The Beverly Hills Fire: A Mounting Grief

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Somber Task
Somber task: Rows of victims were arranged on stretchers in two lines separated by gender. Teams of orderlies, doctors and volunteer nurses assisted in carefully cataloging belongings and identifying victims. Zoom
Hoots and hollers echo through the old red brick Fort Thomas Armory on South Fort Thomas Avenue as basketballs arc toward hoops and volleyballs skim over nets.

There are other echoes here, too.

This armory was the makeshift morgue for the dead from Beverly Hills.

''As they came in, we made two rows (of stretchers), one on each end of the basketball courts,'' said Dr. Fred Stine, who still is Campbell County coroner. ''We had one line for the males and one line for the females.''

Women, in their panic, left their purses and identifications behind, while most men had wallets. Loved ones could not be matched.

It was a macabre, surreal scene with the gym lights casting a pall over the polished floor.

The night of the fire, the bodies brought in were not burned, Dr. Stine said. But on Sunday, the bodies brought in were burned beyond recognition.

Dr. Stine
Dr. Fred Stine, today. Zoom
''We kept the bodies in refrigerated trucks at night and brought them back in (to the armory) during the day until they were identified. We used every ounce of embalming fluid in Greater Cincinnati and had to have more flown in,'' he said.

Despite the harrowing situation, there was a sense of dignity and respect.

''The clergy . . . and the nurses were among the most important people (at the morgue). Families (seeking loved ones) could not come in without clergy. Nurses went down the lines with them, too. There was remarkable order,'' Dr. Stine said.

''It was a slow process,'' said Brother Tom Payne, a Marianist, and director of the Cincinnati Police Clergy Crisis Team.

''I most remember the people helping -- the women, nurses on their hands and knees, washing the faces of the victims; trying to put their hair back into some semblance of order -- just to give dignity to these people. And, we had no idea who they were,'' he said.

''When the families came, we went with them. Remember, most of these people were not burned. They died of smoke. When family members saw them, the skin had been washed; hair pulled back. They were treated with dignity and respect . . . That was very important, I think,'' said Brother Payne, property manager at Mount St. John, the Society of Mary's provincial headquarters east of Dayton in Greene County, Ohio.

Marty Huskisson, 54, of Cold Spring, was a critical care supervisor at St. Luke Hospital at the time she went to the morgue to help out.

''It was eerie,'' she said. ''I remember taking families to those refrigerated trucks to try to identify the (badly burned). I can still view that in my mind.

''And, the way (the victims) were dressed. They all went out to have a good time. All dressed up. Suits and fancy dresses and high heels. And, they ended up on a gym floor morgue.''

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