daughter on her own.
Strong public reaction to the Winecoff fire forced congress, state legislatures and parliaments around the world to upgrade fire safety codes. Your father is remembered for his service to others. In World War II, to millions of Americans. In his peace, to billions the world over.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Thank you so much! I have read your book several times and am very excited to give it as a Christmas gift this year.
Eight of the people killed in the fire were from my high school’s (Bainbridge High School) Y-Club - seven students and one teacher - who were in the town for the annual Tri-Y Youth Conference, the same conference I attended every year in junior high and high school. My Y-Club chapter was named after the teacher, Mary Davis. Bainbridge, Georgia is a very small town, and everyone in one way or another has a connection to one of the eight. In high school, I found your most fascinating book on my parents' bookshelf and have read it many times over the years.
My future father-in-law is an architect who works here in downtown Atlanta and loves Atlanta history. When I mentioned the fire recently, he didn't know many details about it, so your book is going to be a wonderful, enjoyable gift for him.
Thanks again for the quick response, I truly appreciate it. Happy Holidays!
Thanks so much for your e-mail. The Winecoff fire's impact on Bainbridge is legendary and worthy of further study. Look for more Bainbridge related stories on winecoff.org in the months ahead.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Blue Ridge, Georgia
Dear Mr. Goodwin,
I recently ordered your book from Amazon and must tell you that I couldn't put it down. The signed copy arrived in the post on Saturday and by five o'clock the book was read. What prompted me to order it was being in Atlanta at a theological conference the week before and standing looking up at the Winecoff (Ellis) at night.
I first learned the story of the Winecoff fire in the '90s when an elderly woman in McCaysville (not far from Ducktown, the home of one of the victims) gave me a copy of the Atlanta Constitution featuring the now-famous picture of the woman falling.
I am writing to say you and your co-author did a masterful job in telling a story that needed to be told.
The Rev.) Victor H. Morgan
St. Luke's Church, Blue Ridge, Georgia
Dear Reverend Morgan,
Thanks so much for your kind words about our book! When you keep your ear to the ground it doesn't take long to find living links to the Winecoff fire. Remember, we are always on the lookout for photos of the fire's victims and survivors to further humanize the story.
Thanks for writing,
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Hi Mr. Goodwin,
My name is Chester Wallace and I just got done reading The Winecoff Fire and I must say this is one of the most interesting reads! I want to thank you for writing this very intriguing book and sparking my interest in this terrible tragedy.
I couldn't have done it alone! Without Sam Heys the book would still be a hundred pounds of research materials in cardboard boxes!
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Dear Mr Goodwin:
I just wanted to let you know how interesting I found your book.
I was 12 years old and living in Cartersville, Georgia when the Winecoff burned. My father had just died and on that fateful day, his brother and wife came to take my mother and me Christmas shopping in Atlanta.
About half way there my mother opened the newspaper she had brought along and read about the fire. The adults debated about continuing but decided to do so. Our first stop was always Davison-Paxon's. We saw the Winecoff only hours after the fire had been extinguished.
I am 76 now but that sight has never left my mind. Over the years I have come in contact with people who had some connection to the fire. In my own church there is a lady who survived the fire and a man who was supposed to go to the Youth Assembly but could not due to illness. The boy who replaced him perished in the fire. I have not discussed the fire with them out of respect for their privacy.
Thanks so much.
Thanks for sharing your story.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
I ordered your Winecoff Fire book this past Tuesday night through Amazon.
I was born and grew up in Atlanta. I was only six when the fire occurred. That Saturday / Sunday afternoon (?), after the fire, Dad had to drop off some reports at his work place on Luckie Street. I rode down with him and, after dropping his reports, we went by the fire scene before heading home.
I can picture Dad and I stepping over rows of fire hoses as they lay running down hill to drain and dry out as we tried to get closer to the burn site. The building was still smoking and the firemen were gathering up their equipment. I remember it being eerily quiet while we were there.
As a six year old, I was more interested at the time in jumping the hoses than learning of the seriousness of what had happened earlier. It was many years later before I really became aware of what had happened that morning.
I bought a copy of your book some years ago and read it several times. Later I told former classmates about your book and; after they read it, some wrote back about members of their own families being on fire trucks who answered the call. I was just an observer that weekend; but I have found out over the years how this tragedy effected families throughout Georgia.
The recent death article of Clarence Luther Leathers, Sr. (96), who was a responding fireman that morning, spurred memories of the stories of the fire. I must have lost my earlier copy of your book during one of my moves; so I'm replacing it now.
The fire touched many lives in different ways. So many innocent lives lost.
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Thanks for sharing your story with me. You are, I think, the youngest eyewitness to the fire scene - with a living memory of it - that we've heard from.
Survivor Richard Hamil (room 1524) was nine years old. We've spoken with him many times. The two other child survivors that we know, Bob Cox (age 3, room 1002) and Connie Foster (age 1, room 508) were too young to have any memories of the fire today. We've spoken with many who were teens at the time.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Dear Mr. Goodwin,
I recently purchased your book as a memento to read with my father. My father was Clarence Leathers and until recently, he was the oldest retiree from the City of Atlanta Fire Department. However, he passed away June 12, 2010 before I could give him the book. I know you interviewed Rick Roberts who also was a fireman at the Winecoff. There had been an article in the retiree newsletter asking if anyone else remembered working the Winecoff and that Rick Roberts would like to talk to them.
Well, my dad had a nice chat with him. Rick had thought that, at 93, he was the oldest retiree, but my dad had turned 96 in April. Last month, I was able to record less than a minute about what he did at the Winecoff and he stated that he carried hoses up to the other fireman and then they also tried to extinguish the fire. I wish that he could have spoken to you.
When I was growing up, I remember my mother, (who died in 1973) stating that this particular fire was traumatic to many of the firemen. She stated that so many people jumped from the burning hotel and that my dad would wake up sometimes to the sound (in his mind) of bones popping and to the smell of charred flesh. He never talked about the fire with me though other than when he mentioned being at it with the other firemen.
I am finishing your book now. My dad's obit should be in the Atlanta paper tomorrow. He will be buried at Westview Cemetery on Wednesday, June 16 and visitation will be at the Whitley-Garner at Rosehaven, Douglasville, GA on Tuesday between 6-9. I don't know how many firemen are still alive and will be able to attend the services. But I appreciate your writing the book so that I could get an idea of the fire that I only saw paper clippings about.
Vera Leathers Ankrum
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
I received the book I purchased from you about the Winecoff Hotel fire. It arrived in great shape, and I appreciate your signing it. I was glad to find it on eBay. I read a few pages last night, and I’m already hooked! Compiling the stories of so many people from a time gone by is not an easy feat, but you have done a fine job in structuring the tale.
My interest in the hotel’s history, incidentally, was sparked by a recent stay at the Ellis. Although I am an Atlanta native, I had no knowledge of the Winecoff fire. In fact, I managed to stay oblivious to the events of 1946 throughout my stay at the Ellis. It was not until I was later describing our hotel to my father and stepmother, who live in Ballground, Georgia, that I learned of the fire. They both made the connection to the Winecoff and did a pretty good job of recounting the history. For them to each have such good and independent memories of the fire is a testament to the significance of the event.
Thank you, again, for the excellent eBay service and for your detailed preservation of an important moment in Atlanta history. I look forward finishing the book!
The Winecoff fire story is unknown to many Atlantans. That's no accident. Big fires are bad for business. By 1947 Atlanta's business and political leaders felt that the sooner the whole thing was forgotten, the better. The mayor even ordered the Winecoff's large sign, still affixed to the side of the building, taken down, condemning it as a grim reminder of the fire. Plus, almost everyone who had any direct involvement with the sudden tragedy had reason to want to forget it. Everyone wanted to put it behind them. Still, they were all affected for the rest of their lives. It simply couldn't be forgotten but couldn't be discussed either! I expect your folks remember vividly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news of the fire. Almost everyone we interviewed during our years of research recalled exactly where they were that day. Like the Kennedy assassination and the World Trade Center attacks, this was Atlanta's Titanic.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
I read your book some time ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. Yesterday, I rode the elevator up to the top of the Ellis. Walking through the halls of the hotel--the same floor design as the Winecoff was eerie. I'm glad to finally see a successful hotel in its building. Every time I go to Atlanta I drive by the Winecoff.
Thanks for your e-mail. Like you, I'm so pleased that the building is again being put to good use. I'm glad you got to look around inside the building.
I know that eerie feeling the halls can give but I think that's because we know so much about the day of the fire and not so much about the happier days there from 1914-1945.
We know from our interviews with long time Winecoff Hotel employee Nell McDuffie that there were many days of joy and grace within those walls. It was, after all, a first class hotel for most of those years hosting wedding events, honeymoons, business and charity luncheons, family reunions and all the things that give fulfillment to our lives.
It's sad that one act of cruelty can define a site for sixty-odd years and push aside in our minds everything else that happened there. But, by-in-large, that's what's happened.
Thankfully, more good days are underway and more pleasant memories are now being made at the Ellis Hotel.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
|Robbie June Moye's Rocking Chair|
Dear Mr. Goodwin,
My name is Kristy Moye Griffin. My great-aunt Robbie June Moye, 16, was a victim of the Winecoff Hotel fire. She was in Atlanta with a group of girls from Seminole County High School in Donalsonville, Ga. My grandfather was Robbie June's only sibling. My family seldom, if ever, spoke of Robbie June; I think the subject was too painful even decades later.
I was lucky enough to have my Great Grandmother (Robbie June's mother) for the first 11 years of my life; I shared a very special bond with this extraordinary woman. She restored an old rocker of Robbie June's for me when she found out my mother was expecting; and from the moment I entered the world she did her level best to spoil me rotten! However, despite our closeness, it was not until days before she died that she ever mentioned my late aunt. She told me while she sat stroking my hair that she once had a little girl just like me. Looking back, I think she knew she was about to see her little girl again.
I am currently expecting my first daughter, and I am in the process of repainting the same rocker my Granny lovingly fixed for Robbie June, and then for me. Knowing the story behind the rocker, my curiosity led me to search the Internet for information on my aunt. I was so excited to come across your web page. Just looking at the old photographs of the fire has been very emotional for me. I will definitely be ordering the book so I can learn more about this terrible chapter in my family's history.
Thank you so much for this site, and for taking the time to read this e-mail. I will scan a picture of Aunt Robbie June to be added to the memorial page.
Kristy Moye Griffin
Dear Ms. Griffin,
Thanks for your e-mail. It is a poignant one. Your description of your great grandmother's words likening you to Robbie June Moye is lovely. The sentences are full of imagery. It's likely that in that moment, you filled the empty place in her heart. It gave me chills. Conversely, her words should give you warmth.
We have added your photo of Robbie June Moye to our Remembrance Page.
Robbie June Moye must have been a good student of exceptional character to have been chosen a Youth Assembly delegate. Her passing brought sweeping improvements to fire safety codes worldwide. I hope her mother knew that. Prepare that little rocking chair with love in your heart. It is a seat of honor.
|Robbie June Moye In Her Rocking Chair - Circa 1930|
Thanks so much for writing to me,
Thursday, August 20, 2009
.Dwight Morrison, Sandy & Russ Newbury
My friend Rob kindly contacted you about my hunt to determine the name of the victim who was my Dad's good friend. We've figured out his name was Dwight Morrison, the World War II bomber pilot mentioned in your book. My Dad's name was Russ Newbury and he and my Mom lived in Decatur at the time of the fire. He had always told us that he raced downtown when he learned of the fire and identified his friend's body. I'm sending you a picture of Dwight with my mother and father, Russell and Sandy Newbury, for your files.
All we really know is that my father was travelling that week and wasn't due home until around 4 in the morning, so they had planned to visit with Dwight the next day, had not seen him yet. My mother felt guilty until the day she died because she always thought that if my dad had not been travelling, Dwight might have stayed with them at their house instead at a hotel (the mores of the day, you know - it wouldn't have been fitting). My father wouldn't talk much about the war. He landed on Omaha on D day and we didn't find this out until last year - and only because my brother visited Normandy last summer and discovered it! But, the few stories he shared were of "escapades" with Dwight. He sounds like such an amazing man and was such a great loss to the world. I know my parents were devastated.
I found your book so interesting! I raced through it the first time and will have to reread it to really absorb the totality of it all. My tears flowed so many times as I read. Knowing my Dad was one of those grimly searching for his friend . . .
Janet Newbury Daurity
Myrtle Beach SC
Thanks for the photo and we can confirm the man on the left is Major Dwight Morrison. (Room 1026). America lost one of her heroes in Dwight Morrison. He survived sixty-five bombing missions over Europe only to perish in the Winecoff Hotel fire upon his return. Sadder still is the fact that he left behind a wife, Hilda, and a son born in February 1947, two months after the fire.
To the good, Dwight Morrison and the other 118 victims of the Winecoff fire inspired the fire safety codes the world relies on. Thanks for thinking of him.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Mr. Goodwin: Thank you so much for the book. However, I must admit that I already had a copy. On a recent bus trip I met a young lady in her 80's. She remembered hearing about the fire and asked if she could borrow my book. The trip ended before she could finish it, so I lent her my copy. That being the case, I just had to have another copy for myself.
I am absolutely "hooked" on this book. I've read it so many times, and yet I'm drawn back to it over and over again. I know it sounds strange, but I think sometimes those lost in that fire are reaching back to us, asking that someone remember them.
No matter how many times I read it, I seem to find something else that I didn't notice before. Thank you, Mr. Goodwin. You and Mr. Heys did a beautiful job. I'm sure that I will continue to enjoy this book, no matter how many times I read it.
Thanks for your kind and flattering e-mail.
Hooked on our book?!! Sounds like you've got what Sam Heys and I call "The Spirit".
The story of the Winecoff fire is compelling. Few subjects can grip one's imagination so fully...and permanently! The victims do seem to speak to us because we can see our own virtues and weaknesses in their various reactions to the fire.
Over the years Sam and I have heard from many victims' families who've thanked us for remembering their loved ones. It's humbling.
Kind e-mails like yours are equally humbling. Thank you.
Be safe, Allen
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Hello Mr. Goodwin,
I received your book today. I know that it is a good book as my husband and I bought the book when it was originally published. We enjoy reading, especially history. Your book was particularity interesting to us as we are both natives of Atlanta. Unfortunately, I loaned my first edition copy to someone and never got it back. Something brought the book to my husband's mind the other day and I was happy to learn that I could still get a copy.
This book will be very special to us having your autograph. I'll not loan this one to anyone!
We are looking forward to reading your book again. As I was looking on line to see if I could find the book, I enjoyed reading all the information that you have provided on your website. The pictures and stories are heartbreaking yet so intriguing. I know that the victims and their families lives changed forever and the victims' families must surely still be affected at present, as they are connected to such a well known part of Atlanta history.
We have no relatives that were involved, just an interest in the story.
My husband was born in '46 and I was born in '58. The Winecoff fire is something that we have always heard about and became interested in learning more about it. I find it ironic that it happened on the same date as Pearl Harbor.
Thank you very much for sending the book right away. I also want to thank and congratulate you for producing such a well written book. In reading your book the reader can tell how much effort, and research went into it. This is appreciated by people that enjoy reading as we do.
Mrs. Janie P. Wilson
Hi Ms. Wilson,
I'm glad you found our website: winecoff.org . I'm also glad you'll have a 3rd edition copy of our book. The first edition was so full of typos it's embarrassing!
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Dear Mr. Goodwin:
I purchased The Winecoff Fire quite a few years ago and just read it again for the third time this past weekend (and I know it won’t be my last re-read). You and Mr. Heys did a phenomenal job with the book – the research and writing was amazing.
Today over my lunch hour, I searched the internet, and, after all these years, found your website. I am so glad you put this together.
I grew up with a fear of fire. Fortunately, neither my relatives or I have had any personal experience with fire. So, I am not sure where the fear came from. At some point past my college years, my fear turned to an interest of wanting to learn more about the famous fires that have taken place in the U.S. That is when I began to read books about all of the famous U.S. structure fires – the Winecoff, Coconut Grove, MGM Grand Hotel, Our Lady of Angels School, Beverly Hill Supper Club, etc.
In addition to my reading I have done some online research and have collected some pre-fire memorabilia from these different sites (i.e., a pre-fire key from the MGM Grand and pre-fire swizzle sticks from the Beverly Hills Supper Club – memorabilia I could acquire on e-Bay). I am a scrapbooker and want to put together a book on each of these disasters. When I saw the memorabilia section on your website, I could really appreciate that.
I am really glad you and Mr. Heys wrote this book. It shines a light on a tragedy that should not be forgotten and one which we can all learn from.
It must have been amazing talking to the individuals who survived this tragedy. I would be mesmerized hearing their stories. It must be frustrating, though, not seeing an exact cause of the fire ever “officially” determined. I assume you support the arson theory, which must make the frustration level even greater…knowing that someone got away with this horrible crime. Do you think it was Roy McCullough who set the fire?
Thank you for reading through all of my rambling. God bless you for remembering the people -- both the victims and the survivors -- involved in the Winecoff fire.
Thanks for your very kind e-mail. Because we worked so hard on the book it's always gratifying to know readers still benefit from it.
I can understand your interest in the families who are touched by fires. We continue to be astounded by the reaction we get from families who tell us we've answered many lingering questions about their loved ones.
A fire's impact on a family seems to outlast the impact of other tragedies: car crashes, heart attacks, etc. What we've learned about the Winecoff fire's lasting impact could fill a second book. Just last week a fellow mailed me a photo of his aunt, Ethel Stewart, room 1228. He just wants her remembered. Watch for a new post soon on winecoff.org that will do just that.
Actually, I don't feel any frustration about the mystery surrounding the fire's origin. In fact, I remain intrigued by it. You are correct, Roy (Candy Kid) McCullough is our favored suspect but Richard Fletcher, room 510-12, the Luckey brothers, room 330 and others were there with motives and opportunities also.
Congratulations on converting your fear of fires to a productive interest in them. That's a good trick. A cool head in an emergency is essential. Our study of the Winecoff fire showed us that many who panicked died unnecessarily.
Thanks again and stay safe,
Sunday, March 15, 2009
I purchased your fascinating book about a year ago and after reading it, e-mailed you with the story of how my mother (Sarah Floyd) was one of the two girls from Spalding High school who did not attend the youth conference.
The story had been told to us that my grandmother had a premonition that something bad would happen and did not let my mother attend (leaving only Betty Huguley who survived on the fourth floor). My mother and grandmother have both passed away so, I was wondering if you had anything to corroborate the story (maybe through Betty's interview?).
Also, after reading the book again I noticed a detail that had gone unnoticed before. In telling Betty's story, at the end of one paragraph you had written that Betty was 'reassigned' to a smaller room. I wonder if my mother's story is true and if she and the other girl had attended from Spalding High, would they have been on an upper floor and subsequently perished. If that were true, I would, of course, not be writing this. Any information you could provide would be greatly appreciated.
It's probable that your grandmother's premonition did make it possible for you to write to us! Here's more from my co-author Sam Heys:
I have checked my file on Betty Huguley, and she did indeed tell me that two other girls were supposed to go but did not. She said she did not know why they didn't go. She also did not mention their names. I also have a letter that Betty's mom sent to another family member telling her of the entire Winecoff ordeal. She also mentioned that the "other two girls" did not go.
Because Betty showed up by herself, she was given a different room from the one she had been assigned before check-in. We don't know what room that was, but it likely would have been on the 7th floor or above. Only one Youth Assembly group was assigned a room lower than the 7th floor. All four boys from Rome on the fourth floor survived. Four of the six delegates on the 7th floor survived. The other 28 youth delegates in the Winecoff were above the 7th floor and all perished.
Let me know if you have other questions.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
I have been enjoying the updates on winecoff.org. After church this morning my friend and I finally visited the Hotel Ellis for the first time and had brunch on the terrace. What a wonderful (and rare) story of historic preservation in Atlanta, and how nice to see 176 Peachtree a happy place again after so long.
Thanks for all your work,
Great! I'm glad the weather was nice for you today. As you know, the terrace was part of the the building's original 1913 design but was removed after the fire in 1946. It was not included when the hotel reopened in 1951 as The Peachtree on Peachtree Hotel. The dining terrace was restored to the structure in 2007 with the opening of Ellis Hotel.
Thanks for staying in touch,
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Very seldom has it been possible for me to say thank you to a book's author, or tell them what a good job they did in relating their material. Thanks for an excellent and readable documentation of the Winecoff fire. You made that night a vivid picture in my mind, as if I had been there. In my view, that is the mark of a good author. I only wish that the public in general would be more aware of their own responsibility in promoting fire safety at home and away from home. Perhaps yours readers might be made more aware of that need after reading this book.
Good work, sir, and stay safe,
John B. Broski
Overland Park, Ks.
Thanks for your kind compliments about our book. I couldn't have done it without the able guidance of my co-author Sam Heys. We too hope our book advances fire safety awareness among the public.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
I hope you are doing well. I wrote to you some time ago regarding Albert Fain Sr. who was a firefighter during the Winecoff Hotel fire. I finally got to take my girls down there this past weekend and we were able to go into the "Ellis Hotel". We were told all kinds of stories on the street outside the hotel. I was very surprised how much my girls (Kylie and Kelsey) remembered about the events that took place. (they read the book too!) We had a few of their teenage friends with us (Colby and Kenya) and they too were taken back in history.
I just wanted to say thanks to you for writing this book and for adding this special token to our family history. I know their Great Grandfather would be proud to know that we are not letting his work go forgotten. After hearing many stories and reading your book, I also realize how fortunate we are that he didn't perish that night.
I also found your website and look forward to future updates. I wish we could bring your book into the school systems. I really think something so close to home would be more meaningful to them than any other books they could be required to read.
I hope you have a blessed day.
Darla M. Fain
Thanks for writing to me again. That's great that your girls value their connection to hotel where Captain Fain was tested and found worthy. The impact of the Winecoff fire just keeps rippling on and on. Amazing.
Stay safe, Allen
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
I have read your book. Dorothy Moen (room 730, survivor) was my father's sister. Although scars were evident on Aunt Dorothy, I did not know the story until well into my adult life. It was just not talked about.
Though I hear it was painful for Dorothy to talk about it, I am glad the story was extracted from her and preserved for us to hear. I admired her but gained a new level of understanding after reading the book. I want to pass it on as a piece of family history to my own daughters, who have taken an interest in journalism, making movies and writing.
I am looking forward to viewing the updates on your website.
Vicki Moen Samas, Mansfield, Texas
Dear Ms. Samas,
How kind of you to write to us. We knew and admired Dorothy Moen and remain in close contact with her daughter, Janet. Dorothy's determination to overcome her severe injuries and make a full life for herself was an inspiration to all who knew her.
It was her idea to first reunite the fire's survivors in 1993 and Janet made it happen.
A year later the Atlanta Fire Department became involved. They blocked Peachtree Street for a plaque dedication ceremony and extended their tallest ladder apparatus up against the Hotel. That was a dramatic show of their readiness to meet the challenge again but also a reminder that no ladder can reach above the tenth floor. Dorothy was as prim as ever that day and was singled out for an interview on one of the TV news channels.
Dorothy was a treasure and no one has been more helpful to us over the years than Janet.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
You may recall my telling you a month or so ago, after receiving your book in the mail, that I and my wife had plans to stay at the Ellis while in Atlanta. We are there now, in Room 507. Though I would have liked to have seen the hotel before it was refurbished, I must say that they have done a nice job with it. Our room is quite nice (and I note there's a sprinkler in it).
The hotel does advertise that the rooms have "windows that open," and they do, but only a small bit. However, I'm still able to look out over Peachtree Street, and contemplate how it must have felt to be faced with having to climb out onto a ladder or sheet rope, or much worse, to have no way of escape available at all.
The back alley is smaller than one might picture it, and it is easy to see how one might think it possible to reach the Mortgage Guarantee Building by jumping directly across the alley. The original windows of that building, described in your book as wired glass, still appear to remain in place. It's really a humbling feeling to actually be where it all happened.
I really enjoyed your book and being made aware of the extent of the disaster. I know that whoever set the fire must have been pleased that relatively nobody was interested in finding out who did it. What a sad situation. But at least, fire codes and regulations were made more stringent after the fire.
Great to hear from you - made better coming live from the Ellis Hotel! The rooms have been renumbered since the renovation, so the best way to figure who was in your room is to count windows. If you are on the Peachtree side, count the windows from the Peachtree/Ellis St. corner. If you are on the alley side count them from the Alley/Ellis St corner. That won't be as easy but it can be done. If you are on the Ellis St. side, again count them from the Peachtree/Ellis St corner. I'll be able to tell which room you are in and who stayed there the night of the fire. Some rooms were also reconfigured, so you might be in two of the old rooms at once. We'll figure it out!
Be safe, Allen
I am indeed on the Peachtree side in what is now Rm. 507. It's the 3rd window over from the Peachtree/Ellis corner. Hopefully if I stay here again, I will get a 14th floor room and get a feel for what it would be like to have to get out on that ledge. It feels odd to sit here getting on the internet in my room, when people here in 1946 didn't even have a TV. That's progress, I guess. Alan
Holy cow, Alan!
You're in (old) room 508! The Foster family of Columbus, Ga. escaped from room 508 during the fire. Two recent posts will tell you more:
The Winecoff Hotel did advertise, "A Radio in Every Room".
Wow, that's awesome. We really enjoyed our stay here at the Ellis; it's in such easy walking distance to the arena, good restaurants, and other downtown attractions, plus there's all the history. Thanks for figuring out the room number for me. It's been great learning about the Winecoff fire, then visiting the site. I'll try to stay abreast of continuing developments via the websites. Thanks again for all your help!
Friday, April 4, 2008
I had the pleasure of staying at the Ellis Hotel (Winecoff) recently. I had no idea upon my arrival of the history surrounding the Ellis, however, after viewing the historic marker outside I became intrigued by the story.
I was reading your book last evening. I should have gone to bed, but I had to finish it... Great book, I loved the train of consciousness style in the "during the fire" chapters. It conveyed a feeling of anxiousness and confusion that was very appropriate.
Of all the pictures in the book, the one that hit home most was the one on page 27 of Irene Justice in room 624. Having seen for myself the window sill in room 1122, I could envision myself in that situation. I looked at that alley and pondered if it was crossable and if those windows on the other side were breakable. The book was truly captivating...Thanks for a wonderful read, Philip
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
I work in the fire protection industry. I am deeply saddened by the tragedy of this fire and the unnecessary lives lost and shattered by this fire. I read the book cover to cover in one mind opening read. While reading this book I felt like I could see the progression of the fire and what happened.
I have the deepest respect for the work that you and your co-author have done here with the writing of this book and trying to bring to light the truth of what happened.
It is so tragic - the loss of life - when the cost of fire safety is compromised for the all mighty dollar. To this day, it's the most important thing that can be designed into a building, but one of the things that people squawk about when trying to cut costs. Life Safety, is what this is all about.
After reading your book and doing a little more research this is the fire that made the push for more stringent codes and and standards. It's a shame that it took the loss of life in the Winecoff fire to bring about the fire and life safety changes that we take for granted today.
I never really gave any thought about counting doors from my room to the nearest exit in case of fire. I probably, like many others, just take it for granted there are fire protection systems in place to protect me. I will take note of where I am and where to go a little more carefully.
I want to give my deepest sympathies and condolences to all of the people who perished in the fire and the families members left to pick up the pieces.
I will think evermore carefully about the work that I do and the impact it has on other people's lives.
Cape Coral, Florida
You're doing God's work. I think it's great!
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
I would like to know if all of the 119 fire victims in 1946 were positively identified?
Yes. However, the remains of two of the Youth Assembly delegates from Gainesville, Francis Thompson and Gwen McCoy, could not be distinguished. They are buried side by side and share a tombstone. They were, in life, the best of friends.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
I purchased the book from you about a week ago, I received it yesterday, and I read it in one sitting. I just couldn't put it down! You - and Mr. Heys - did an excellent job writing it.
I felt like I was right there in that building and that I even knew some of the people. It often hurt to read the details and I swear I could feel the horror and pain that everyone was going through. But I mostly found it all very interesting and fascinating and it opened my eyes even more about how to stay safe in hotels, etc.
It's hard to believe that there were no fire escapes or sprinklers in the Winecoff. Thank goodness buildings now must have all kinds of safety features that were never in place many years ago.
No, I did not have any family or friend connection to the fire. I just have a healthy interest and I have read quite a few books including those about the Cocoanut Grove Nightclub fire which happened a few years before the Winecoff, right here in Massachusetts. I guess it just amazes me how quickly and out of control flames and smoke can get and the awful destruction it can cause. I am drawn to books and movies about fire and I am very curious about it as I know quite a few others are, too.
Oh, one more thing. I must tell you that I didn't realize you were the co-author until I received my book! I looked at the name on the cover and I said to myself, wait a minute I think I actually swapped a couple of emails with this man a few days ago. Then I dug up your initial email and read that A LOT more carefully. That's very nice of you to sign the book. Thank you.
Well, again, kudos to you for putting such an interesting and well-written book together. I think it is extremely important to document history so that certain events including one like this will never be forgotten.
Carol in Tewksbury, MA
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Dear Mr. Goodwin,
I received the book today. Thank you very much for the prompt shipping and for signing the book. While looking after my grandfather, Robert Baird, after his hip replacement surgery last week he related to me how he was in Atlanta on business the day of the fire. He debated that evening about staying the night in Atlanta or driving back home through the night. He was near the Winecoff and would have stayed there if not for deciding to come home.
Mark Baird Knoxville, TN.
Thanks for the delivery notification. How fortunate indeed your grandfather was! I hope he's doing OK.
I thought at first you might be related to Dr. Renfroe Baird who escaped from room 804. My co-author, Sam Heys, interviewed him. His story is told beginning on page 35 of our book.
Monday, January 7, 2008
Friday night, December 7, 2007 on the sixty-first anniversary of the Winecoff Hotel fire, in which our daddy, William Edgar (Bill) Bryson, was killed, my sister Sue Anne and I went to a reunion of survivors and victims of the disaster.
We walked from the parking garage to the entrance of the Winecoff (now the Ellis Hotel). Christmas lights were glistening all along the street, and there was even a picturesque white horse and carriage taking people for rides. As I stood there in front of the building, the horse and carriage gradually seemed to be moving in slow motion, and the sky above the hotel itself appeared threateningly dark. Looking up where it towered over me, I felt an ominous heaviness and was transported back to that night in 1946. We went inside, and even though the furnishings and carpet were new, I felt that I was truly in the old hotel.
I went into the reception room and saw numerous white helium balloons with long strings dangling from them suspended in the air. While Mr. Tom O’Leary (the manager of the Ellis Hotel) was welcoming us and talking about the renovations that had been done, all of a sudden I got a powerful and unmistakable whiff of smoke and burned walls. I looked around me, but no one else seemed to have noticed anything. At the same time, the corner where Mr. O’Leary was standing behind the podium seemed to me to grow gray and darker and I found myself almost straining to hear his words. Now, I am convinced that Daddy’s spirit was in that reception room with us and that I was experiencing actual sights and sounds from the December 7, 1946 fire. Also, a man standing in front of me had a strong odor of pipe tobacco on his coat, and I was reminded of Daddy again. Even though I was only two years old when he was killed, I remember several times as an older child taking some pipes Mama had saved out of the dresser and smelling them.
After Mr. O’Leary’s remarks, Dr. Truett Gannon , who was inspired to become a minister by the fire experience, spoke. He explained that he was not related by blood to anyone killed in the fire. In 1946, he was only 16 years old and staying in a nearby hotel that night. When the Williams family from his hometown of Cordele, Georgia, heard about the fire, they called and asked Gannon to locate three family members who had been staying in the Winecoff and then try to find Mr. Williams, who would be driving to Atlanta. Gannon found his friend Ed Kiker Williams at St. Joseph’s Infirmary downtown but learned from him that his mother (Boisclair Williams) and sister (Clair Williams) had perished in the hotel. The young Gannon then went to look for Mr. Williams. When he located Mr. Williams’ car on Courtland Street and Mr. Williams asked him about his loved ones, Gannon froze. He told the man how to get to St. Joseph’s to see his son, but he couldn’t find the words to tell him the fate of his wife and daughter.
This inability to know what to say to Mr. Williams weighed heavily on the young Gannon, and, as a result, he determined later that day to become a minister of God and learn how to help families cope with death. He said that when he came to realize his own destiny and purpose in life, a great burden was lifted from him and he wanted to help and lift our burdens in return. Dr. Gannon’s retirement from the faculty of Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology had become effective at noon on December 7, the day of the reunion, and he thanked all of the victims’ families for the inspiration he received as a result of the tragedy to fulfill a calling that became the great passion of his life and ministry – helping families cope with death.
After Dr. Gannon’s moving talk, Janet Cox, who helped organize the event, asked that each family take one of the white helium balloons outside to the memorial marker beside the hotel; she asked that we speak the name of our loved one(s) and then release the balloon into the night sky. One by one, each family gathered in front of the marker said the name of their loved one(s) who died and released their balloons. I was surprised how much emotion I felt, but saying Daddy’s name and letting go of the balloon did provide a feeling of release.
I am so glad we went. We got to talk to several people about their families and loved ones and to share pictures and stories with them. I feel a stronger connection to our daddy now; I know now that it was no accident that Susie came to live here in Atlanta where he died. I also know that he is with me in Cullowhee – the town of his birth.
Sherry Bryson Fox
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
My father, Ralph E. Johnson, worked for the Associated Press and was transferred to Atlanta from New York in July of 1945 to be the photo editor for the southeast region of the U.S.
I recall the telephone call that awakened us when he was called in to work in the early morning hours because of the Winecoff Hotel fire. It was he who authorized the purchase of Arnold Hardy's photo of the woman leaping from the hotel that was later to win the Pulitzer prize. Arnold Hardy visited our home on at least one occasion and I recall meeting him.
Having said all that, however, it was the pile of very graphic photos that dad brought home that I remember most to this day. Unfortunately (or fortunately) those photos are now long gone. The images will remain with me always. I cannot imagine anyone choosing to stay in that new hotel, regardless of its upgrades, out of sheer memory of those who needlessly perished.
I just wanted to pass along some memories of that event, even if only second hand in some cases.
Stephen D. Johnson
Dear Mr. Johnson,
Thank you for your e-mail.
Thanks also for the additional details about your dad, Ralph E. Johnson. My own father, Atlanta Journal reporter George Goodwin was also called to the fire scene by telephone. It was his recollections that first inspired our book: The Winecoff Fire.
I am familiar with many of the photos you mentioned. During the civil trial that took place two years after the fire, the judge deemed at least one photo too graphic to show to the jury. I can fully understand how they've stuck with you. They stick with me too.
As shocking as many of the Winecoff photos are, they have played a vital role in piecing together the puzzle of the Winecoff fire. Please keep us in mind if any of your father's photos or notes ever resurface. Several mysteries still remain.
I can also understand your sense of uneasiness about anyone choosing to stay in the Winecoff Hotel building, despite its refurbishments. We've heard that from others, particularly eyewitnesses. We haven't heard it so much from the survivors themselves.
Here is our view of the hotel's re-opening:
First, we have little to gain. Our book is now out of print and we've never had any monetary interest in the property. We are, however, abundantly pleased that the building will remain standing. Here's why.
Many of our readers have told us that even before finishing our book, they were compelled to visit the the building, to see for themselves the site of the fire. It gives them perspective to follow our narrative. They can see, for instance, the tiny ledge that Reid & Cary Horne walked along - sidestepping all the way - toward the relative safety of room 1610-12.
They gauge for themselves the temptation that overcame so many guests who attempted to leap across the ten foot alleyway to the Mortgage Guarantee Building. They see the sheer height of the hotel and realize the danger some guests undertook by attempting escapes via sheet-ropes. All in all, our book is easier to follow if the reader has actually seen the building. While it's still standing, they still can.
More importantly: As all of our readers know, we are convinced that the Winecoff Hotel was intentionally set ablaze. We do ascribe to a favored theory but no final and indisputable explanation has ever been agreed upon. As long as the building is there, the questions of who, why and how will linger and the simple answers are more likely reveal themselves. To us, it's still a crime scene.
Most important: There are other reasons we are glad the building still stands. The Winecoff fire was the third major hotel fire to occur in 1946. Thanks to that timing and the photograph your father conveyed to the world, public opinion finally galvanized. The call for fire safety code reform became so strong that President Truman convened a national conference on fire safety in May of 1947. That resulted in sweeping code enhancements. The fact that the Winecoff Hotel fire remains America's deadliest hotel fire is testament to its impact.
We feel a measure of thanks is due to those who died in the fire for the improved fire safety features that we all rely on in high rise buildings today. If the Winecoff Hotel building is ever torn down, the gift from those who perished there might sooner be forgotten.
Mr. Johnson, many share your uneasiness about the hotel's renewal. The new owners know that. They also appear to understand stewardship. The memory of the fallen deserves special care. Let's hope they're up to it.
Letters such as yours are always welcome. Thanks again. You've provided another valuable piece of information about one of the world's most tragic and impactful events. We are pleased to share it.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Dear Mr. Goodwin,
My memory is not of the fire itself, rather memories of a young boy. I was born 1938 in Quincy, Florida: population less than 8,000. Going from a small southern town to a city the size of Atlanta for me was like going to see the Wizard of Oz.
My father was in the Navy and being permanently assigned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. He, my mother and I drove from Quincy and spent the night of December 31, 1944 in the Winecoff Hotel. It was dark by the time we arrived in Atlanta, and I have some memories of him becoming frustrated by driving around and around looking for the hotel.
The next memory is walking into a small bedroom and my father becoming irate because the room wasn't clean. Cigarette butts were in the ash tray and there was "something" about the waste basket that really irritated him. For some reason, mother didn't want me to look into the waste basket. I didn't know why but I now believe there were empty liquor bottles in it. He demanded the hotel staff come and clean the room. The reason all this sticks in my mind is: this was the first time in my life I'd ever stayed in a hotel!
Another indelible memory which helps me know the exact date we stayed there is the noise I heard from the street below. Sirens, whistles, kleg lights, a mob scene, etc. Mother opened the window and I looked down (probably from the 8th or 9th floor), and saw a sea of humanity on the street, yelling and screaming. My impression was they were all crazy people!
Mother told me, "It's New Year's Eve"! She might as well been telling a Martian the news - I had no idea in the world, at 6-1/2 years old, what a "New Year's Eve" was!
Next morning we ate breakfast in the coffee shop, and I must have had a cold because mother swiped a spoon so she could later in the car give me doses of cough syrup. That spoon was "special" for so many years, especially after the fire, but regretfully got misplaced in one of my several moves made over the years.
Two years later, 1946, and eight years old, I can distinctly remember the large photos in the newspaper, especially of the woman leaping from her hotel room. I'm sure at the time and as someone young reaching that point in development of storing memories in one's mind, the events of the Winecoff were my first introduction into the tragedies of life.
My captivation with the tragedy over the past 61 years has not diminished and I've already booked a room to revisit the hotel that's now the Ellis Hotel.
West Columbia, SC
Dear Mr. Thrower,
Thank you for sharing your memory of the Winecoff Hotel with me. I expect you'll be impressed with the refurbishments recently completed there.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
I remember too well that tragic morning in December, 1946, when the five girls in our family and our parents were gathered around our radio in a state of shock, as we listened to the sad news of the raging fire at the Winecoff Hotel! We were so worried about the eight wonderful Rome High boys, their Hi-Y advisor, Mr. Hamil, and his son, Richard, who were staying there, while attending the annual state Hi-Y convention there!
Rome was smaller then with only two high schools, Girls and Boys, both close together. The students all knew or knew of one another, especially these outstanding people. Lamar Brown was a member of our church, South Broad Baptist, and I believe he was an only child. "Buzz" was a fellow band member and captain of our marching row; although I was younger, he was so kind to me! His sister, Jane was my age, and she and sister Joyce were band members also. Billy Walden was a brother to our aunt by marriage Mary Warren, and was an outstanding football player! I did not know Charles Keith well, only by reputation-- all good! I believe he was a nephew to another aunt by marriage, Nilla Warren.
That day, Rome lost four of the best. Four, who had wonderful futures ahead, as they planned on graduating and heading for college. We cried as we heard the terrible news, and the entire city was united in grief and mourning! In spite of the pain, we praised God for the miracle of Mr. Hamil's escape over to the roof of another building with Richard clinging to his back, an impossible feat under normal circumstances! Later, I was blessed to have Mr. Hamil for a Sunday School Teacher at South Broad Methodist; he was a mentor, friend, example and Christian gentleman! I can only imagine the profound influence he was to all of the young people he touched in his role as teacher and principal.
At our last KEG Meeting, I was thrilled to hear Anne Culpepper present the plans for the new memorial in Rome. I wanted to have a small part and share precious, though sad memories!
I consider it a blessing to have grown up a Roman and will always appreciate the fine teachers, Mr. Derrick, our band director, and all of those who were positive influences and good role models in my life!
Jane Briggs Allen.
Friday, June 22, 2007
I have read your book, actually more than a month ago. I wanted to write to you with my reflections on the book sooner. It has been a problem for me to sit down and take the time to thoroughly write down my thoughts, emotions and reactions to the "event" - this letter is too short...but.. I am stunned over the work you must have put into research creating this sad documentary.
Where did you find all this information on all the different families whereabouts before and during the fire - surviving family, friends? How many years did it take you to complete the book?
I found myself being very distressed and sometimes very sad as I read along, hoping for everybody’s souls (so many young people died, it broke my heart every time a new story ended tragically!). But also at the same time, I felt happy when folks eventually made it to safety, one way or another.
I don’t think I have ever read a book quite like "The Winecoff Fire". It is in some ways exciting and in many ways disturbing due to all the tragic deaths, especially the young people. AND the fact that to this day, nobody knows the true story; arson, revenge, or simple human error.... Also, I know I will definitely read the book again - don’t ask me why, I just know it. Few books I have ever read (I read a lot) have gotten that "status" - this one does.
I was on a pleasure trip to Rome, Italy with my wife and some friends last month, and I found myself checking and checking again for fire exits and stairways when we checked in to the hotel. I told my wife what to do and where to go in case of a fire, remembering your book all too clearly, knowing that even though we shared the same room, we might not be able to find each other in the smoke and panic.
I thought of the Winecoff every day of that vacation. My thoughts go to all the victims and their families of that fire. I could go on and on about this, but I would just like to tell you it is a fantastic book, fantastic work and fantastic research. I hope somewhere somehow it has helped survivors and victims' families find peace.
Per D. Kristensen
Thanks for your kind words about our book. Yes, we did learn a great deal from the families and friends of the victims but we learned the most from the survivors themselves.
Each one we interviewed, without exception, told their stories in a tone of reverence and as if the fire had occurred very recently. Most had forgotten little. It remained fresh in their minds.
Often staring at a midpoint in space, each one spoke in a cadence that suggested that a sense of shock had never really left them. It was a humbling experience. It sometimes gave me the shakes. It always made me thankful.
The book took about eight years to finish. There were several stops and starts and some periods of despair when it seemed as if we had bitten off too much. The funny thing is, the work has never really stopped. New information about the fire comes to us still and people rely on us to keep up with it all. We try.
We remain convinced that the fire was intentionally set.
I'm glad to read that you are more alert to fire safety in hotels and other buildings. The exact same thing happened to me. I check for fire exits everywhere I go now. I look out for sprinkler systems. They have an amazing safety track record.
We too hope our book has brought some peace to those affected by the Winecoff fire.
Thursday, June 7, 2007
Mr. Dent's Boyhood Home in Douglas, Georgia
Dear Mr. Goodwin,
I am retired, 72 years old and living in Florida. I would like to get a copy of your book. I also would appreciate anything you might suggest for my research into the Dickerson family. Here is my story.
My family goes back to the 1700's in Douglas, Georgia. Orphaned in 1934 when my two brothers and I were babies, we were raised by our paternal grandmother and her next door neighbors, Judge and Mrs. Ethel Dickerson, plus several nannies, aunts and uncles and a very small Episcopal parish. It was a wonderful childhood filled with many warm memories of those dear people.
There is one tragic event, however, that has haunted me for over 60 years, since I was a boy of 12. That event was the Winecoff Hotel fire on December 7, 1946.
Our next-door neighbors, the Dickersons, and our family, the Dents, shared holidays and family gatherings through the war years. One, in particular comes to mind, Thanksgiving of 1946! That was so very, very special for all of us! The war was over and our "hero" had returned! Will Dickerson, the oldest son and a decorated veteran was home!
To my brothers and I, Will Dickerson was everything! He had been a high school and college athlete, tall and handsome! He had also grown up with and been a close friend of our late father, Tom Dent, who we never knew. We identified strongly with him as a "father figure".
He brought his beautiful young wife, Mary, and their two small children, Mary Melinda (about 8?) and little Will (about 4?) for a long visit of over a month before they moved to Mary's hometown of Cartersville, Georgia, just above Atlanta. Will planned to begin his law practice there.
The Thanksgiving visit had been so much fun and my brothers and I had grown very close to Mary Melinda and Little Will. Much was being said about Cartersville and we had been assured that we would be invited up as soon as everything was settled in their new home.
We were tearful as we helped them load the car for the trip. The children were sobbing as we waved goodbye, their little hands waving from the windows of the car and little Will looking so sadly out the back window as they drove away.
"Mother Dick", as we called her, and Judge Dickerson called us over later that day to tell us that they had received a call from Will and they had decided to stop over in Atlanta for the observance of the Pearl Harbor 5 year anniversary. And, also, with the thrill of getting a room in the big beautiful Winecoff Hotel! They had really been fortunate to get a reservation on (I think?) the tenth floor.
Our aunt, who was Mary's age had been staying with us for a few days. We first heard her screams the next morning as we were awakened to the horror of the news coming out of Atlanta! All we knew was that there had been a terrible fire at the Winecoff. We rushed over to "Mother Dick" and the Judge to wait for more news, frightened and tearful. The rest of the events of that day are blurred and seem unreal still. I cannot remember exactly when we first knew the worst had happened! The Dickersons, all four, were victims.
Our little parish at St Andrews Church in Douglas had a memorial service. There were plans to have the family buried in Cartersville and there would be two caskets, one with Will and Mary Melinda and the other with Mary and Little Will. I am not sure about that nor any of the other details, and that sounds unlikely, but it gave me some small comfort so I held it as true.
I would go on to tell people later in my life that the Dickersons were the only entire family who perished and that they were written up in Readers Digest for doing the right thing; they were found in the bathroom with wet towels and sheets place around the door openings, Mary and little Will in the bathtub and Will sitting on the commode with Mary. I am not sure about any of this, only using what I thought I heard to somehow honor their bravery and give me some explanation for how they died. I can't really explain anything I have said about it.
I wrote a short story in college at the University of Florida based on this tragedy and I called it "The Thirteenth Floor". I have since lost the story but I did get an "A' in creative writing for it.
When I read your account on the internet, late one night, of a military policeman who saw a family of four on the tenth floor, a man and woman and their teen-age children, a boy and girl as if in prayer, I cried and cried, alone, where no one could see me. That was last week.
James McBride (Mack). Dent
Dear Mr. Dent,
Thank you for your heartfelt e-mail. Over the years my co-author Sam Heys and I have received many letters. Only a few have been as touching as yours. At a tender age you lost what God had denied you once already, a father figure. To me, that doesn't seem fair.
I commend our book to you with a word of caution. Our book has been difficult for some of our readers to read, though some have called it "cathartic".
You may discover in yourself what I have come to call, "A Certain Vacancy-A Hidden Grief". In fact, it sounds like you have discovered some of it already and sense the time has come to deal with the rest of it.
I suspect that that day's events are blurry to you for a reason. Children instinctively know when to shut down their senses. This may well have happened to you.
As you read our book some unpleasant memories may begin to flow back to you, from deep within. Your own sorrow may suddenly seem small compared to what you may have seen of a parent's grief and then repressed. You may fully relive the "one tragic event" of your childhood, the one that has "haunted" you for sixty years.
You will not be alone in this. You are welcome to write me again at any time. We can even put you in touch with people who were there, those who survived.
The Winecoff fire affected everyone it touched for the rest of their lives. That won't change. But after you've read our book and had time to think about it, you won't be haunted any more. You will see that the Winecoff fire had a beginning and an end and that it ultimately had a far reaching positive effect on fire safety worldwide that honors the memory of the Dickerson family.
After you have read our book I would like to speak with you. I look forward to it.
Best wishes and be safe,
Allen B. Goodwin
Dear Mr. Goodwin,
I received your book. Thank you - it is a well-written, thoroughly documented narrative of this tragic disaster! Your stories of the victims and how they came to be staying at the hotel that night was so moving. I felt that I knew these people. The horror, the fear, the absolute terror they experienced was real and difficult to read at times.
As you may have assumed by my "long and rambling" (forgive me) story about my family and the family who died in Room 1630, the "unimportant" details of the "Dickerson story" were not quite right. They were moving to Jonesboro, not Cartersville. They were on the 16th floor, not the 10th. With my search for more information all but abandoned, your narrative gave me a long awaited sense of "closure". Thank you!
Whereas the photo of the woman leaping from the Winecoff won the Pulitzer for Arnold Hardy, your book should have won that award for this compelling story!
With my very regards and gratitude,
J. Mack Dent
PS: .. I have a web page .. http://www.mackdent.com/ .. it was created to provide information to some people who requested that .. some years back. It has some of my art that depicts life in Douglas many years ago. My home was next door to the Dickersons.
Thank you for your kind words about our book. I will share your note with my co-author Sam Heys. Thanks also for the link to your website. Nice House! Terrific drawings!