Cocoanut Grove Fire

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The Cocoanut Grove was Boston's premier nightclub during the post-Prohibition 1930s and 40s. On November 28, 1942, occurred the scene of what remains the deadliest nightclub fire, killing 492 people and injuring hundreds more. It was also the second-worst single-building fire in American history; only the 1903 Iroquois Theater fire in Chicago had a higher death toll, of 602. Official reports state the fire started at about 10:15 p.m. in the dark, intimate Melody Lounge downstairs. A young pianist and singer, Goody Goodelle, was performing on a revolving stage, surrounded by artificial palm trees. It was believed that a young man, possibly a soldier, had removed a light bulb in order to give himself privacy while kissing his date. Stanley Tomaszewski—a 16-year-old busboy—was instructed to put the light back on by retightening the bulb. As he attempted to tighten the light bulb back into its socket, the bulb fell out of his hand. In the dimly-lit lounge, Tomaszewski, unable to see the socket, lit a match for a moment to illuminate the area, found the socket, blew out the match, and replaced the bulb. Almost immediately, patrons saw something ignite in the canopy of artificial palm fronds draped above the tables. Despite waiters' efforts to douse the fire by throwing water on it, it quickly spread along the fronds of the palm tree, igniting nearby decorations on the walls and ceiling. Flames raced up the stairway to the main level, burning the hair of patrons who were stumbling up the stairs. A fireball burst across the central dance floor just as the orchestra was beginning its evening show. Flames raced through the adjacent Caricature Bar, then down a corridor to the Broadway Lounge. Within five minutes, flames had spread to the main clubroom and the entire nightclub was ablaze. As is common in panic situations, many patrons attempted to exit through the main entrance, the same way they had come in. However, the building's main entrance was a single revolving door, immediately rendered useless as the panicked crowd scrambled for safety. Bodies piled up behind both sides of the revolving door, jamming it to the extent that firefighters had to dismantle it in order to get inside. Later, after fire laws had tightened, it became illegal to have just one revolving door as a main entrance without being flanked by outward opening doors with panic bars attached. As night deepened, the temperature dropped. Water on cobblestones turned to ice. Hoses froze to the ground. Newspaper trucks were appropriated as ambulances. From nearby bars, soldiers and sailors raced to assist. On the street, firefighters lugged out bodies and were treated for burned hands. Smoldering bodies, living and dead, were hosed in icy water. Some victims had ingested fumes so hot that when they inhaled cold air, as one firefighter put it, they dropped like stones. The enormity of the tragedy shocked the nation and briefly replaced the events of World War II in newspaper headlines. In both cases, most of those who lost their lives would have survived, had the existing safety codes been enforced. The tragedy led to a reform of codes and safety standards across the country. [READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE]









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