William Kenneth Thompson – Commander, United States Navy, Government Official

16 Dead in Hotel Fire
Thousands See Hotel Guests Flee Flames
Many Saved on Ladders; Score Injured

CHICAGO, June 5, 1946 – Inspector of Police Edwin Daly estimated that at least at persons were killed in the La Salle Hotel fire.  Ward Walker, a Chicago Tribune reporter, entered the hotel while the fire was still raging and counted 14 bodies. Seven were lying in the well at the hotel, Walker reported. The dead were being taken to the lobby of the City Hall.  Extra police were called on duty to prevent looting in the hotel.

At least 16 persons perished, and more than a score were injured or overcome by smoke in a spectacular fire which broke out on the ground floor of the La Salle Hotel early today.

Hundreds of guests were trapped in upper story rooms and many later were carried own extension ladders from as high as the sixth floor.  Still more manager to escape by climbing down steel fire escapes – many clad in scanty night attire.

As flames shot as high as the seventh floor level from the street, the loop echoed to the screams and cries of men and women standing in the open windows.

A 50-11 alarm, followed by special calls, was sounded.  Firemen rushed into the smoke-filled lobby and braved fierce flames that made the mezzanine, in the words of one witness, “e hellish ball of fire.”  Soon firemen were carrying out unconscious guests, picked up in smoke filled corridors.  They were taken to the Henrotin and St. Like’s Hospitals.

The toll of the dead and injured could not be immediately ascertained but the Henrotin Hospital reported two men and one woman dead, and St. Luke’s Hospital reported one man and one woman dead. Henrotin admitted 12 smoke victims and St. Luke’s five.  The coroner’s officer tentatively identified two dead as Delbert Rousch, 25, of Newton, Iowa, and Bill Dennison, no address. The other victims were not identified.  An Assistant Fire Chief whose name was Freeman was reported killed in a fall down a fire shaft.

Police and firemen rushed all available inhalator machines to the hotel and worked over smoke victims at the scene.

Many of the guests became panicky.  At dozens of window women screamed and men cried for help while some waved bed sheets out of the windows to attract attention.

However, firemen called to them that the worst danger was over and urged them to stay in their rooms.  Many continued their cries for help and these, more panicky than thirst, quickly were brought down via tower ladders from third, fourth and fifth floors.

Many of those rescued and many others who climbed down cold fire escapes were in scanty attire.  Most of them put on coats over their night garments and fled to safety.

“I saw many people overcome on the fourth floor,” said D. S. Taggaty, 36, of 10 Prescott Street, Boston, a salesman.  “Two men were lying outside my door.  Another and and I dragged them into my room.  We dropped a note down to firemen who came up and took them down.”

Marion Burks of Springfield, Illinois, assistant director of the State Department of Insurance, and his wife were trapped in their room on the13th floor.

“All lights were out, the smoke was so heavy we couldn’t see,” said Burks.  “I opened my window and looked for the nearest fire escape. It was about 30fet from my door. My wife and I put wet towels on our faces and felt our way down the hall.  Luckily we hit the window at the fire escape. We just climbed down.”

Military Burial at Arlington for U.S. Education office Aide

WASHINGTON, Jun3 8, 1946 – Commander William Kenneth Thompson, USNR, who was unofficial of the United States Office of Education at his death in the fire at the La Salle Hotel in Chicago on Wednesday, was buried today at Arlington National Cemetery with full military rites.  A funeral service was held earlier in St. Paul’s Church, Alexandria, Virginia.

Commander Thompson, who was 42 years old, was born at Racine, Wisconsin, and was graduated in 1925 from the United States Naval Academy.  He resigned from the service three years later and was engaged in the investment business until 1941 when he rejoined the Navy.

He leaves a widow, the former Hildegarde Steivers of Los Angeles, a son, Craig, a daughter, Kay, his mother, Mrs. Arnette J. Thompson, all of Alexandria, a brother Robert C. Thompson of Riverdale, Illinois, and a sister, Mrs. Lewis Greggerson of Elkhorn, Wisconsin.


  • DATE OF BIRTH: 04/12/1904
  • DATE OF DEATH: 06/05/1946

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