In July 1944, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus visited Hartford, Connecticut-- a favorite stop. With waterproofing and fireproofing material scarce on account of the Second World War, the canvas big top tent was coated, as was the industry practice, with a mixture of paraffin and white gasoline. During the July 6 matinee performance, a fire started in a rope seam and quickly consumed the whole tent. Despite the efforts of the bandleader and others, a panic ensued with people crushed against animal chutes or knocked off high bleachers. Of over 8000 in attendance, 167 were burned or trampled to death and 487 were injured. A disproportionate number of these were children and parents. One victim, whose body was relatively unharmed, was not identified, and she was buried as Little Miss 1565. In 1991, Hartford Chief Fire Inspector Lt. Rick Davey's theory, that Little Miss 1565 was an Eleanor Cook, was accepted, corroborated by her living brother Donald Cook. The decision remains controversial. Criminal manslaughter charges were pressed against circus officials, who pleaded no contest; several were imprisoned. The circus also paid restitution of $3.9 million to the survivors and families of the victims.
Contemporary color photos and information on the memorial established on the site of the 1944 circus fire.
Memorial to five unidentified victims killed in the July 6, 1944 Hartford Circus Fire.
Information from WikiPedia.
2011 article by David Lohr in The Huffington Post.
July 2, 2014 article by Tom Condon in The Hartford Courant.
Photograph and general account of the 1944 big top tent fire, with bibliography.
Review of a book devoted to the 1944 circus tent fire in Hartford.
Three-part documentary with photos put together by Dennis House on The Hartfordite.
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