Staying at a hotel is supposed to be a completely relaxing experience, one where you don't have to worry about making sure there's enough toilet paper or about throwing used towels on the floor. But not that long ago, staying in a hotel was actually a deceptively dangerous experience... in some cases, at least. That's because the development of truly efficient fire codes is pretty recent... like, within the last 60 or so years. And it's only because of one notoriously deadly hotel fire that's been mostly forgotten to history: the Winecoff Hotel Fire in Atlanta.
The case actually bears a lot of similarities to the sinking of the Titanic. The ship was touted by everyone as "unsinkable" before its ill-fated maiden voyage... and in a similar twist of irony, the Winecoff was advertised as "absolutely fireproof"; it was even stamped on the hotel stationary. To be fair, the Winecoff had done everything they were legally obligated to: everything was up to code at the time, they had conrete fireproofing and structural clay tiles, as well as a fire alarm system and a standpipe with hoses on each floor. The hotel was even within two blocks of two engine and two ladder companies-- there was no way this thing was burning down. No way.
But, alas, the hubris of man often ends poorly, and on the night of December 7th, 1946, disaster struck, and it struck hard. No one is really sure what exactly started the fire, but the most popular theory holds that a cigarette butt was dropped near an unused mattress and a chair in a corner of the hallway on the third floor. It wasn't discovered pretty much until it was too late... a bellhop went to assist a guest on the third floor around 3:15AM and became trapped by the blaze. For some reason, though, the fire department wasn't called until 3:42... possibly because the manager was busy calling guestrooms to warn them of the danger. The fire alarm was never rung, but it didn't matter, because by the time the fire was noticed, it was too late for the top floors to escape from the lone staircase, already ablaze on the third floor.
The layout of the hotel's hallways basically fanned the flames even more, pumping in air to futher along the combustion, and all of the decor in the rooms and hallways were highly flammable. Even though the fire department arrived within seconds of receiving the call, the ladders on the trucks couldn't reach all the way to the upper floors of the building. Desperate, some guests attempted to tie bedsheets together as an escape rope, while others tried to jump into the building next door. Still others simply jumped out of the windows to avoid being burned... and the falling bodies reportedly hindered the firefighters, and in some cases even injured them. 49 trucks eventually responded to the general alarm.
When it was all said and done, of the 304 guests in the hotel that night, 119 died, and 65 were injured (one of the injured was the jumping woman in the picture above). The hotel's builder and his wife, who lived in the Winecoff Hotel, were among the dead, as were 30 of 40 high school students who were in town for a youth-in-government conference sponsored by the local YMCA. Ultimately, the incident led to a re-defining of what it meant for a building to be "fireproof"... to place an emphasis on the protection of human lives instead of the protection of the property. The craziest part of the story, though, is that the hotel itself was technically fireproof: it's still around... and you can still stay there. It's been renamed The Ellis Hotel, and it's been brought up to all current fire codes. Plus, the boutique hotel is pet-friendly, has a "fresh air floor", a "women-only" floor, and "wellness rooms" available, with magnetic mattress toppers/blankets, air purifiers, and showers with "ionized, alkalinized, [and] mineralized" water. Swanky.