Sunday, August 15, 2021

A Once in a Lifetime Test of Courage

Grover C. Williams 1939

Friday night in Atlanta, the war was over and a festive atmosphere pervaded the city. After a night on the town, 35-year-old Grover Williams and a buddy were looking for a room. They stopped by the 15-story Winecoff Hotel but were told it was already full for the night. No vacancy. So they walked a short distance to the corner of Houston and Pryor Streets and checked into the Avon Hotel. 

When silence finally descended on the city, the men were safe in the Avon. Then came the commotion on Peachtree Street: a cacophony of screams and sirens. One man said it sounded like the crowd at a football game. 

Out of the Army and back on the job with Atlanta's Coca-Cola Bottling Company, Williams and his buddy went to investigate. What they saw shocked Williams into a life of silence on the subject. 

The Winecoff Hotel December 7, 1946

A scene of horror played out before a growing crowd on Peachtree Street. Fire was working its way up the Winecoff, forcing guests out of their windows. They saw a shower of window screens, suitcases, broken glass - and bodies - falling from the hulking brick structure. 

A once in a lifetime test of courage lay before the two men. His buddy peeled off, done for the night, but Grover Williams stepped up. He helped Atlanta firefighters with a net on the Peachtree Street side of the building. Suddenly, Dr. Bob Cox, 33, and his three-year-old son struck the net from high above. Dr. Cox's head struck the net's rim, killing him,  but his son, little Bob, landed on the net and was scooped up by Williams, who took him to an ambulance bound for Grady Hospital.  

Williams worked 36 years for the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. in Atlanta.
 
Whatever else Williams saw and did that night died with him in 1996. He never spoke about the Winecoff fire. He only revealed the story of the net rescue forty-eight years later when he met the one person whose right-to-know outweighed his own need to repress the whole experience: little Bob Cox, all grown up, and a physician like his father. The two men met in 1994 when a historical marker was dedicated at the site of the Winecoff, honoring the fire's 119 victims and the firefighters who saved the rest.
 To Bob Cox, Grover Williams told his story. Cox wrote in 2021, "he (Williams) was emotionally touched when he met a person he had helped survive. It was a special time for both of us." 
(Photo by Sheryl Cox)

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Monday, December 07, 2020

Winecoff Fire 74th Anniversary Articles

 

Seventy-four years ago today Atlanta's Winecoff Hotel burned. 119 perished. Ed Grisamore has written about the fire for The Macon Telegraph. His anniversary article is here. Also, The Rome-News-Tribune remembers the fire here.

Saturday, December 05, 2020

Facebook Users Remember The Winecoff Fire

 As the 74th anniversary of the Winecoff fire approaches Facebook is abuzz with talk and remembrances of the tragic event. Links are here, here and here

Monday, January 20, 2020

Winecoff Author Presents New Book

Today Winecoff Fire co-author, Sam Heys, announced the release of his newest book, Remember Henry Harris. Harris was the first African-American athlete to earn a major sports scholarship in the Deep South. Inspired by the words of Rev. Martin Luther King, “We must be the change we want to see in the world,” Harris walked the walk of Jackie Robinson but on the basketball court of Auburn University, where in 1968, a warm welcome was hardly assured. Sam Heys reveals the whole riveting story. Heys' eye for courage amid tragedy is unparalleled in literature today. Remember Henry Harris is also available on amazon.com.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Winecoff Fire Facebook Discussion

Facebook user, Jim Wesberry, ignited quite a discussion when he asked if anyone remembers Atlanta's Winecoff Hotel fire. The Facebook thread is here.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Stories of the Winecoff Fire

Winecoff Fire co-authors Sam Heys and Allen B. Goodwin are pleased to commend to readers a new book by Chet Wallace: Stories of the Winecoff Fire.

First inspired by The Winecoff Fire: The Untold Story of America's Deadliest Hotel Fire, Wallace's book brings new width and depth to the saga. 119 people died, but who were they? Wallace's labor of love and respect for the fire's victims brings us the answers. Wallace examines the back stories of 119 ordinary people who's deaths inspired the fire safety standards the world now relies on. We see the first half of the 20th century through their eyes and learn how their paths converged at the Winecoff Hotel in Atlanta December 7, 1946.

 “Chet Wallace first came to us in 2010,” said Winecoff fire co-author, Sam Heys. “It was clear to us he was as interested in the story as we were.”

“He reinvigorated our research and began turning up new witnesses and family members of the victims. He located many of the victims' photos now on Winecoff.org's Remembrance Page,” added Allen B. Goodwin.

Thanks to Wallace's reverent study, mostly forgotten victims of a tragic fire long ago emerge as a lovable collective still guarding the safely of millions the world over.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

And Then There Were None

Chief R. B. Sprayberry, Chet Wallace & Allen B. Goodwin in 2015
The last living Winecoff fire firefighter has died: R. B. Sprayberry, 95. A career Atlanta firefighter, he rose to become chief of the department 34 years after fighting the Winecoff Hotel Fire.

On December 7, 1946 Sprayberry was dispatched from Fire Station 12 on the second of four alarms. He was sent to work the back side of the hotel but eventually found himself on the Peachtree Street side and then into the building. Many were rescued.

In 2011 he was among four living Winecoff firefighters honored at a luncheon commemorating the fire's 65th anniversary. Now the last of the Winecoff fire heroes are gone.

He told an interviewer in 2011, "When you get my age (89) you remember some and you don't remember some but I'll remember the Winecoff. I was just a fireman at that time but I'll go to my grave knowing about it."

Friday, November 10, 2017

Celebrating Ten Years of Usefulness

The Ellis Hotel Opened In 2007
Abandoned for twenty-six years, the old Winecoff Hotel building was a silent stain of urban blight on Atlanta's most famous street. And then at last, the sun rose on a new era of usefulness. The Winecoff Hotel building was re-opened as The Ellis on Peachtree Hotel in the fall of 2007. Relive the Ellis Hotel opening here.

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Youth Assembly Ribbon Discovered

YMCA Advisor's Ribbon

Carlos Hamil

Winecoff fire survivor Richard Hamil recently discovered his father's YMCA advisor's ribbon. Carlos Hamil was the faculty advisor for the eight member 1946 YMCA Youth Assembly delegation from Rome, Ga.

Carlos Hamil kept the ribbon all his life, as he did a sense of guilt that four of his charges died on the tenth floor, even though there was nothing he could have possibly done to help them. The Hamils were trapped on the fifteenth floor until they were rescued by ladder across the alley on the hotel's west side.

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Thursday, February 02, 2017

And Then There Was One

A hero has passed. The Atlanta Fire Rescue Department's retired Chief of Training Raymond McGill passed away today. A hero of the Winecoff fire and a mentor to hundreds of Atlanta firefighters, Raymond McGill was one hundred years old. More here. Retired Atlanta Fire Department Chief R.B. Sprayberry is now the last living Winecoff firefighter.

 See Final Honor.