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Authors sign books at Fire Museum

Just released on Nov. 11, ÒForgotten Fires of Chicago, The Lake Michigan Inferno and a Century of Flame,” written by John F. Hogan and Alex A. Burkholder, tells the stories of 18 fires in Chicago, spectacular events that otherwise might forever have been lost.

Included in the book is the story of the huge blaze in 1973 that ravaged the Central Manufacturing district here on the Southwest Side.

Chicago native Hogan is a former broadcast journalist and on-air reporter for WGN TV/Radio. Burkholder was a producer and writer/reporter for WGN and ABC 7 Chicago. Their collaboration on this book began when the two met up at a WGN reunion about four years ago.{{more}}

ÒI had been thinking of working on a project dealing with the history of fire in Chicago and I asked Alex if he’d be interested in joining me,” said Hogan. ÒThe timing was good. In a week or two it would be the 100th anniversary of the 1910 stockyard fire, the worst loss of firefighters’ lives in the century prior to 9/11. We figured in attending the presentation marking the anniversary we could get some good background to begin.”

As it turned out, once the pair began researching the stockyards fire and talking to the descendants of some of the men killed in the fire, they had more than enough information for a book with just that one story. The fruits of that endeavor became ÒFire Strikes the Chicago Stock Yards” published by The History Press.

Burkholder has been a lifelong fire buff and is a founding member of the Fire Museum of Greater Chicago at 5218 S. Western Avenue, in the former home of Engine Company 123. Last Saturday both Hogan and Burkholder were present to sign copies of their new book.

Vanessa Harris was the first to speak to the authors and the three spent quite a bit of time exchanging stories. The reason, it turned out, was that while Hogan and Burkholder were gathering information for their book, Harris was researching any lead she could find that would give her more information on her mother’s death in 1965, and it was in their book that she found her answers.

Harris was just 9 years old when her mom died in an arson fire that consumed the Seeley Club where she was employed.

ÒMy mother didn’t want to go to work that evening. She hadn’t had a chance to do the laundry. The only clean top she had to wear was a yellow smock and she hated yellow,” remembered Harris. ÒBut, she went anyway because it was right before Christmas and Saturday nights were good tip nights. She hoped to make some extra money to buy us kids nice gifts.”

Violetta Harris, 49, had eight children. In 1965 the oldest was 15 and the youngest was 2. Saturday night was treat night for the children and they always stayed up to wait for their mom to return from work. But on Dec. 11 of that year, she did not return and although the children tried to stay awake, they fell asleep waiting.

The next morning they learned of their mother’s fate, perishing in a fire that killed 13 people. In the weeks that followed the children were split up; and in the years that followed Vanessa searched for more information with the intent of putting together a life journal of her mom.

She obtained a Chicago Sun-Times photo of the gutted Seeley Club and a photo of the man who set the fire but it wasn’t until she spoke to Hogan and Burkholder that she actually got the whole story and for that she is very grateful.

Forgotten Fires of Chicago, The Lake Michigan Inferno and a Century of Flame ispublished by The History Press and is available at book stores, on Amazon.com.

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