Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

Local News

March 15, 2013

Historian outlines wide impact of hospital fire

EFFINGHAM — After 64 years, people are still talking about the tragic events of April 4, 1949.

That was the day of the St. Anthony Hospital fire that killed 77 people and affected the lives of many more. Thursday, nurse, teacher and local historian Linda Ruholl talked about how the fire could be analyzed in terms of advanced historical research.

With several fire survivors and witnesses in the audience, Ruholl gave the last in a series of local history presentations sponsored by the Effingham County Cultural Center and Museum Association and Effingham County Genealogical and Historical Society.

The series is expected to resume in November.

Ruholl outlined the method in which she learned more about the tragedy.

"When you do historical research, you read, read, read and read," she said.

Among the publications she drew from were contemporary newspapers and magazines, firefighting trade publications and the American Journal of Nursing. She also credited the two compilations of newspaper articles about the fire and its aftermath collected by local historians Audrey Garbe and Eleanor Bounds.

All that reading, she said, led to one goal.

"Part of the purpose of historical research is to establish validity," she said.

Ruholl also talked about the differences in culture between 1949 and 2013, though some observers might think little has changed.

"There were deep divisions in the Effingham community in 1949," she said. "Older and newer residents didnÕt get along, for one thing."

Other conflicts, she said, were between English and German speakers, Protestants and Catholics, Republicans and Democrats, and, on the school level, town kids and country kids.

After several years during World War II when women joined the workforce in droves, women were back at home raising kids while many of their husbands were attending college on the GI Bill. Ruholl said the economy was booming, even though many were distracted by the specter of a worldwide Communist conspiracy.

On top of that, she said, medicine was nowhere near as effective as it is today.

"Infection was still a common cause of death," she said.

Ruholl said the story of St. Anthony Hospital really begins in Europe as a result of the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century. During the course of his rumble through central Europe, Napoleon Bonaparte seized all the monasteries in modern-day Germany. As a result, priests were ministering on their own in the countryside. Some of those priests were assisted by nuns, and, some of those nuns founded the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis in 1844.

Some of those nuns were driven out of Europe by the Franco-Prussian War of 1970. Three of them made it to Effingham by 1876, just in time to work at the then-new St. Anthony Hospital on St. Anthony Avenue in the northwestern part of young Effingham.

After a number of remodelings and addition, the hospital loomed large in the community by 1949, covering more than 6,000 square feet with a capacity of 100 beds.

On the night of the fire, there were anywhere from 128 to 132 people at the hospital, including 107 patients (one of whom died shortly before the fire), four nuns, eight nurses, six other employees, a chaplain, four sitters and two family members with new admissions.

Ruholl talked about some of the heroes of that evening, including Sisters Eustachia Glatki and Bernina Hiericher. Then there was chief engineer Frank Ries, who was last seen descending into the basement and whose body was later found surrounded by fire extinguishers.

One of the most poignant stories, Ruholl said, was that of Fern Riley, the young practical nurse in charge of the nursery. Ruholl said Riley could have escaped, but refused to leave "her babies" and perished along with them.

Ruholl also talked about the national attention that the fire drew from magazines such as Life, Colliers and Time.

Not only, she said, did the Effingham community band together to build a new hospital just north of where the old one had been, but the fire ended up having a national impact on how large buildings were constructed.

The fire also sparked establishment of such institutions as the Illinois Fire College and the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration, which established strict workplace procedures regarding fires.

Ruholl added that the fire made local and regional reputations for several local media personalities, including radio announcer Zona B. Davis and Effingham Daily News founder Joe McNaughton.


Text Only
Local News
  • 7-23 crossroads walker.jpg Walking for life

    A group of nine Crossroads Walkers braved temperatures approaching 90 degrees Tuesday to walk from Greenville to Effingham as part of a cross-country walk designed to call attention to the pro-life movement..

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Concealed-Carry-Clothing-Suit-Jacket-400.jpg Concealed carry objections addressed

    In an effort to offer reasoning behind denials for concealed carry permits, Illinois State Police is assisting the Concealed Carry License Review Board in implementing additional measures to regulate the permit process.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Concealed carry objections addressed

    In an effort to offer reasoning behind denials for concealed carry permits, Illinois State Police is assisting the Concealed Carry License Review Board in implementing additional measures to regulate the permit process.

    July 22, 2014

  • Jay Miller faces more charges after alleged jailhouse attack

    An Altamont man already facing a minimum of 15 years in prison for contributing to the heroin overdose death of an Effingham woman in February could be facing even more prison time after allegedly attacking another inmate in the Effingham County Jail visitation room this past weekend.

    July 21, 2014

  • MIller, Jay C 021314.jpg Jay Miller attacks trial witness

    An Effingham County Jail inmate is facing additional charges after allegedly assaulting another inmate.

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Vehicle overturns in accident on I-70

    An accident on Interstate 70 sent one driver over a guardrail and down an embankment near Altamont.

    July 20, 2014

  • Three drivers injured in Vandalia accident

    A four vehicle accident in Fayette County sent three drivers to hospitals.

    July 20, 2014

  • preview.jpg Bus delivering school supplies to children

    Through 19 years, two buses and thou­sands of dollars in donations, families in need have been able to do their school shopping for free through the Ramblin’ Rose School Bus.

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • BRIANBLOOM-300x200.jpg Opinion: Community should be more inclusive in face of fliers

    This past weekend Effingham residents reported that leaflets, placed inside a rock-laden bag, were distributed promoting the mantra of the Ku Klux Klan.
    At least the rocks have a modicum of value.

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Grand jury indicts woman for bilking child care center

    An Effingham woman was indicted by an Effingham County grand jury this week in connection with the alleged theft of funds from a local early childhood center.

    July 18, 2014

AP Video

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.