I was in high school when the hospital burned. I lived with my family across the road from the hospital, on St. Anthony Avenue. My name then was Gaddis. I had an older sister and brother. My bedroom was toward the back of the house, so I didn't hear or see it while it was happening. Some of our neighbors took people in who had been patients who escaped on the night of the fire.
Life went on afterwards. There was nothing I could really do about what happened. My mom worked out of the home some, mostly in local eating places. And I was in high school, so we weren't around that much during the day to see what changed. I do remember that the smoke smell stayed in the air for a long time. I think the fire made people think about what the hospital meant to them; they had taken it for granted. As the old saying goes, "You don't think that much about water, until the well goes dry."
I don't know if my family donated toward the new hospital or not. I was too young to be asked to contribute. After the fire, I didn't live in my family's home that much longer. The most direct effect on me was that, after I got married, there wasn't a hospital to go to have a baby. I went to Marshall Clinic. It was in a different place than where it is now, on the other side of the railroad tracks. It worked out; you didn't stay very long. You went in and delivered, and as soon as they could see you were going to be OK, they sent you home with your new baby.
From the beginning, I was fascinated by all the news coverage of the fire. I started to collect newspaper clippings about the fire. Anything that mentioned the fire, I saved it, even little articles. As time went on, I kept that up. These were all loose clippings, not pasted in a scrapbook or stored in a binder.
Sixty years after the fire, I brought the clippings to the genealogy society. Eleanor Bounds and I put them together to make a book. I am glad we were able to preserve those clippings in a book. People wanted to read about the fire even after all that time, and I think It helped people who were interested to find information. I had a lot of people tell me that when the book came out.
Audrey Garbe co-edited, along with Eleanor Bounds, the two collections of hospital fire clippings and stories produced by the Effingham County Genealogical and Historical Society in 2009. She lives in Effingham.
In their own words
On the night of April 4, 1949 – 70 years ago – a raging fire lit the sky over Effingham as St. Anthony’s Hospital burned. Devastation of the structure would take only minutes, but the fire's devastating impact lingers to this day. There were 128 patients, staff and visitors in the building. The fire claimed 77 lives. Linda Ruholl, nurse historian at the Effingham County Museum, has collected 11 "oral histories" from people affected by that night. The Effingham Daily News will share these stories of tragedy and triumph throughout April.