We compiled information on the fire’s victims from census records, city directories, birth certificates, death records, news accounts, plat maps, immigration records and more. Lists of the dead appearing in Marshall Everett’s The Complete Story of the Collinwood School Disaster (1908), on the Collinwood Fire Memorial at Lake View Cemetery (1910), and in In Loving Remembrance (2008), a pamphlet published by the Cleveland Public Library, helped tremendously.
Early-twentieth-century documents often spell non-Anglophone names inconsistently. We have typically preserved names as they appear on the memorial plaque, because variations are so numerous and confusing. Different sources, for example, use “Perat,” “Parritt,” and “Pert” to refer to the same family. Other data points also conflict at times, but we have done our best to work through inconsistencies. We’re happy to hear from anyone who sees a possible error in our work or who can offer more information, including photographs of children not yet pictured with other victims of the fire. Some family members of those who died in the fire or survived it have already contributed documents and information, and we are grateful for it. Our contact information is linked here.
The 162 children listed on the memorial plaque fall significantly short of the most often reported death toll of 172, obtained by townspeople who canvassed neighborhoods in the near aftermath of the fire. That list of names no longer survives intact. Maybe canvassers counted some victims twice and officials corrected the error before the memorial’s completion two years later. Or maybe they tabulated the dead but sometimes failed to list a name. Newspaper coverage and Everett’s Complete Story do name some victims not on the monument but, in most cases of this kind, no official records verify that the children ever lived in Collinwood or attended school there. Newspapers reported other names of victims that are simply spelling variations of those on the monument. In one instance of duplication, Everett (and some newspapers) list both Arnold and Meda Depner and Arnold and Meda Woodrich as victims, but records show that the Depner children’s mother married a second time shortly before the fire, to a man named Woodrich. The Depner and the Woodrich children are the same people. As we emphasize throughout “Mass Media and the Fire”, early-twentieth-century news reporting was often rushed, short on fact checking, and designed to sell sensationalized, sometimes nearly fictional, stories. In the present, the discrepancy between the official death toll reported in 1908 (172 children) and the number memorialized in 1910 (162 children) remains impossible to resolve fully. In either case, of course, the fire was a brutal tragedy.
Not surprisingly, we found photographs for a much smaller percentage of children from the most recently immigrated families, mostly Slovenian, than from families of longer residence in the US. Such portraits were an established practice in much of the US but not in the areas from which many immigrants arrived. The pictures also cost money, whether to pay a photographer or buy a camera and film. When we found no photograph of a child, we cropped the “Victim of the Lake View School Disaster” image from Edna Pahner’s gravemarker in Salineville, Ohio. The original photo is at findagrave.com.
Unless otherwise noted, photographs of children on the “Victims of the Fire” page appeared in Everett’s Complete Story. His captions often added dramatic stories borrowed from newspapers. Many of these no doubt have elements of truth, but, one should again bear in mind that Everett and the papers sought particular emotional effects, lacked exacting attention to detail, and strove to drive sales in the near aftermath of the disaster.