Hotel blaze killed 10 people 30 years ago today
Monday, December 10, 2007
Thirty years ago today, the once majestic Wenonah
Hotel was destroyed by a fire that killed 10 people.
The devastating blaze is one of the worst in Bay City's
The massive building stood across from Wenonah Park
where the Delta College Planetarium is today. According
to news accounts during its 1908 opening, the Wenonah,
named after the princess who loved Hiawatha in the
epic poem, was constructed of marble, concrete, steel
and glass and was labeled as virtually fireproof by
engineers and owners.
The hey day of the hotel was over in the 1970s and
the building had been converted from a 300-room luxury
hotel to a 100-room apartment house. The day of the
fire, Dec. 10,1977, was extremely cold, about 9 degrees,
according to reports at the time. Water from the fire
department's hoses quickly iced over the sidewalks
and streets in the area.
Many people experienced the tragedy of the Wenonah
Hotel fire from different perspectives - from actively
engaging the blaze as a firefighter, rescuing terrified
residents, or trying to get the story to the anxious
public. Here is how they remember the event on Dec.
Gary Connelly, Bay City firefighter (later fire marshal)
''It was a very hard fire to extinguish because it
traveled from room to room and you got water on one
room and it broke out in another. There was so much
water being poured into that structure that the main
(grand) staircase was like Niagara Falls.
''We couldn't get to the top floors until late. When
we did, it was like being in a building in one of
those bombed out cities during the war. We had to
go looking for the bodies of the victims. It was something
that weighed very heavy on us, something you never,
ever forget. That feeling doesn't go away.''
Dick Somalski, snow plow operator (Hampton Township
''I had just finished plowing the parking lot of
Bell Telephone Co. on Center and Madison and I could
see the smoke. It was very heavy. I followed it and
saw that the entire hotel was on fire.