Chattanoogan Was Among Victims Of Winecoff Hotel Fire 60 Years Ago

Thursday, December 7, 2006 - by John Shearer

Although this Dec. 7 marks the 65th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, it also marks the 60th anniversary of another horrific event much closer to home – the tragic Winecoff Hotel fire of Dec. 7, 1946, in Atlanta.

On that early Saturday morning of long ago, flames raced through the 15-story Peachtree Street hotel and killed 119 people. To this day, it remains the worst hotel fire in U.S. history based on number of lives lost. The tragedy also resulted in stricter fire codes.

Chattanoogans and area residents were among the victims and survivors. Twenty-year-old Scenic City resident Edith Burch, who was on her second honeymoon, died after falling more than 10 floors and breaking both her legs.

She had been trying to get from one window to another when the makeshift rope she had made out of linen tore. She survived initially, but later died.

Her husband survived the fire, as did another Chattanoogan, who had been in Atlanta making plans to attend Emory University.

The T.L. Lambert Sr. family of Dalton, Ga., was also in the hotel while taking their daughter to a dance in Atlanta. In a 1986 interview on the occasion of the 40th anniversary, Mrs. Lambert recalled that they had been on the fifth floor and were fortunately among the first rescued by some firemen using a fire ladder.

She remembered that they had been awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of people screaming. “It has been so long ago. But it has always been in the back of my mind,” she recalled in 1986.

A Ducktown, Tn., woman in Atlanta to go Christmas shopping with her sister was also killed.

That night all 194 rooms were being occupied by some 280 guests who were in town to shop, do business, or simply visit. A number of delegates to the Georgia Youth Assembly were also in the hotel, which had promoted itself as being fireproof.

It had been built in 1913 and in 1946 was considered one of the nicer hotels in town, although it was not as big as some.

Every available firefighter and piece of firefighting equipment in Atlanta was called to the scene that tragic morning. Although the firefighters did have a net, many hotel guests ended up jumping to their deaths in panic.

A photograph of one woman falling to the ground, which had been taken by a Georgia Tech student, won a Pulitzer Prize.

1968 McCallie School alumnus Sam Heys, who became a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, ended up co-writing a book in 1993 about the tragedy. He recalled in 1996 that a subsequent gathering among survivors and firemen ended up serving as a great time of healing, as many realized they shared similar feelings of loss and guilt.

A 60th anniversary gathering was also held at a North Avenue tavern, which was formerly a fire hall.

One survivor of the tragedy has been the hotel itself. It was later turned into a senior citizens apartment, but became vacant in 1981.

Although talk of razing the structure surfaced, it continued to stand idle as much larger buildings went up around it.

But in recent months, work has started on turning it into the Ellis Hotel on Peachtree Street. The exterior is being returned to its 1946 look, but the inside has been gutted to make larger rooms. It is scheduled to reopen next August.


Beginner Genealogy Workshop Offered On July 30

Remembering The Day Chattanooga Honored Sgt. David Wyatt

Memories Of The Town And Country Restaurant


A Beginner Genealogy Workshop will be offered at the Bachman Community Center at 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 30. The workshop is free and is sponsored by Signal Mountain Genealogical and ... (click for more)

One of the greatest honors of my funeral career was serving as the funeral director for Staff Sgt. David Allen Wyatt. It was seven years ago that he, along with three other Marines and one Navy ... (click for more)

During my 25 years of hosting a talk show on WDOD, we discussed thousands of topics. I always enjoyed hearing from listeners on what was happening on both the local and national level but the ... (click for more)



Memories

Beginner Genealogy Workshop Offered On July 30

A Beginner Genealogy Workshop will be offered at the Bachman Community Center at 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 30. The workshop is free and is sponsored by Signal Mountain Genealogical and Historical Society. The center is at 2815 Anderson Pike, Signal Mountain. (click for more)

Remembering The Day Chattanooga Honored Sgt. David Wyatt

One of the greatest honors of my funeral career was serving as the funeral director for Staff Sgt. David Allen Wyatt. It was seven years ago that he, along with three other Marines and one Navy Sailor, gave their lives for our great country. As I think back to the events of that day and the week that would follow leading up to the funeral, I simply cannot express the emotions I ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Couple Shot In Hixson As They Lay In Bed Early Thursday Morning

Chattanooga Police said two people were shot early Thursday morning as they lay in bed at their residence in Hixson. At 1:30 a.m., Chattanooga Police responded to a shooting at 4900 Lavender Trail. Police were advised that two people suffering from non-life threatening injuries had driven themselves to a local hospital for treatment. They were a man 22 and a woman 26. ... (click for more)

Biden Administration Announces $25 Million for Wilcox Bridge, $14.6 Milllion To Dunlap For Highway 127 Intersection Improvement

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg on Thursday announced that the Biden-Harris Administration has awarded $63 million to support three projects in Tennessee from the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program to help move forward on projects that modernize roads, bridges, transit, rail, ports, and intermodal transportation and ... (click for more)

Opinion

A City In Search Of A Symbol - And Response

Assurances have been given of a much larger and varied utilization of the 141-acre former Wheland Foundry/U.S. Pipe site, not merely a new stadium for the Chattanooga Lookouts. Discussion of the proposed new stadium for Chattanooga has dominated the use of the dormant site. Additional usages of the property itself as well as “ripple effects” of the development intentionally move ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Freaks Of College Football

It has been almost 20 years since Bruce Feldman, a marvelous sportswriter for theathletic.com and Fox Sports, came up with the idea of identifying the “Freaks” of college football. Wait, being called a freak is a good thing, a very good thing, on a football team. It means you are so strong or so fast or so “athletic” that your own teammates and coaches stand in awe, be it in the ... (click for more)