Nov. 23, 1963
The top stories in the Norwalk Reflector-Herald on this date 44 years ago:
63 die in Fitchville
nursing home fire
A wind-whipped fire turned Golden Age Nursing Home, north of Fitchville, into a furnace early this morning, killing as many as 63 persons. Definite figures of the death toll and names of the dead were unknown late this morning. All investigators know was that 21 patients and four employees of the home were rescued.
All of the surviving home patients were admitted to Fisher-Titus Memorial Hospital. The four employees were treated for minor injuries and shock, then released. Hospital officials and doctors reported none of the survivors was seriously injured. Most serious of the injuries were second degree burns.
The fire, which was discovered shortly after 4 a.m., was of undetermined origin. Although a passing truck driver, one of the first on the scene, reported seeing electrical sparks, mystery still clouds the actual cause of the fire. It started in the northwest corner of the building near the entrance and office.
Those on the scene indicate high winds were a major factor in the quick spread of the fire, which trapped the majority of the home residents. Survivors reported little panic, but much confusion and lack of understanding among the patients.
Some who were safely conducted to the outside returned to the building and their deaths.
“I could hear people hollering, shouting and crying, but we couldn’t get to them in the dark,” related Emmett Evege, 49, a patient in the home. “Back way was the only way you could get out, flames had the other entrances blocked off.” Evege told of tar from the roof leaking down in there, adding to the fire.
Local victims of the blaze at Golden Age Nursing Home included:
Robert Carey, 70; Martha Carpenter, 74; Pauline Charnecky, 66, all of Norwalk; Ruben Echelbarger, 95, New Haven; Clayton Hires, Wakeman; George Juhasz, 70, and Louise Kehrers, 81, Norwalk; Katie Lepls, 79, and John Linder, 42, Monroeville; Henry Parnell, 64, New London; Charles Speiert, 84, Willard; and Upson Todd, 62, Wakeman.
Local residents among the 21 survivors of the Golden Age Nursing Home fire included:
Julia Zavatka, Jacob Glasser, Mrs. Susan Sage, and Mrs. Theodore Ehrhardt, New London; Maynard Deiner and Robert Deiner, Norwalk; Tenny Wireman, Charles Wireman, Greenwich; Lucille Ackerman, Mrs. Thelma Ackerman, Monroeville; John Brown, Mrs. E. Luecht, Esther Plough, Madge Early, Greenwich; and Emmet Evege and Leota Burns of New London.
Local churches plan
special prayer hours
in wake of tragedies
The doors of most of Norwalk’s churches will be open Monday for individual prayers of congregation members mourning the dual tragedies of the death of President John F. Kennedy, and 63 elderly residents of the Golden Age Nursing Home near Fitchville.
Mayor Louis Frey and the Rev. Haldon J. Robarge, president of the Norwalk ministerial Association and pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church, said this morning all member churches in the association will be open Monday starting at 11 a.m., the hour of the funeral for President Kennedy.
— Compiled by Andy Prutsok