Book Cover

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Suddenly Tested: With Lives In The Balance

Mr. Goodwin,

Can you please tell me if there is a list anywhere of all the firefighters who were at this fire. My daughter and I have found much interest in this history and would like to know if my husband's grandfather was there that night. His name was Albert Lamar Fain. He lived in Austell Georgia until his death. Thank you.
God Bless,
Darla Fain

Dear Ms. Fain,

I am sad to read of the passing of Albert Fain. Yes, he was one of the Winecoff firefighters. I interviewed him in the middle 1980s. He humbly told me this story:

He and the others had fought their way up the stairwell dousing fire as they went. He was ordered to vent the roof, a procedure used in fighting any structure fire. Unlike most fires, the hotel's roof could not be reached from the outside so he was forced to make a heroic run for the roof up the remaining flights of stairs through heavy smoke.

As his energy was waining he reached the door and burst through it. He told me of the relief that came with his first gasp of fresh air as he arrived. He also told me when he got there, there was a small group of survivors who had migrated to the roof earlier.

I vividly recall leaving that interview content that I had just talked to a genuine hero, a man with more courage than me. He escorted me to my car and watched as I drove away. He was, I think, a little pleased that someone had come to ask.

Be proud, he earned it for you,
Allen B. Goodwin

Mr. Goodwin,

Thank you so much for your response. This brought tears to my eyes. The short time I knew him, I loved him. We have talked about this over time and I just did not know how I would get this information. My daughters, Kylie and Kelsey will be so thrilled to hear this news. I sure wish he were still here so we could ask him so many questions. He did live a great life.

That night was so long ago, however when you read the book, you feel as if you are there... and you feel their pain and fear.

I am so glad that you took the time to make this information available to us. God bless you. We as a family were proud of Granddaddy before.. but now this just makes us feel like we know more of him.
Darla Fain

Thursday, March 1, 2007

An Atlanta Reader Writes:

I got your book on Monday and finished it this afternoon. I'm fascinated by tragedies like the Winecoff fire. At a young age, I was reading books on the Titanic and Kennedy assassination. I found, however, that not even the Titanic is as horrifying as parts of this disaster.

Your book was fantastically researched and written--truly a pleasure to read. Your work is indeed an honorable tribute to those who lost their lives so long ago.

I long to see the building now as I, like so many others, have ignorantly ignored it and its significance since moving to Atlanta. Perhaps I'll even talk my way inside as it may still be somewhat exposed as reconstruction appears to be incomplete.

I assume you've been inside on many occasions, and I would be curious to hear your account of the building as it stood vacant.

I'm pleased to see that it has been preserved (somewhat) and will continue to stand as a monument to heroism, love, and sadly negligence and corruption.
I hope others will, in turn, read your book as this building and the souls it entombs should be preserved in Atlanta history.
Thanks again, Eric Lauer

Gee Eric,
Thanks for the kind words about our book. I never could have done it without my co-author, Sam Heys.

Yes, we were inside the building many times. The place was already trashed. The remnants were of an assisted living home that was run by the Baptist Convention until 1981.

First, I was struck by the old time bathroom fixtures: huge bathtubs, push button flushers and duel sink spigots. The fixtures were familiar to me because my grandmother lived in and was employed by the Ponce de Leon Apartments, another William Stoddart building built in 1913.

Next, I was struck by the size of the rooms. They were very small by today's standards, long and narrow. One would want a suite in order to live there. Many did.

Next, I was struck powerfully by the view of the streets below. Even from the lower floors, the streets look far far away. Looking down I sensed an inkling of the fear and the thought progressions that the victims must have endured: progressions beginning with curiosity turning to casual concern, then to creeping fear and from there to a slowly building excruciating terror. This, all while trying to reason out a viable escape method. It made me shudder.

I toured every room, already familiar with the fates of the individual guests who had stayed in each one. I tried to picture the whole event playing out.

The most important visit to the building was with Bill Dodd, arson man. We located the areas of the fifth and third floors that had been damaged by intense heat. Despite efforts to repair the damage during subsequent refurbishments, we could clearly discern "pour patterns" and "spalling" in the concrete floors. Bingo! There it was: evidence of heat too hot and in places too many. I remain convinced that the Winecoff fire was intentionally set.

I too am pleased the building will remain standing, a monument to lots of things, the very advances in fire safety science that the fire inspired, among them. Funny, I never thought of the Winecoff Hotel building as a monument to love.
Now I see it is that too.

Allen, Wow!
How I wish I had read your book sooner! I worry that the current renovation, "adaptive reuse" they call it, will rob the building of most of its past. I figured you did some investigating. When you described the "spalling" in your book, I immediately wondered if, under the existing finishes that undoubtedly masked it, evidence of the 1500 degree heat was still there. To think what modern forensics could prove today given all the evidence hasn't been completely removed at this point.

I chose the word "love" carefully in fact. When you described families who chose not to jump but to lay together and, sadly die together, instead, that said "love" to me.

Nice, Eric.
Another inkling: I sense the words of a father.