Book Cover

Friday, December 30, 2011

Heart of Wonder

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

Family Research

Mr. Goodwin,

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.

Best regards,
Debra Osborn Spindle
Oklahoma City

Dr. 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,
Allen Goodwin

Friday, August 26, 2011

Granddaughter Remarks on "A Mother's Poem Discovered"


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.

Kind Regards,
Pat Murphy

Dear Pat,

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

A Reader in Adairsville Writes

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.

Melissa Alred

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Nell & Walter McDuffie Remembered

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 McDuffie

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.

Fire Fighting Family


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

A Fire Scene Witness Speaks

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

Winecoff Fire Touched Murphy, North Carolina

Dear authors,
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.

Becky Haney

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

John Irwin's Daughter Writes

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.

Pam Windspirit

Dear Pam,
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.
Be safe,