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 Cocoanut Grove was Boston's premier nightclub during the post-Prohibition 1930s and 1940s. On November 28, 1942, this club was the scene of the deadliest nightclub fire in history, killing 492 people (which was 32 more than the building's authorized capacity) and injuring hundreds more. The enormity of the tragedy shocked the nation and briefly replaced the events of World War II in newspaper headlines. It led to a reform of safety standards and codes across the country, and major changes in the treatment and rehabilitation of burn victims.

It was the second-deadliest single-building fire in American history; only the 1903 Iroquois Theater Fire in Chicago had a higher death toll, of 605. It was only two years after the Rhythm Club Fire which had killed 209.

[The fire] quickly spread along the fronds of the palm tree, igniting decorations on the walls and ceiling. Flames raced up the stairway to the main level, burning the hair of patrons stumbling up the stairs. A fireball burst across the central dance floor 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 entered. The building's main entrance was a single revolving door, 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 to enter. Later, after fire laws had tightened, it would become illegal to have only one revolving door as a main entrance without being flanked by outward opening doors with panic bar openers attached, or have the revolving doors set up so that the doors could fold against themselves in emergency situations.

Other avenues of escape were similarly useless: side doors had been bolted shut to prevent people from leaving without paying. A plate glass window, which could have been smashed for escape, was boarded up and unusable as an emergency exit. Other unlocked doors, like the ones in the Broadway Lounge, opened inwards, rendering them useless against the crush of people trying to escape. Fire officials later testified that, had the doors swung outwards, at least 300 lives could have been spared. Many young soldiers perished in the disaster, as well as a newly married couple.

As night deepened, the temperature dropped. Water on cobblestones froze. 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.

Later, during the cleanup of the building, firefighters found several dead guests sitting in their seats, with drinks in their hands. They had been overcome so quickly by fire and toxic smoke that they hadn't had time to move.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cocoanut_Grove_fire

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!