Boston, MA Cocoanut Grove Club Fire, Nov 1942

Cocoanut Grove Night Club Fire from Front View Of Building Side View of Building Memorial Plaque Memorial Plaque



Boston, Nov. 30 (AP) -- A tiny match flame in the hands of a 16-year-old busboy touched off a lightning-like fire that snuffed out the lives of 477 Cocoanut Grove night club merrymakers and injured more than 200 -- many seriously -- in one of the nation's worst holocausts.
Deputy Police Supt. JAMES R. CLAFLIN quoted the youth, STANLEY F. TOMASZEWSKI, as saying that he accidentally ignited a paper palm tree that caused the terrific blaze which threw about 1000 persons into a fighting, clawing panic in efforts to reach safety.
The boy related, CLAFLIN said, that he was trying to replace an electric light bulb which had been unscrewed by a prankster in the recently opened Melody room of the club when the match flame brushed the flimsy palm and set off the devastating blaze.
The flames swept through the highly inflammable decorations as the orchestra leader raised his baton to signal for the National Anthem as a prelude to the Saturday night floor show. Within seconds the crowded night club was a bedlam as screaming women and horror stricken men dashed for exits, tumbling over each other on the jam-packed stairways.
District Fire Chief WILLIAM J. MAHONEY said that tangled and frightfully burned bodies were found four and five deep and that tables and chairs were scattered and tipped in a shambles among the dead.
As speedily as possible, physicians and specialists in the treatment of burns, mustered by the Boston committee on public safety, were mercifully ministering to the injured, using blood plasma rushed from the Red Cross in Washington and pain and poison-allaying sulfa drugs.
Meanwhile, long lines of relatives and friends stood two abreast outside the city's morgues throughout the cold night waiting for a chance to identify bodies, many of them charred beyond recognition.
A board of inquiry, including fire officials, U. S. navy representatives -- there were servicemen among the dead -- and two representatives of the federal bureau of investigation, which began its probe yesterday, reconvened today.
The death toll ranked only behind the steamship General Slocum fire of 1904 in New York's East river in which 1024 died, Chicago Iroquois theatre fire of 1903, which claimed 602 lives and the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 in which 500 died.
Deputy Fire Chief JOHN F. McDONOUGH told investigating officials that he found a number of bodies some within 10 feet of a door equipped with a panic lock designed to open under pressure, but was out of order and had been secured by another lock.
The death of many of the victims was ascribed by Medical Examiner TIMOTHY LEARY to monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation. He said that a number were "terribly burned" after death.
The stampede for the exits began, fire officials said, when a girl, detecting a thin wisp of smoke curling along the walls, shouted "fire", and within seconds the crowd broke for the doorways.
The wrecked stucco building resembled a huge brick oven after the flames had been extinguished, with hardly a scorched spot on the outside walls and roof, but with the interior a mass of debris.
Many of the widely known persons who either perished or were injured included EDWARD ANGIN, Brookline, president of the Interstate Theatre corporation and treasurer of a Boston Textile firm, dead; ROBERT BEVERLY CHARLES, 28, Winchester, son of MR. and MRS. W. R. CHARLES of Oak Park, Ill., and eastern manager of a Chicago candy company, dead; JOSEPH A. BORATYN, star fullback of the Holy Cross football team a year ago, dead; NORIINE HELEN WELCH, daughter of VINCENT S. WELCH of Port Washington, N. Y., vice president of the Equitable Life Insurance society, dead; MARY ELLEN McCORMACK, niece of U. S. Rep. JOHN W. McCORMACK, dead; GRACE McDERMOTT, 200 West 54th street, New York, entertainer at the club -- known under the stage name of "VAUGHN", dead; KATHERINE WOODS, 22, daughter of CARL WOODS, Boston manufacturer, president of the Crosby Steam Gauge company, dead; DR. GORDON BENNETT, captain of 1937 Dartmouth eleven, dead.
Police Commissioner JOSEPH F. TIMILTY indicated, in an interview, that the youth who innocently started the fire should have been barred by law from working in the club.
"Isn't it against the law for a boy that age to work in a place where liquor is sold," newsmen asked the commissioner.
"Well," he said, "you know the rules. He isn't supposed to."
"There is no doubt that the boy started the fire." TIMILTY added, "and there is no doubt that it was accidental."
CLAFLIN quoted the boy as saying:
"A patron came into the place and unscrewed a bulb in the ceiling. This made the room too dark. One of the waiters came to me and asked me to screw the bulb back in."
"I stood on a chair to do it. I lighted a match and helf it while I screwed the bulb in with the other hand. The match set fire to the palm tree. That is how the fire started."
A number of those who escaped leaped from the roof of the low building to the tops of automobiles and thence to the street. The clothes of some were in flames.
A night club singer, BILLY PAYNE, saved 10 patrons by leading them into a huge basement ice box.
"I was getting ready to start the show," PAYNE said, "when I suddenly heard screams. I thought there was a fight. Then I saw a flame racing along the wall ... Everyone started running. If only others had followed me they would be alive."
A revolving door trapped a number of persons when it became jammed by a pileup of bodies, and one body was even found in a telephone booth on the ground floor.
Virtually every medical examiner in the state was called to the scene and even express trucks were pressed into service to assist ambulances, beach wagons and private cars in transporting the injured to hospitals.
Spectators said that smoke and flames seemed to muchroom through the main room and the Melody lounge in one big puff.
The Boston committee on public safety, which organized under real disaster conditions for the first time, and mortuary officials said that most of the unidentified were women whose flimsy clothing was either burned from their bodies or contained no identification papers.
Catholic priests were on the scene shortly after the fire got under way, administering the last rites of the church to victims. One priest said hi ministered to at least 30 persons.
WILLIAM LADD of Boston one of the survivors, said that there was "instant panic" when the fire was discovered.
"Men and women began to scream together. It seemed everybody wanted to get out first. Men and women in their panic began tearing clothes from the bodies of each other."
"They all got to the small door on Piedmont street at about the same time and one of the women went down. Then the other men and women fell on top of her and the bodies just seemed to keep piling up."
"While these people were trapped and tangled with one another the flames reached the front door. It was impossible then for anyone to get out."



SSGT James P Kelley & PVT Daniel A Kelley

Jim & Dan were my grandfather's brothers. They were both Marines and perished before I was born. Jim joined the Marines straight out of BC High and had 2 sea tours & a stint at training stateside under his belt by the time he died in the GC Fire at age 25.
Dan enlisted 6 days before his 18th birthday and was active duty 22 days later on June 29, 1944. Dan was KIA on IWO Volcano March 3, 1945, 8 months and 3 days after he went active duty.
But in the Kelley family George, Phillip "Joe", John, Tim & ever Tommy in the Merchant Marine came home. They made sure we all knew of Jim & Dan's heroism.
No one is gone as long as the are remembered. Jim & Dan have a "Hero Square" at the top of Bunker Hill Street. It's the intersection near their home at 244 Bunker Hill St. The building is long gone, but the Hero Square is there.
Also when Charlestown High was naming the new school gym, Dan & Jim's names were selected along with a few others for that honor.
And of course Bill Durette of the Charlestown Historical Society keeps the memory of all who served in World War II from Charlestown alive.

75th Memorial

I can not be in Boston for the ceremony. However, I'd be interested in any pictures you or others take. If you wanted to do a small write-up for my very small blog (BostonMaggie.blogspot) I'd love to post it.
My grandfather's brother, SSgt James P Kelley, USMC perished in the fire. He was the with his friends Sgt Anthony Marotta, USMC, Mrs Alice C Marotta and Jim's date. The family was told that Jim got his date out & re-entered the club. I believe Sgt Marotta went back in, both attempting to get Mrs. Marotta & all 3 perished.
My family is 4th generation Charlestown, Jim's father "Big Mike" came over from Ireland and there were 8 children in the family. People came to tell my grandfather Owen "Frank" what they knew. The Marotta's we're from New York.
So, needless to say, I follow this story intently. Any info from the ceremony would be greatly appreciated.
Diane McInnis Miller

Cocoanut Grove 75th Anniversary Memorial

I along with a group of Bostonians in 2013 had a street the cut through the footprint of the Cocoanut Grove nightclub renamed, Cocoanut Grove Lane. On November 25, we are hosting a 75th Anniversary Memorial at the Revere Hotel, 200 Stuart Street in Boston from 1pm to 3pm. We would be very pleased to have you join us.
I can be reached via email or call me at 617-924-7613.
Mike Hanlon

Maryalice Klinger Chaifetz

Maryalice Klinger Chaifetz Yes, we are related, I did not know you left a comment until Patty Aronin, Anne's, daughter messaged me. I know the name Klinger, I remember my parents talking about Chickie, but do not know if I ever met him. I am sorry for your loss, I wasn't aware about the scholarship. But have seen the paintings she did. I have not seen or heard from Dolly since around 2001 or so. John and my sister Jeanine, also passed away as well as my mom is 2012, during Sandy. Jeanine the next year and John the year after that. We should stay in touch, Katie Metzger

Coconut grove fire - Dorothy Metzger

Helen, I am your cousin. My mother was Anne, the younger sister of Helen and older sister of Dorothy. I remember attending your wedding, and also remember Chickie. My mom passed away in 2009. I have a few old photos of Dorothy and one photo of your mom and dad that I discovered when cleaning out my mom's things. I'd love to hear from you. I love in Texas now. Do you know what happened to Dotty's daughter, Dolly? I have tried to Google all of you, but could never find anyone.

I believe I am your cousin

My mother was Helen Metzger Klinger. She had a brother John sister Ann and sister Dorothy. I believe your Mother was my aunt Terry by marriage to John. I was nearer in age to your older sister and brother John Michael.
My mother and Dorothy were very close. The things you have mentioned in your comment bring back so many happy and sad memories of Dorothy. When I was eight years old she left for Boston with no adult in her life to protect her.
Did you know she won a full scholarship to college for art but your grandmother encouraged her to turn it down so she could take that job singing at the Cocoanut Grove.
We never know how our lives will change with a simple decision. Are you in contact with Dorothy's Daughter?
I really hope you get this note. I would like to
know if you are my cousin.
Sincerely, Maryalice
PS I had a brother Charles (nickname as a kid Chickie). He passed away last year. He has two sons and three grandchildren.

New Calvary Cemetery and SGT Kelly from Charlestown

Two unrelated thoughts re to the CG fire: I recall a funeral director from South Boston saying how there are upwards of a dozen or more graves in New Cal cemetery right near each other, all with the same date: November 28, 1942. Eerie and sad.

I seem to recall my mother, who was from Charlestown, mentioning that Sgt James P Kelley of Bunker Hill St, a victim of the fire, had a brother, Danny--USMC, who later died at Iwo Jima. How sad.

Jean Marie

After 72 years, Jean Marie and I reunited our family's. Turns out she and her family spend summers 35 miles from where we live. Her father had family pictures I had never seen. And I got to see a picture of Jane Louise Sullivan as a young child. So, thru the pain of this, some good has come. Jean Marie & I plan on a get togeather again this coming year. Thanks to your site Jean Marie in N.Y. and I in Idaho have found each other. Louise O'Brien

Coconut Grove Fire

My aunt and godmother Jane Louise Sullivan I did not see listed. She was with Lawrence T. Ford that night as they celebrated being engaged. Both died that night.
Thru this site I found that I had a scond cousin, and after 72 years I got to meet her family. They live in N.Y. and I in Idaho.
I think of my aunt a lot, and have tried to learn about Lawrence T. Ford. As a 5 year old child, I only remember he had a wire terrier named Bunkie. As we approach Nov. 29th 2014 they are in my heart and prayers.

Thank You

I was contacted by a relative I did not know I had.
Her Father remembered a relative, in the fire. Thru that contact we exchanged picture. And just this August (2014) we met. 72 years later. I had (My aunts) name wrong. The correct was Jane Louise Sullivan. I have been blessed. Thank you!