Firefighters Ghostly Handprint
- Unsolved Mysteries
- Francis Leavy, a career firefighter for the Chicago Fire Department, was hard at work on maintenance and clean-up around the engine house when his co-workers around him felt he was behaving quite aloof and not his usual self. It was while Leavy was washing one of the buildings windows that he came to an abrupt stop, leant against the window and said that he had the strangest feeling that he was going to die that day.
It was April 18, 1924 and as Leavy said those quite fateful words, an off duty street car conductor noticed flames coming out of a building several blocks away. This four storey building known as ‘Curran’s Hall’ was going up in flames, the off duty conductor pulled the fire alarm switch and the Chicago Fire Department responded.
Francis Leavy, rank of ‘pipeman’ with engine 107, was one of many firefighters who responded to the call. Just after 7pm the first crews arrived at the 1363 S. Blue Island Avenue property and set to work. The blaze was fought from both inside the building, fighters and their fire hoses winding their way through the inferno, and from the outside, the upper floors being accessed via ladders.
Those inside did not have a great time of it. With no breathing apparatus’, they took it in turns passing the hose before running to the windows to gulp fresh air before returning to the flames.
As the battle against the inferno was carried out, a number of people noticed some anomalies with the fire. Several witnessed watched flames run downstairs as if it were burning liquid. It had been noticed before at oil fires with the flames flowing along the combustible liquids, but there should have been none there in Curran’s Hall.
Later it would be discovered that it was arson, an insurance job perpetrated by a sporting goods and novelties business that was located on the second floor of the building. They were tried and convicted of arson and murder, however, that info, even if known at the time, would have not stopped what happened next.
The fire had sufficiently weakened the structure of the building and the roof collapsed about half an hour into the fight. Those in the building were crushed by the falling masonry. The firefighters battling the blaze from the outside were also caught as the collapsing roof pushed the front wall outwards. The falling facade crushed those manning the ladders and several of the engines.
A rescue operation was quickly under way. With the building having collapsed, the flames were quickly extinguished, and within half an hour every rescue agency in Chicago was called in to help recover the survivors and those who were not so lucky.
In all nine firefighters were killed in the collapse, among them, Francis Leavy. More than twenty firefighters were also injured and one civilian was killed during the rescue work. Funerals were held within the week with 125 Chicago firefighters detailed as honorary escorts for the services. The civilian, who had died, William Behr, was also honoured at his funerals, with firefighters acting as the pallbearers – a first in Chicago’s history.
The day after the tragedy something strange was noticed back at the engine house – on a window pane was a strange stain. At first those staffing the engine house tried to wash it off, scrub it off and then scratch it off but nothing would remove it. Over the following days the pattern of the stain started to become clearer – it soon became obvious that it was a handprint.
This was quite disturbing as it was on the exact same spot where Francis Leavy had leaned and told of his forecoming doom the day before. There was quite a stir over this, and they decided to be rid of it. Everything was tried from hiring window cleaners, to using chemical solvents to even trying to scratch it off, but nothing would work.
It was suggested that the station just be rid of the glass pane altogether but those working there had changed their tune, deciding it must’ve been there for a reason and it was best to not mess around with the unknown.
And there the window pane stayed, for many years, as a reminder of Francis Leavy who knew his time was up. Decades later, on April 18, 1944, a paper boy was doing his rounds when he carelessly threw a morning edition newspaper through the window, destroying it and Francis Leavy’s handprint.
Ashley Hall 2013
Main Picture: Photo said to be Francis Leavy’s handprint left on the window some sort of sticker covering the palm.
Inset Left: Rescue operation in the aftermath of the fire and collapse.
Inset Right: Firefighters working in Chicago circa 1920.
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