Boston, MA Cocoanut Grove Club Fire, Nov 1942

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

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.

Continued

Comments

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

Mike,
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

Hello,
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!