Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Separated by Fire

Harold and Robert Irvin
Two brothers, both recently discharged Navy pilots, came to the Winecoff Hotel but only one left alive. Harold Irvin, 23, perished in the 1946 fire but his older brother Robert, 26, escaped.

Robert Irvin Sr. 1920 - 2014
Robert Irvin Sr.
Harold Irvin
Winecoff fire survivor Robert Irvin Sr. passed away on Father’s Day, 2014. His brother Harold died in the 1946 fire at age 23. Both were Navy pilots who flew together in World War II until Robert was sent back to the United States to train more pilots while Harold served on a torpedo bomber squadron.

By 1946 the brothers were in Atlanta to interview for jobs as commercial pilots and staying at the Winecoff Hotel. It is believed that Harold had been offered a job as an Eastern Airline pilot. Friday night December 6th Harold and Robert were together, attending a party in the hotel, until Robert retired to room 806. Harold remained at the party. A few hours later they were separated by fire and only Robert survived. He was rescued by ladder from the eighth floor, as high as the ladders would reach. "I went down the ladder and left everything that I had in the room except the clothes that I had on," he said.

Robert Irvin Sr. later become a Delta Airlines pilot and flew for Delta until his retirement.

Robert Irvin Sr. Remained a Pilot Until Retirement
Photos courtesy of Robert Irvin Jr.

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Information On Navy Pilots Sought is seeking to locate family or friends of two Navy pilots from the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, whose names appear on the December 7, 1946 Winecoff Hotel guest list above. Lt. H. J. Curtiss and Ens. G. J. Walton were both registered in room 806 at the time of the fire.

Though that area of the hotel was burned, neither pilot was listed among the dead or injured. More than 95 percent of all other guests were accounted for during The Winecoff Fire book research.

If you can help us learn more about Winecoff Hotel guests H. J. Curtiss or G. J. Walton please contact We are interested in learning of their stories.

Information is still being sought about two Army soldiers, Capt. William C. Willard and Lt. Frank Johnson.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Striking Winecoff-Based Painting Sells Quickly

Emelda by June Johnston

Emelda Reeves
Her phone rang about 6:00 p.m. December 6, 1946. June Frazier, 19, answered. On the line was her dear friend, Emelda Reeves, 21, with news that a party was brewing at Atlanta's Winecoff Hotel. She begged June to join her there. But June was soon to be on her way to Florida, so she declined Emelda's kind invitation. It was their last conversation. Twelve hours later Emelda Reeves lay dead, a victim of America's deadliest hotel fire.

Mystery still surrounds her time at the Winecoff Hotel.

In the years following the fire and her near-miss with death, June Frazier Johnston became an award-winning artist. In 1999, still haunted by the uncertainty of her friend's death, she immortalized her grief in a painting she entitled simply, Emelda. The painting was eventually purchased by Sonya Swain of Watkinsville, Ga. Swain has now re-sold the painting to an as-yet undisclosed buyer.

The painting:
Artist: June Frazier Johnston
Title: Emelda
Materials: Acrylic/mixed media on textured board
Size: 37 x 51 inches with a 2 inch unpainted wooden frame

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Ponce Press Article

The April 2014 issue of The Ponce Press features an article remembering the Winecoff Hotel fire. The Ponce Press is a monthly publication serving the well established in-town neighborhoods on Atlanta's East side including the city's most eclectic and interesting street, Ponce de Leon Avenue. The article by Bob Foreman is here.

Friday, January 31, 2014

New Survivor Photo Acquired

Anna & Edward W. Sherwood
Winecoff fire survivor Ed Sherwood, 54, of River Forest, Illinois told his story to the Chicago Tribune for Sunday's December 8, 1946 edition.

"I went to my bedroom (room 922) about 7:30 p.m. and retired, leaving a call for 8:00 a.m. I had intended to check out and leave Atlanta today. I am a light sleeper and I woke up at 3:30 a.m. hearing cries of 'fire' from the alley under my room. I opened the door but found the hall full of smoke, so I shut the door at once and plugged up the cracks with bed sheets.
"After a while the floor got so hot I could no longer stand on it. I opened a window and crawled out on the ledge. The heat from the room was so intense I managed to close the window while clinging to the edge. I could see dozens of persons from my floor and from floors above and below me also standing on window ledges. Every once in a while one of them would shriek and dive off.
"A woman was standing on a ledge next to mine. She kept crying that she was going to fall. She was just too far away for me to reach her. I pleaded with her to hang on, but it did no good. She plunged down.
"I was clinging there praying, and the heat was so intense it seemed I could not bear it another minute. Then from the office building across the alley, firemen pushed a ladder at me. They were above me and the ladder came down at about a 30 degree angle. I grabbed it and got it fixed to the ledge. Then I crawled upward across the alley to the office window."

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Saturday, December 07, 2013

Maude Whiteman's Courage Recalled

Maude Whiteman
Maude Whiteman, 61, survived the Winecoff Hotel fire and saved the lives of eight others.

Whiteman operated the Winecoff Hotel's cigar shop by day but had agreed to stay in the hotel overnight to assist the elderly wife of one of the hotel's co-lessors who was away on a hunting trip.

Unable to go down, some guests were pulled up to room 1612.
Whiteman sustained back and rib injuries when she helped pull other desparate and terrified guests into her room's window via sheet ropes.

Her quick and rational thinking had kept smoke from overtaking room 1612, the hotel's uppermost room on the Peachtree-Ellis Street corner. Said Whiteman, "I never lost my head for one moment. I put our predicament up to Almighty God."

Nero Pitman carries Esther Geele
away from the fire scene.
"I could hear precious little Esther (Geele) calling, 'Mrs. Whiteman Mrs. Whiteman,' from her room (below).

"She fell into my arms when we got her up and opened those big old eyes and said, 'God owns the world'," said Whiteman.

Whiteman was the stalwart against rising panic in room 1612 and the group she sheltered lived to tell about it.

Maude Whiteman is assisted away from the
scene of America's deadliest hotel fire.
Maude Whiteman's story is told on pages 103,104 and 117 of The Winecoff Fire: The Untold Story of America's Deadliest Hotel Fire. More on the action in room 1612 is here. Wihitman's full biography is here.

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Thursday, December 05, 2013

Sixty-Seventh Anniversary Coverage

Atlanta public radio station WABE-FM has broadcast a story noting the sixty-seventh anniversary of the Winecoff Hotel fire. In a six minute radio piece Steve Goss interviews well known Atlanta historian Cliff Kuhn. Kuhn tells the story of the fire. To listen click here.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has published a remembrance of the fire including quotes from Winecoff Fire co-author Sam Heys. The article by Andy Johnston appeared in the December 3rd edition.

Mary Marsh has written a loving remembrance of Winecoff fire victim Freda Constangy. Read it here.

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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Innovative Solutions

Winecoff Fire co-author Sam Heys has done it again. On the heels of Big Bets, his comprehensive history of The Southern Company, comes a more focused study of the firm's commitment to research and development. Innovative Solutions examines the Southern Company's 1969 awakening that cleaner ways to create electric power would have to be found and traces the scientific advancements that have kept the firm viable ever since. Sam Heys' newest book in now available from Click here.

Monday, September 09, 2013

A Winecoff Poem

Chet Wallace
Research assistant Chet Wallace has penned a poem. It was inspired by his study of the Winecoff fire. Wallace writes from the perspective of a fictional man whose girlfriend is lost in the fire. There were in fact, many such stories. He writes about no specific figure in the Winecoff tragedy but reveals his deep empathy for those who lost loved ones.

My Love Lost
Chet Wallace

My love made a trip.
She hoped to escape.
No bye from her lips.
No hand on my nape.
Destination was a city,
A Phoenix from the ashes.
That city went through pity,
None from her would trash it.
She made it to a hotel,
Winecoff was her name.
She made sure I not tell.
Infidelity was her aim.
She went to a tea room,
Francis Virginia was her name.
Her thought was to bloom,
A relationship just the same.
Her letter was written to me,
Telling what she did.
The man she went to see,
Unknown to me and hid.
The night was full of dread,
For fire was the cause.
Many asleep were dead,
Because of gamblin’ outlaws.
She died as others did,
No chance to avoid.
A trip that I forbid,
She surely enjoyed.
Now I’m without my love,
Never seen again.
She fit me like a glove,
My love lost, amen.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

'Til Death Do Us Part

This newly acquired photo shows newlyweds Charles and Mildred Boschung. According to family members, it was taken in the Winecoff Hotel on Friday evening December 6, 1946.

Only a few hours later the Boschungs found themselves trapped in room 1208 with fire racing up through the building towards them. They fashioned a sheet rope in hopes of reaching a ladder four floors below. Mildred was knocked from the ladder when another woman fell from room 1008. Only Charles survived.

The Boschungs Were Married One Week Before The Winecoff Fire

Their story is told on pages 52,53,134 and 224 of The Winecoff Fire: The Untold Story of America's Deadliest Hotel Fire.