A Nurse's Tale

Nurse Jackie Snyder traded the grass skirt she wore to Sophomore Shipwreck for pajamas, and turned in for the night in a spare room at the home of the College's grounds superintendent. She had been accompanied to the Saturday night dance by Kenyon junior Bob McLain, whom she first began dating when the two attended Massillon High School. The revelry of Sophomore Shipwreck had lingered long into the predawn, and Snyder was floating somewhere between wakefulness and slumber when she heard the cry, "Oh, my God. You've got to be kidding."

It was the superintendent fielding the call alerting him to the crisis at Old Kenyon.

"I tore up the Middle Path," Snyder, now Jackie McLain, recalled. "Somehow I thought the fire was in Leonard. I almost fainted to see the whole of Middle Kenyon on fire. As I was coming up the path I could see them jumping out of windows. They were throwing their mattresses out and jumping, trying to land on them. Some were trying to push their roommates out, but they wouldn't go.

"It was worse in the back. I saw a kid hanging on the building trying to catch people who were jumping."

"Jackie," someone shouted, "you've got to get to the Beta house." Obeying the summons, she discovered that Leonard had been pressed into service as a triage area.

"We not only had burns," McLain said, "but we had kids with broken bones from jumping out of windows." Moving among them, she did what she could to soothe their suffering, until she was asked to ride in the back of the ambulance taking a horribly burned Marc Peck to Mount Vernon's Mercy Hospital.

"They had put him on a gurney and into the ambulance," she said. "I think they thought that if he stopped breathing I could resuscitate him. He kept asking, 'Why me? Why me?'"

With the front of Middle Kenyon glowing like a railroad lantern, the ambulance sped off for Mount Vernon.

"It was utter chaos at the hospital," McLain said. "It was the middle of the night. They were trying to get doctors in, trying to get nurses in. The injured were sitting on the floor. I was working on the floor. I was bandaging up people—doing whatever I could do. It was horrible, but you just do it. When you're in that situation, you don't think. You are just reacting."

As she worked among the injured in the emergency room, doctors labored over Marc Peck. While some students had leaped to safety, Peck had literally walked through the most treacherous part of the fire, descending the stairs down from the third floor of Middle Kenyon.

An exhausted McLain did not finish her labors among the injured until shortly before noon. She had just enough time to pull herself together and change out of her pajamas and into her nurse uniform to go to work at her regular hospital job in Canton.

She did not get the news until later that Marc Peck had succumbed to his burns at 5:00 p.m.

A year after the fire, McLain married the date who took her to the Sophomore Shipwreck dance. Today, she lives in Canton, where her husband of fifty-eight years is a resident of Windsor Medical Center, an assisted-living facility. One of their five children, daughter Gretchen McLain Larman, is a 1975 graduate of the College.

She looks at the brown and brittle newspaper clipping of a Canton Repository story on the fire and her part in taking care of survivors.

"It's horrible," she said of retracing each hour of February 27, 1949, the sights that she witnessed and the injured she helped save. "Just like the day it happened."