June 19, 2024
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By Rebecca Johnson

According to Gary Fire Department, an investigation has been launched into the “heavy fire” that erupted Saturday night in the attic and roof of abandoned Emerson High School.

The fire department reported that firefighters responded at 9:45 pm to an blaze in the brick four-story school at 716 E. 7th Ave. The department reported that winds of up to 20 miles per hour from the west spread the flames quickly throughout the building, causing “severe” damage and the collapsed roof.

No injuries have been reported. The department stated that the fire had mostly died down by 3 am. Merrillville firefighters and Munster firefighter helped put out the fire.

The Indiana State Fire Marshal’s Office and Gary’s Fire Department are investigating to determine the origin and cause of the fire.

In 1927, hundreds of students boycotted the school for four days to demand that the administrators expel 18 Black students. After enduring racist threats and being expelled from the Virginia Street School, Black students returned.

When I first arrived, it was shocking to see the damage done to Emerson. Mark Terry, Gary’s Fire Chief said that this building holds so much historical significance for so many people in Gary. I have fond memories of attending many events here when my son attended school here.

Terry said, “This school is the birthplace of the modern education system. It was also the first in the nation to install a pool.” There have been many notable alumni who have walked these halls.

Multiple crimes have been committed at the school in the east of the city, which has been closed since 2008. The Emerson School for Visual and Performing Arts moved to the area. Three East Chicago men, a girl and an East Chicago juvenile were all arrested in July after shootings were heard inside the building. A month before, the same school was the scene of a fire.

Police found the body of a Chicago teenager, aged 17, in a deteriorated building that was built in 1909.

Fire department officials said that the property had been transferred to Gary Housing Authority, in December 2020. However, it has remained unused since then and was deemed “uninhabitable”. They also said there are no utilities connected to the building.

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