Article Category: Funereal Friday

Christmas Mourning

Posted Friday, Dec 04

School classmates serve as pallbearers and carry the casket of one of four members of a family who died in the Winecoff Hotel fire in Atlanta, from the Central Methodist Church in Fitzgerald, Georgia, December 9, 1946.  Joint services were held for Mrs. J.E. Smith and her three children, who were on a Christmas shopping trip in Atlanta when they perished in the hotel fire. (AP Photo)

Southern Calls Vol. 10, December 2015

The Winecoff Hotel fire of December 7, 1946 was the deadliest hotel fire in United States history, killing 119 hotel occupants. The hotel opened in 1913 as one of the tallest buildings in Atlanta. Located at 176 Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, the Winecoff was advertised as “absolutely fireproof.” 

Of the 304 guests in the hotel that night, 119 died, approximately 65 were injured and about 120 were rescued uninjured. The hotel’s original owners, the Winecoffs, who lived in an apartment in the hotel, died in the apartment. 32 deaths were among those who jumped, or who fell while trying to descend ropes made of sheets tied together. Among the hotel guests were forty high school students on a State YMCA of Georgia sponsored trip to Atlanta for a state youth-in-government legislative program, thirty of whom died. The students had mostly been placed two to a room at the back of the hotel next to the alley, where many of the windows had been covered by louvered shutters for privacy. The occupants of the shuttered rooms were killed on every floor above the fifth floor.

Arnold Hardy, a 24-year-old Georgia Tech graduate student, won the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for Photography, capturing the fall of Daisy McCumber from the building with his last flashbulb.  Hardy had been coming home from a dance.  Hearing sirens, he called the fire department to find the location and went to the fire scene.  Following the fire, Hardy appeared at the AP office with his own images, three of which were usable, one of which was of McCumber’s fall.  The AP bought Hardy’s pictures for $300.00.  McCumber, 41,  survived her fall.

Hardy died December 5, 2007 at age 85 in Emory University Hospital in Atlanta of complications following hip surgery. His family received friends from 1-2pm Friday, December 7, 2007 at A.S. Turner & Sons Funeral Home in Decatur, Georgia, which was the 61st, anniversary of the Winecoff Hotel Fire.  Services were held at 2 pm in the Chapel.  Hardy was cremated and his ashes inurned at Alta Vista Cemetery in Gainesville, Georgia.

In April 1951, the hotel reopened as the Peachtree Hotel on Peachtree, and was now equipped with both fire alarms and automated sprinkler systems.  In 1967, it was donated to the Georgia Baptist Convention for housing the elderly, and then repeatedly sold to a series of potential developers.  

The gutted lobby served as a souvenir shop during the 1996 Olympics. 

After over two decades of vacancy, a $23 million renovation project began in April of 2006.  The project restored the building into a boutique luxury hotel, called the Ellis Hotel after the street that runs along the north side of the building.  It was reopened on October 1, 2007.

Winecoff Fire Historic Marker

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