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.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Dear Mr. Goodwin,