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.


Chester Martin: David Steinberg Makes A Most-Welcome Correction

Remembering Rev. T. Perry Brannon's Radio Revival

Signal Mountain Genealogical Society Meets Dec. 4


It is a pleasure to have corrections to my stories when the results will be helpful, and especially when they come from true experts in the field - in this case, David Steinberg, whom many readers ... (click for more)

I recently came upon a booklet that Rev. T. Perry Brannon gave me in 1986 when he was a guest on my radio program and it brought back a lot of memories. His Radio Revival started in ... (click for more)

The Signal Mountain Genealogical Society will be celebrating the Christmas Season with a covered dish luncheon on Tuesday, Dec. 4. The event is for members only. Regular meetings will resume ... (click for more)


Memories

Chester Martin: David Steinberg Makes A Most-Welcome Correction

It is a pleasure to have corrections to my stories when the results will be helpful, and especially when they come from true experts in the field - in this case, David Steinberg, whom many readers will remember from his Chattanooga Choo Choo days. I personally remember him from many occasions when he was functioning as "Conductor" on the yellow streetcar which made periodic circuits ... (click for more)

Remembering Rev. T. Perry Brannon's Radio Revival

I recently came upon a booklet that Rev. T. Perry Brannon gave me in 1986 when he was a guest on my radio program and it brought back a lot of memories. His Radio Revival started in 1930. It was on WDOD every morning at 8 a.m. until switching in the 50’s to WAPO. The program went off the air in the 70’s when Bro. Brannon moved to Birmingham, Ala. T. Perry Brannon ... (click for more)

Breaking News

County Commission Votes To Give Humane Educational Society $10 Million For New Shelter

The County Commission on Wednesday morning voted to give the Humane Educational Society (HES) $10 million for a new animal shelter. Commissioner Chip Baker said he had considered asking for a delay for talks on possible merging of services with the city's McKamey Animal Center. However, he said he was advised that the HES could lose out on a potential donor if the vote was delayed. ... (click for more)

Eddie Pierce Chosen New Red Bank Mayor; Ruth Jeno Returns To Commission

Three newly elected commissioners were sworn in by Judge Gary Starnes at the Red Bank Commission meeting on Tuesday night. Two are returning, Commissioners Ed LeCompte and Terry Pope, and the third, Ruth Jeno, is returning, after a lapse, for a third term on the commission. The commissioners elected Eddie Pierce to serve as the new mayor and Terry Pope to be vice mayor. ... (click for more)

Opinion

Discrimination And Double Taxation For Animal Shelters - And Response

Some Commissioners want Hamilton County to donate $10 million in tax dollars to help the Humane Education Society (HES) build a new facility. The majority of Hamilton County residents (specifically those residing in Chattanooga, East Ridge, Lakesite, Walden, Signal Mountain, Lookout Mountain, Soddy Daisy, and Collegedale) will be prohibited from using HES animal services unless ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Thanksgiving Eve

At some point this spring, as I impatiently awaited the song birds as I do every year, I took a less-traveled path during My Morning Readings and came across a Thanksgiving story that I loved. Trust me, I have been waiting for about six months … yes, impatiently … to share a story that was written seven years ago by J. Allen Wilson. I searched for him yesterday but the closest ... (click for more)