July 22, 2014

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The Other Tragedy Of That Weekend

The JFK assassination overshadowed news of an Ohio nursing home fire whose eventual effects were far-reaching.

In today's media world, where "the big story" often trumps everything else, I always like to remind people that there is always other news.

For example, on the day of one of the biggest disasters of my 30 years at WTAP (I came after the Willow Island, Silver Bridge and Marshall plane crash disasters), the Shell Chemical plant explosion in Belpre, we did cover other stories.

But that's not a new thing.  One of the worst nursing home fires in history happened the day after the assassination of President Kennedy, and, as a result, it did not get significant national coverage.

It happened in the Northern Ohio community of Fitchville.  63 people died in the fire which began in the attic of the home early in the morning of November 23.  By the time firefighters arrived-just a few minutes after it was first reported-the building was totally involved.

A recent Associated Press story says investigators determined the large loss of life happened because of the lack of an evacuation plan. The fire was one of several (the 1970 Harmar House fire in Marietta was another), which prompted changes in the construction and safety of nursing homes nationwide.

Ohio media reported the nursing home fire.  A front-page reprint of the Akron Beacon Journal from Sunday, November 24 put the fire headline just above that of the events of the day following the JFK shooting. But the news out of Dallas and Washington, D.C. was so overwhelming even those touched by the Ohio fire focused on it rather than their own tragedy.

“We kind of put the nursing home aside until the president’s funeral,” local historian Harry Timman recalled to the AP. “It was overshadowed in a way, but its effects were far-reaching.”

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