DISASTER: Red Sky at Morning

At 3:30 a.m., Night Clerk Comer Rowan sat in for his wife at the switchboard of Atlanta's Winecoff Hotel. It was a dull hour. Out of the front door, cold moonlight flooded deserted Peachtree Street. In his tenth-floor suite, white-thatched, 70-year-old W. Frank Winecoff, who built the hotel in 1913,* slept soundly.

So, apparently, did all but one of the 285 guests in the brown brick, 15-story, "fireproof" hotel. At 3:32, a switchboard light winked; a soldier in 510 wanted ice and ginger ale. Clerk Rowan sent Bellhop Bill Mobley up with it,...

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