Crime Scene Photography · Disasters · Ohio · School Violence

The Collinwood school fire

March 4, 1908
Collinwood, Ohio
The Lake View School catches fire resulting in the deaths of 173 students and 2 teachers

The fire’s cause is still considered of unknown origin, though several theories were considered. Officially, the coroner noted the fire was started by heating pipes, which ran adjacent to exposed wooden beams, ignited the wood. However, the coroner’s inquest was completed hastily and parents were dissatisfied with the explanation as well as the coroner refusing to hold the school board, the building’s architects and contractors, or anyone else responsible for the fire. Other theories involved the school’s janitor neglecting his duties and allowing the school’s furnace to overheat, and students smoking cigarettes in the basement near flammable materials.

After the blaze started, for whatever reason it began, the school’s design turned the building into a chimney. The outer masonry and inner wooden structures kept the fire contained within, funneling the fires upward. The school had only two exits, one of which was quickly blocked by the fire. The second exit bottlenecked, and panicked children became stuck as wave after wave of more children pushed into and climbed on top of others. Eventually this created a blockade of children.

The town’s volunteer fire department, still using horse-drawn fire engines, arrived far too late to combat the inferno. Within 90 minutes, three floors and the roof fell into the school’s basement. Nearly half of the students died in the fire. Nineteen of the students’ remains were unrecognizable and were buried in a shared grave.

As the town began to deliberate what to do with the land, a suggestion was made to build a new school over the ruins of the old. Parents objected to the idea, going as far as filing lawsuits against the proposal. Eventually it was determined the land would be turned into a memorial garden for the victims of the fire.

The last known photograph taken inside the Lake View School.

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