A Memory of a Christmas Fire in 1957


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I have been a bit frustrated today looking for information on a Christmas Day fire that happened in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in 1957.  I am admittedly the worst when it comes to searching on the web.  For some reason all I get are ads for one things or another.  I found the Sunday Independent for December 29, 1957 but I didn’t find any mention of the fire.  The Times Leader doesn’t seem to have archives to search.  Maybe they do and I’m just not seeing them, as usual.  I will have to do this from memory, which means this will be a lot shorter that it would have been and I’ll need help if my facts are fuzzy.

I remember that December, walking to school up Grove Street from Moyallen.  We would cut through the open lot on Stanton Street which would become the doctor’s office, to Harkins Lane and into the school yard.  I was in second grade and my teacher was Miss Reilly.  She was a nice lady.  I don’t remember if she was Irish or Scottish, but she used to call us her lads and lasses.  She would put the little stars and stickers of the season on our papers.

Buddy Holly


Buddy Holly and the Crickets and Sam Cooke were on the Ed Sullivan Show and the news was talking about President Eisenhower having a stroke that impaired his speech.  Also, and this I remember; it’s one of the few things I didn’t have to look up, America’s first attempt to launch a satellite failed in December of 1957 when the Vanguard rocket blew up on the launching pad.

I remember school getting out for the holidays and counting the days until Christmas.  When Christmas came my brothers and I ran down to open our presents.  We had torn into things when we heard sirens.  My brother Tony was a huge fan of the fire department.  He kept that fascination and became a firefighter.  He had a full career as a firefighter and many people were lucky that he was around.  It might have all started that Christmas in 1957 but you would have ask him about that.

We got dressed and we were out of the house in minutes.  We didn’t have to go far.  Smoke was rising from a house a block over on Prospect Street.  We got over there and the firefighters were still working the fire.  We thought it was really cool under they started bringing people out.  There were little kids that didn’t make out of that fire.  I believe it was the Degman family.  I can use some help confirming or correcting that.  Seeing the stretchers coming out changed everything.  I’ll never forget that scene.  Christmas became less bright.  We did go home and play with our toys but the holiday spirit was left over on Prospect Street.

I think of how much those kids missed.  They missed all of the experiences of growing up, high school, football games, and just goofing around.  They missed everything that has happened since 1957.  Sometimes we just have to stop and count our blessings.


Pete is a retired software developer, a writer, and a martial arts instructor. He lives in Maryland with his wife Cathy and they are enjoying their retirement. Pete is the author of four novels, "The Teacher", 500 Years from Home", and "The Long Journey Home" are available at Lulu.com; and "Pioneers" in available at the Kindle Book Store.

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Posted in History, Memories, Wilkes-Barre
7 comments on “A Memory of a Christmas Fire in 1957
  1. Frank Eyerman says:

    Pete / Tiffany at the Osterhout library on Franklin street handles all the archive papers from that area / 570 823 0156 . hope this helps a little .

  2. Frank Eyerman says:

    Papers from that time period were Wilkes Barre Record mornings and Times Leader even

  3. Tony says:

    You are correct it was the Degman family. I remember the headlines in the paper the next day it said, Three little Degam kids now up in Heaven with God. Never forgot that, nor the fire, nor the kids. That was a sad day Christmas or not. I can still see the firefighters on the porch roof making entry into the second floor through the windows trying to get them kids. They did not have breathing apparatus back in those day. They truly did the best they could, they were throwing up, choking, hacking, but they did not quit until they found those kids. Unfortunately it was to late. But after reviewing that fire in my head a hundred times and knowing what I know now, I think it was to late before the fire department even got there..

  4. Amber Williams says:

    I believe it was actually the Degnan family, the address was 45 PROSPECT ST and you can find info on the microfilm at the osterhaut library

  5. petejoem says:

    Thanks for the comments. Tony, I knew you would remember clearly. I’ll never forget either.

  6. David Wojtowicz says:

    Treasures Pete. Treasures to read your recollections put to paper (computer screen). Thanks.

  7. petejoem says:

    Thanks Dave, a lot of things have come back to me recently.

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