Boston, MA Cocoanut Grove Club Fire, Nov 1942
The Lowell patrol was manned by Police Chauffeurs FREDERICK FINNEGAN and CHARLES BROWN. The Wilmington ambulance was handled by Deputy Chief FRANCIS HOBAN and Officer GEORGE FULLER.
FRANCIS "HANK" McCABE of Lowell, former basketball player and member of the fire department, was another rescue worker whose help came at a critical time. Now a third class fireman in the coast guard, McCABE was one of several hundred guardsmen rushed to the scene. He had just come off duty, but worked until morning without rest.
Gruesome eye-witness stories of the tragedy were told by those returning here, including HARRY C. GLASHEEN, Associated Press reporter and several others.
The ROGERS and KELLY girls had been chums since attending State Teachers college together. MISS KELLY had been employed for several years in the children's aid division of the local department of public welfare. MISS ROGERS was principal of a grade school in Wilmington. Both were in their early thirties..
Both were graduates of Lowell high school and had many friends. There was no identification up to a late hour of the four other young women who accompanied them, the four FITZGERALD brothers and two other young men, Pvt. ROBERT HORRIGAN and HARRY J. CONNICK of Boston, on the fateful party.
It was learned that LOWE'S wife and two of his children had recently moved to Nashua, and lived there a 4 Prospect street while he worked at the Boston Navy Yard.
MISS PEAVEY was an Emerson college student and a thorough search was being made for her. Hope was scant, however, as she had not returned home or to school. It was definitely known that she left the college Saturday declaring she wanted to go to the Cocoanut Grove, with a group of friends. She and her parents were well known in the Fort Devens district, as Col PEAVEY has been on duty there for several years.
"NOTHING SHORT OF APPALLING" -- SAYS SUN EDITOR WHO SAW FIRE.
NO FLAMES AT START OF HOLOCAUST, BUT SMOKE WAS EXTREMELY DENSE -- NO CRIES OR SCREAMS REACHED EARS OF BYSTANDERS.
Lowell -- Chance made me a witness of the Boston night club disaster at the Coconaut Grove last Saturday night, and what I saw was nothing short of appalling. Words can hardly describe the horror which unravelled before the eyes of those on the street who watched one body after another taken out of the building.
Somewhere in the vicinity of 10:30 p.m. (I am not sure of the exact time; it may have been a little earlier), MR. and MRS. JAMES B. COFFEY of 184 A street, MR. and MRS. ARTHUR T. McMANMON of Boston, and my wife and I, drove our car into a large garage located not more than 75 yards from one of the two entrances to the Cocoanut Grove. The shifting gears of our automobile had locked in third, and we wanted to see if a garage man could release them.
When we drove in the garage there was no sign whatsoever of any undue activity in the vicinity of the Cocoanut Grove; at least if there were we saw none of it, and we were in a position to see, I thought.
I had been in the garage for certainly less than five minutes when I first heard the sirens of fire engines. For all I knew they were bound for some relatively distant point, and consequently I thought no more about them.
The garage had no mechanics and so our stay there was very brief. When we came out we were naturally surprised to see the fire department apparatus right outside the garage. Even then we weren't excited about it, presuming it to be just another fire such as a chimney, overheated burner, or something of that nature.
We all agreed to get out of the neighborhood at once lest we become involved in a traffic jam. On second thought we decided to take a look as we were in no great hurry to get any place.
So over we went, and I do not mind saying that I today would be just as satisfied if we hadn't.
I soon found out that the fire was in the Cocoanut Grove. I watched the proceedings from Broadway which only recently opened a new entrance to the ill-fated nightclub. Immediately beyond the entrance is a cocktail lounge from which a rather lengthy and narrow corridor leads to the part of the club wherein the entertainment is presented.
During the first 10 minutes of my observation I saw no flames, but the smoke was extremely dense and seemed almost weighted down. The firemen were having great difficulty with this smoke, despite the open door and the two smashed windows of heavy glass blocks.
There was nothing to get a spectator excited. There were no screams, no cries, and I took it for granted that all who had been on the inside had safely found their way to the street. There was nothing to make one think otherwise for a moment.
The 10 minutes had expired, and we all decided to leave, feeling that there was a smoke fire which would give the firemen a stubborn fight, but no more.
Just as we were about to leave, we were shocked to see a fireman carry a man through the door. A hushed silence fell over the crowd, but one man, apparently overcome by smoke, hardly seemed to justify what then rapidly developed.
Naval officers present were ordering that all sailors who could be rounded up be ordered to the Cocoanut Grove. Frequent cries for the services of any doctors present pierced the cold night. A Catholic priest paced nervously back and forth in front of the door and the two large broken windows.
That we were witnessing one of the worst disasters of its kind in all American history, still hadn't dawned upon us, nor do we think it had upon others nearby. Indeed, who could imagine such a disaster?
Then began the horrible parade of the dead. I remained for another 25 minutes or so. I think I saw about 25 bodies passed through those two windows at the rate of about one a minute.
I saw only one body that was badly burned, all others must have been the victims of the extremely dense smoke.
There was no shrieking, screaming, or other cries of pain and agony. These men and women, who but a few minutes before, were laughing and gay, were dead.
I left then, nauseated by what I had seen plus the stench of a heavy smoke which seemed to have the strong odor of burning flesh, and all of us knew that if flesh was burning it was human flesh.
Curiosity and a search for MR. and MRS. COFFEY whom we had lost in the crowd brought us back a half-hour later after a walk around a few downtown blocks.
Fortunately, we found them quickly but not before we had seen scenes which were more appalling than we had seen before. The bodies of the dead were everywhere.
This time there was crying and weeping, but it came not from the throats of the disaster's victims. Rather did it come from friends and loved ones.
Ambulances ere by now rushing to and from the night club in scores, their sirens screeching. Taxis were being commandeered as fast as they arrived as were private automobiles. But the supply did not meet the demand, and men were in the middle of the road holding bodies and waiting for transportation to a hospital. I still saw almost none who were badly burned, but the clothes of all appeared torn and tattered.
On our way home to Lowell a Boston-bound ambulance roared past us.
Our conversation was of nothing but the catastrophe that had unfolded before before our very eyes.
Little did my wife know that this fire had consumed her lovely cousin, 20-year-old CAROLYN GILBRIDE of Swampscott. Little did MRS. COSTELLO suspect that some 30-odd hours later she would be identifying CAROLYN'S body in a Boston funeral parlor.
Shortly afterwards the body of the young man with whom MISS GILBRIDE had gone to the Boston College-Holy Cross football game and then to the Cocoanut Grove was identified.
They identified him by a $25 United States War Bond he had in the inside pocket of his jacket.