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The Untold Story of America ‘s Deadliest Hotel Fire December 7, 2007

Posted by tkcollier in Cool photos, News, Photography.

Pulitzer Photo
The windows of the 15-story Winecoff Hotel were backlit by orange flames. Guests–jumping out of panic or falling from makeshift ropes of bedsheets as they tried to escape the terrible smoke–were landing and dying on Peachtree Street. Amid the pandemonium and a cacophony of sirens, Hardy went to work. He took a shot that spanned the front of the building and the faces of the doomed in the windows–the mutely pleading, hopeless faces. When he was down to his final flashbulb–one had exploded in the cold night air–Hardy decided to try for a picture of a falling or jumping guest. When his viewfinder found a dark-haired woman falling midair at the third floor, her skirt billowing, he snapped the shutter open for 1/400th of a second.

With his photography completed, Hardy heard a fireman and policeman at a drugstore across the street discussing calling the store owner so they could obtain medical supplies. He told them to break the door open. When they said they wouldn’t he kicked it open himself. He was quickly arrested.

As the Red Cross moved into the store to set up a first-aid station and make sandwiches and coffee for the firemen, Hardy was led off to jail. Upon being released on his own recognizance, he headed for the darkroom at the Tech research search lab. He developed his film and struck out for the Associated Press office downtown. The AP offered him $150 for exclusive rights to his pictures. He said he wanted $300–and got it. His final photograph–the one of the jumping woman–would be reprinted around the world the following day, and be on magazine covers for weeks. The fire had killed 119 people and drawn international coverage as the worst hotel fire in the history of the world. A few months later, Hardy became the first amateur photographer to win the Pulitzer Prize. More Pictures


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