Tragedies

Tragedies of American History

13 Stories Of Human Error And Natural Disasters

This was not a big book, but I think it should have been. Yet timing is often everything in the book business. This book was supposed to be called "They Thought They Were Safe" and come out in October, 2001. Yet in the aftermath of the terrorists' attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, this book was shelved for over a year for fear the subject matter would hit too close to home to Americans who had just endured such a great loss of life and security. When it was released it's name was changed and it was given no publicity by the publisher. I like this book and wish it could have found a wider audience. The chapter I have included is one the Coconut Grove fire of 1942. I don't have many of these books left and they are now out of print.

The Burning of a Cocoanut Grove

 

Yogi Berra once described a New York restaurant this way, "Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded." On the evening of November 28, 1942, the famous baseball sage could have very well been talking about Boston's popular Cocoanut Grove night club. With music, food, liquor and wall to wall people, the Cocoanut Grove was the heartbeat of Beantown on this cold fall evening. In the lingo of the day, the joint was jumping as more than 1,000 people had somehow crowded into a multi-roomed hot spot that had a supposed capacity of 400 to drink, dance, eat and relive the "big game."

 

A few hours earlier, Fenway Park had been filled to capacity as fans of the Boston College Eagles watched their heavily favored squad take on the undermanned Crusaders from Holy Cross. The mayor, local celebrities and even representatives of the Sugar Bowl were on hand, the latter group ready to present to BC an invitation to their prestigious New Year's game. It should have been a walk in the park for the Eagles, their fans were so sure of victory that a party had already been set up for that evening on the terrace at the Cocoanut Grove. Yet the Crusaders didn't care much about the national polls or the esteemed visitors from New Orleans. They didn't feel like being the reason for a local victory party either. Fired up after reading about the strength of the Eagles for a week in the paper, the Holy Cross squad drove into town and waxed Boston College, 55-12. Forty-two thousand fans were stunned as they left Fenway. They could not believe what they had seen. To millions in the city and surrounding area who had listened to the contest on radio, the game seemed like a bad dream too tragic to fully comprehend. Yet as the local sports partisans would soon find out, it was nothing compared to the nightmare that would take place just a few hours later when fans from the two schools and several hundred other folks who crowded into the city's best known club

 

One of those who really enjoyed the big game was Joseph Boratyn. A year before when BC and Holy Cross had met, he had worn HC purple. Now a Crusader alum, the former star fullback had gone to Fenway praying for a miracle. His prayers were answered and as the game went on how he wished he could have been on the field. As he left Fenway that day, Boratyn and some of his buddies decided to whoop it up at the Grove. It would be a great way to rub the victory in the faces of the BC fans. So with Joseph leading the way, a large group of purple clad partisans wandered down to Piedmont Street.

 

Billy Payne was headed to the club as well, but he had a much different reason for hitting the club on a Saturday night. He wasn't there to drink and party, he was there to work. Payne was one of the star's of the Grove's famed floor shows. A singer, Billy's tenor was almost as popular as the drinks served at the clubs several bars. As he walked in the club's back door, the crooner wondered if Boston College's loss would put a damper on the post Thanksgiving weekend. Like most entertainers, he dreaded working a crowd that was nursing a deep psychological wound. He hoped that the many BC fans would bounce back better than had the team.

 

Wilbur Sheffield of Newton was also headed to the Grove. He wanted to get there in time to catch Panye, the chorus girls and socialize with some friends. Yet the General Electric Company engineer was running late. With the war machine running at top speed, power demands were at an all time high. For Sheffield there were no normal days and few days off. Always on call, he hoped to get away soon enough to catch at least some of the action at the club.

 

Long before the Grove opened for business, Stanley Tomaszewski checked in with his boss. Though too young at sixteen to get into the club, he could have still be hired to bus tables and do odd jobs. It seemed that with so many young men in the military, club owner, Barnett Welansky, felt a need to break the rules in order to secure enough help to keep the club running. Welansky's desire to break this law would ultimately catch up with him. Yet Tomaszewski was thrilled to have the job and with a long list of reservations in the book, Stanely was hoping that the crowd would be in a tipping mood.

 

As the rain fell, the sun set and a gray cold embraced Boston, one of the most popular men in an America tried to beg off of his promise to go to the Cocoanut Grove. Buck Jones was tired and sick, a cold dragging down his energy and enthusiasm. The Vincennes, Indiana native was a well known movie star since 1917. With hit westerns such as Riders of the Purple Sage, Riders of Death Valley, Pony Express and Down Texas Way, he had been a cowboy icon since the days of silent movies. Now a member of a trio of stars who headlined Monogram's "Rough Rider" series, the fifty-three-year old Jones had been sent east on a patriotic mission to help sell war bonds. The bond rallies he attended would have been demanding enough for most Hollywood stars, but Buck also felt a need to visit with very ill children. With Christmas so near, he gave a great deal of time at each stop in the critical hospital wards. That is how he had spent his morning. Then, just before noon, Buck went to the Boston Garden for a rally of about 12,000 of his "children," the kids who were the real fans of the western star. From there it was a trip to Fenway, where he was interviewed by the local press as he watched the contest. By the time the football game ended, he was exhausted.

 

At any other occasion, Jones would have probably stayed in his hotel and rested. His fans were not old enough to get into a nightclub and the Grove hardly fit the clean-cut western image that Buck had embraced in his pictures. Yet just like employees Panye and Tomaszewski, on this night Jones was expected to be there. A party had been arranged in his honor. Tables had been reserved and food had been ordered. Besides, because of the war, a lot of the boys who had watched Buck in matinees in the thirties - his old fans - would be there in uniform too. Boston College's loss had no effect whatsoever on the young Marines, Navy and Army men who had just received their last weekend pass before being shipped off to Europe. The famed Grove, with its music, decorations and girls was the stop for hundreds of the young servicemen who were heading out on this cold night. The old saying, "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die," was something that each of them took to heart. They were planning on drinking, dancing and flirting until they were kicked out of the club. Along with scores of football fans, employees, businessmen and a movie star, by nine that night hundreds had jumped into cars, on buses or taken cabs to get to the Grove. With the whole world at war, none of them knew what the future held, but they were certainly not concerned about their fate this evening. In spite of the war, or maybe because of it, Boston's most fashionable club was hopping early on this night. Scores were pushing through the revolving door of the main entrance on Piedmont, checking their coats and hats and wandering through the huge venue. With loud music playing, drinks flowing and wall to wall people on the dance floor, at the Caricature Bar, in the New Cocktail Lounge, the dining room, up on the Terrace and down in the basement at the Melody Lounge, it seemed that Boston College's loss had been long forgotten. Sure some, like the mayor, had canceled out to stay home and mope, but scores of others had come to celebrate, even if their team had lost.

 

Gathered around Joseph Boratyn, Holy Cross faithful were reliving Bobby Sullivan's first touchdown, Johnny Bezemes sixty-seven yard scamper for a score and the intricacies of a defense that completely shut down BC Coach Denny Myers's famed T formation. It was truly a Thanksgiving holiday for Boratyn and company, and the menu consisted of grilled BC Eagle.Buck Jones's spirits had picked up as well. East Coast theater owners had arranged this testimonial dinner for him at the Cocoanut Grove. Those around the cowboy star seemed thrilled to be meeting him. For Jones, whom just a few years before had thought that his career was over, the enthusiasm these theater owners had for him on this night gave him a renewed confidence in his own future. He had found out that he was still a hero, a star, and with the top cowboy draws, such as Gene Autry entering the service, there was again a place for Buck and his horse Silver on the big screens across America. Things were going so well that the only reason Jones was looking forward to getting back to the hotel was to call his wife and tell her about the wonderful reception. As Buck laughed and signed autographs, as people lined up to meet the famed man, some, in a distant corner of the club, decided to pull a prank. That seemingly harmless joke would set in motion a series of events that would not only spell the end to Buck Jones' career and life, but would initiate a fire that would horrify the entire nation.

 

The Cocoanut Grove was a stubby, one and a half story, block long establishment. Claiming a Piedmont address, the rear faced Shawmut Street, one end ran along Broadway, the final side rested against other businesses. Most of the club was deep, but the area that included the New Cocktail Lounge was not nearly as wide, thus giving the complex an L shape. The club featured a Hawaiian motif, complete with fake palm trees, fruit and walls covered with brightly colored cloth. As was to be expected, it seemed that cocoanuts hung in almost every nook and cranny. The center of the club's world, the huge dance floor, with its large orchestra platform and rolling stage, was at the back of the complex. The sign on the front promised an incredible experience of dancing and dining, and those that entered this creation of palm trees and tranquil blue skies must have thought that they really had found another Oz. Even during the day, when it was not open, it was not easy to get around in the Grove. Hallways were narrow, the stairs down to the Melody Lounge were especially hard to navigate and it was a very dark building that appeared as if it had just been thrown together without thinking. In a way it was, because as the club had become popular so fast, the owners had bought out other businesses, knocked down walls and haphazardly expanded to accommodate in the big crowds. While great expense and efforts were given to decorating the facility, little thought at all was spent on planning for emergency evacuation. Most frightening, while there were several exits at the Cocoanut Grove, at least one on each street, none were marked and most patrons only knew about the revolving door on Piedmont. There were also no sprinklers and only a few fire extinguishers, some hidden in order to not ruin the Polynesian atmosphere.

 

Upon inspections, fire marshals had limited the club to just over 400 patrons, but those capacity codes were rarely enforced. No one counted heads and there was no real way to turn people away. So by ten more than 1,000 had pushed into the Cocoanut Grove with even more expected soon. The club's owner was ready for the throng and had waiters set up extra tables and chairs on the main dining room dance floor. In the real world, palm trees and blue skies were not flammable. This was not the case in Boston. The trees and other decorations were made of cloth, paper, bamboo, and the blue skies overhead were satin. The walls, which appeared to be leather, were really a cheap imitation fabric. Yet with the dim lighting hidden in the cocoanuts hanging on the trees creating the illusion of twilight, few patrons could see well enough to have their fantasies dashed. It might have been cold and wet outside, but inside the Grove it was always summer and the skies were always clear.Most of the servicemen found the dance floor the big draw. Some would sit on the raised terrace at the far end of the room, spot women dining at the tables, then climb down to secure their partners. In the summer the roof was often opened, allowing dancing in the moonlight. But on this evening the rain and the cold weather meant that no one would be seeing the gray Boston sky.

 

As was expected, Buck Jones was a big draw. Boston was rarely visited by Hollywood royalty, that honor usually was reserved for New York. But with the cowboy star so willing to pose for pictures and sign autographs, the main dining room was the center of this tropical world on this November night. One of those admiring the movie star was John O'Neil. The young man had just gotten married and his entire wedding party had landed at the Grove to celebrate. Originally O'Neil and his bride planned on leaving for their honeymoon at ten, but when Jones arrived, the couple decided to meet the actor and catch the next floorshow. As Jones signed autographs up stairs on the terrace, there was another kind of excitement brewing in the basement. Besides the dance floor and dinning room, the other club's hot spot was the Melody Lounge. Though just off the kitchen, just like upstairs, the elaborate decorations hid any facet of the real world of cooking steaks and dirty dishes from the patrons. Like everything else in the club, the small bar section in the basement seemed like a part of a tropical paradise. Noisy and usually filled with the college crowd, those who wandered down to this part of the Grove usually drank a great deal more than they ate. Tonight Holy Cross football fans were toasting every score time and time again. For most of the night it seemed harmless, but the mix of booze and victory soon became too much. As the group grew rowdier, they began to laugh and horse around in a much more destructive fashion. A few smashed glasses and others treated the ladies a bit to roughly. One of the drunk students even climbed up on the bar and removed the one overhead light in that part of the club. He tossed it to a friend and a game of hot potato was staged in the near darkness. Within seconds the light bulb had been smashed. With only the dim atmospherical light illuminating the room, the group became even more unruly. Sensing that things were getting out of control, the manager ordered Stanley Tomaszewski to climb up on the bar, then onto a chair to replace the light. The teenager became the floorshow as some patrons began to cheer for him and others made fun of the kid. In truth, many wanted the light to stay off, some even threatened to knock Stanley off his unsteady perch if he didn't get down, but Tomaszewski did not shirk from his duty. Carefully balancing himself, he stood up on the chair and felt his way along the low ceiling for the socket. Several times he tried to find it without success. Finally, as the noise grew louder, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a match. Striking it, the small flame lit up the boy's young face. Seeing the empty socket, Tomaszewki quickly twisted the new bulb into place. He then shook his match out.

 

As Stanley crawled down, someone noted a small dark hole on the ceiling. It seemed to be growing. Seeing a puff of smoke, the bartender grabbed a wet rag, climbed up on the bar and hit at the tiny flames. Those around him watched the man try to dose the flickering fire with a detached interest. Even though he was not making any progress and the hole in the ceiling seemed to be growing, to minds numbed by booze, the danger did not sink in. Sensing the bartender needed help, another employee found an extinguisher and aimed it at a palm three that had now caught fire. Still there was no panic. Unable to reach the fire in the high branches of the tree, the man tried to pull the palm down on the floor. It took less than a minute to bring the tree down, but it was too late. The silk curtains that hung from the ceiling were now aglow. The fire really took off when a patron reached up and tried to pull a piece of flaming cloth from the ceiling. When he cried out because his hands had been burned, the seriousness of the situation hit some of the drunken revelers. Though they had been watching the fire for a couple of minutes, now they finally realized that this was not a part of the floorshow. When the flames burned through an electrical wire and the room was plunged into darkness, there was a sudden and infectious panic that hit all at once. Within seconds woman were screaming and scores were trying to make their way to the narrow winding stairs at the far end of the room or navigate the room's other stairwell that led to the street.

 

One second the fire had been barely alive, burning just a tiny part of the sky, a few seconds later it was raining sparks onto the heads of the fleeing customers. As it spread a loud chorus of screams cried out, "Fire!." Those who had just curiously watched the first flames now found themselves a part of a confused and panicked mob. With the Melody Lounge encased in a choking darkness, it was almost impossible to sense that was out. Everyone at once was struggling to reach either of the two stairways. In the mad rush, many were knocked down or shoved aside. Friends who had just been slapping each other on the back, were now literally climbing over each other trying to get away from the now rapidly spreading flames. The employees had the advantage, as they well knew the route to safe passage, but to get to that route they were having to literally fight the terrified crowd. A few saw the hopelessness in trying to flee up the stairs and headed for other lesser known exits. Some ran into the kitchen and escaped though a service door. Others waded through the smoke and found some of the other unmarked exits out from the basement. But most seemed intent on battling their way up the two sets of stairs.

 

With fright hanging as heavy as the smoke, fights broke out. Drunken men, hit by the sobering thoughts of burning to death, slugged anyone standing between them and their chosen escape route. As flames roared overhead and charged across walls, as bottles of liquor exploded behind the bar, punches where thrown from every angle. Friends fought friends for the right to live. Yet as the flash fire quickly consumed the room and a number of victims were quickly overcome by carbon monoxide, a few simply gave up. Unable to see through the smoke, realizing that they would never get through the wall to wall bodies that were jamming the stairs, these hopeless revelers simply returned to their chairs or stools, some even lifting a final glass in a toast to what might have been and waited. They didn't have to wait long, dressed in their finest, they perished without a struggle just 180 seconds after they had seen the first evidence of fire.

 

The stairway to the street was a grotesque place. Women were tearing at dresses that were now aflame. Men were trying to snuff out fire that had ignited in their hair. Yet for each the struggle seemed worth it because if they could make it up those thirteen steps, then they would be safe. The first man to make it to the top hit the door and was knocked back. Confused, he hit it again. Soon others joined him. Unbelievably, the door was locked from the outside. Kicking and screaming, scores of men and women tried to push their way outside, but to no avail. As flames crawled up toward them, a few prayed, many cursed, but no one could open the door. There was no time to turn around, no time to realize that they had been locked in because in the past so many had snuck down to the Melody Lounge using this back entrance. As there was a strict policy that no one was to enter or leave Boston's finest nightspot without paying, the door had been locked and barred to turn away the freeloaders. Tonight this policy would prove to be deadly.

 

The frantic survivors who had chosen the stairway to the upstairs portion of the Grove were also racing the flames. As they emerged from the stairwell, they ran through the foyer, passed the cloakroom and toward the main exit. There they faced the revolving door. An employee was trying to get the crowd to calm down and exit one at a time. It was no use. Those who had escaped the inferno in the basement were mad with fear. In a panic they all tried to be the first to rush out into the cool night air. A few made it, but when one fell and the doors stopped spinning, others tried to climb over him. This created a wedge that jammed the door. Soon screaming men and women were being pushed down one on top of the other. The wedge had grown to six bodies high and no one could convince anyone to unstack the maze of humanity and exit in an orderly fashion.

 

Outside the chaos in the cold night air, Wilbur Sheffield had finally made it downtown, parked his car and was heading for the club. As he walked down the street he noted a local fire brigade battling flames that were consuming a parked car. Sheffield watched them for a few moments, feeling sorry for the person who would soon leave the club and find his car a burned out shell. As he turned and again approached the Cocoanut Grove's main entrance, Sheffield didn't think anything about the strong smell of smoke in the air. He figured it was from the car fire. Then, as he watched terrified men and women push their way outside, he realized that there was something very wrong in the nightclub. At the same instant, the fire fighters spotted a much larger problem than the auto fire.

 

With many of the Melody Lounge patrons carrying the fire on their clothing, the flames quickly spread to the foyer. Using the walls and decorations as a super highway the fire literally burst into the main building. Perhaps fueled by alcohol fumes, the fire now seemed to be literally burning the air. Unbelievably, the screams of those fleeing the Melody Lounge could not be heard in the rest of the club. Dining, drinking and dancing was still going on as usual. As patrons continued to crowd around Buck Jones, no one knew that the panic was about to be spread by a wild fire. Billy Payne and the chorus girls were climbing the stairs from their dressing rooms in the basement when he smelled the smoke. Rushing out into the dining room, the singer saw entire walls bursting into flames and suddenly shocked patrons racing from their seats and the ballroom floor. A burning piece of fabric from the wall came down and wrapped itself around two dancers who were still unaware of the calamity that had taken over the club. Payne watched them burn as others fled. In seconds the path to the main exit was jammed with Boston's finest. Turning around, Payne begged those around him to follow him back downstairs. A dozen did, but most of the entertainers rushed out past the stage and into the mass of panicked people. They reasoned that their chances were far better there than they would be locked in a basement with no exits. How wrong they were.

 

As a performer Billy Payne had gained the reputation as a man who could think on his feet. As he flew back down the stairs and raced passed the dressing room doors, he quickly and carefully assessed the situation. He knew that there was no escape upstairs or down. He knew that everything above him and around him was going to burn and burn quickly. The only chance he felt that he and those who trusted him had was in the building's large walk in freezer. Payne sensed the fire couldn't get into that room, but, as he opened the thick door and urged his friends inside, he wondered how long would the air hold out. On the dance floor and dining room, most tried to get out the way they had come in, through the main door. They couldn't have known that it was jammed with terrified bodies and the foyer was already a raging inferno. A few, who took the time to access the situation, noted that many employees were headed in the opposite direction. Though they were hidden by drapes, there were exits on the backside of the room. Rather than fighting the mob, the observant few raced to the doors that opened on to Shawmut Street.

 

Within minutes of the fire spreading into the main part of the Grove, gasses built up in the club and people were fainting. As dark smoke moved down the hall and into the New Lounge, another problem revealed itself. While the door here was not locked, it opened inward. Those fleeing for their lives from the flames pushed against the exit on the corner of Shaumut and Broadway only to have it remain solidly closed. As more and more frightened patrons stacked up at the door, opening it became impossible. As the fire flashed through the room, the exit to safety was jammed as tightly as was the revolving door in the foyer. When those who had been hovering around Buck Jones saw the fire, the need for the cowboy's autograph seemed suddenly unimportant. Screaming in terror, they ran as fast as they could for any available exit. High on the terrace, Jones and his party had little chance. Fumes quickly hit them, bringing people to their knees. Smoke was so thick that most passed out within seconds. Though newspaper reports would later state that Jones carried several people to safety, this is highly doubtful. By the time the fire hit the main dining room, few were getting out of the building and no one was getting in. It is more likely that the movie star passed out and fell to the floor before he realized just how grave the situation really was. This did not make the cowboy star a coward, only another impotent victim.

 

The firemen who spotted the blaze as they worked on the car fire probably put out the first alarm on for the Cocoanut Grove. It was 10:17 when that call was issued and by then the fire had been burning for at least seven minutes. Yet even as the firemen arrived on the scene, even as they heard hundreds screaming inside, there was little they could do. With the exits jammed by the dead and dying and windows long ago covered with thick glass bricks, there was no way to conduct rescue operations. All the firemen could do was issue several more alarms, calling out every firemen in the city and try to battle the blaze before it spread to other buildings. The horror of their helplessness to respond to the pleas of the dying, caused many firemen to fall to their knees and wretch.

 

Within fifteen minutes of the first burst of flame, it was over. Thousands of gallons of water might have helped dose some of the flames. But in reality, the fire had simply run out of fuel. The decorations were gone and the buildings bricks would not burn. Using axes to break the thick glass bricks, firemen finally got inside the club. What they saw was like nothing they had seen before. The smoke covered men were greeted by a grisly scene that defied comprehension. Among the mass of twisted and trampled bodies was a man burned beyond recognition still leaning casually against the bar, a couple in the middle of the dance floor, embracing in midstep, a teenage girl in a phone booth, the receiver melted against her ear and a bartender with a partially mixed drink still resting in his hand. By the orchestra sat John O'Neil and his bride, who never made it to their honeymoon. More than one hundred bodies jammed against the New Cocktail Lounge's door. If it had only opened out, then none of these people would have died. More than a hundred more, some stacked eight high, were pushed against the revolving doors. Again, with standard opening exits, these people too would have been saved. Others were piled up against locked exits. It was a horrible sight and one that didn't have to happen. As the fireman gently touched incinerated piles that had just moments before been people celebrating life, many cried.

 

Those who hadn't run may have had the best chance to live. Payne and his band were uninjured in the freezer. Others, who had climbed to the roof, found a way to other roof tops and away from the flames. And scores, who had either passed out in their chairs or waited where they stood or sat for what they thought was inevitable death were spared becoming human torches. The fire had somehow bypassed them as it sped through the building. No one inside the building escaped without injury. Thus, a call went out for every ambulance in the county and beyond. Squad cars, private vehicles and trucks were used as well. Still it would take hours to get every one of the injured and dying out of the club.

 

The living were rushed to Boston City Hospital at the rate of six a minute. There was little doctors could do for most. Like Buck Jones, they were simply too far gone. The bodies of those who died in the emergency room or on the way to the hospital were stacked in the hallways in order to make room for the living. Those who had died at the club were placed in a building next door. A few hours later, relatives were given access to three temporary morgues as they combed Boston and the hospitals looking for loved ones. Many did not find them either place as more than a hundred bodies were so badly charred that traditional methods of identification were impossible. Joseph Boratyn would never see another Holy Cross game, he was one who never got home. Scores of soldiers, sailors and marines would never have to worry about facing Hitler's war machine, they had gone down fighting for their lives in a seemingly harmless night spot. Yet one who did live was Stanley Tomaszewski.

 

Once the fire had been put out, Tomaszewski sought out a fireman to admit that he started the blaze with his match. Taken to the fire inspectors, the youth repeated his tale and showed the men where it had all happened. The boy's story sounded reasonable until other witnesses reported that Stanley's match had not been near the ceiling or the fake palm trees. So, if Tomaszewski's match did not begin the disaster, what did ignite the ceiling in the Melody Lounge at the instant the boy changed the light bulb?

 

Inspectors thought it could have been a patron's cigarette or lighter that began the blazing inferno. Almost everyone in the Melody Lounge was smoking and with all the drunken horseplay that was taking place, it would have been easy for a decoration to have been ignited. Some witnesses even felt that a palm tree might have been set on fire as a prank, just like someone had stolen the light. Another theory centered on the Cocoanut Grove's electrical systems. The wiring been installed very cheaply by an unlicensed electrician. It was substandard, but did it create the spark that created the killer fire? No one could say for sure.

 

Other wild and radical stories involved arson, but there was no evidence. Some even thought the air was so thick with alcohol fumes, that the booze should be held responsible. Yet after carefully studying the wreckage and questioning all the living witnesses they could find, the inquiry could only state that the fire was started by "undetermined origins." Amazingly, while hundreds were injured in the Cocoanut Grove fire and hundreds more died that night in the club, no fire laws were broken. Boston didn't require fireproof decorations or sprinklers and exits did not have to be clearly marked. So, just because the management did not plan for a disaster did not violate of any city codes. Still, as 492 people - more than could legally be in the building - had lost their lives in the fires, and as most of these people could have survived if exits had been clearly marked, unlocked and made to swing out, the city of Boston demanded that someone pay.

 

The club owner, Barnett Welansky, was found guilty of several non fire related charges and sentenced to twelve to fifteen years in prison. The man who had built the New Cocktail Lounge was found guilty of violating building codes and sentenced to two years. No one else was found at fault and civil suits were unsuccessful.

 

Because of World War II, the fire at the Cocoanut Grove was soon lost in the news. Other nightclubs soon welcomed those who needed to party or unwind. Back in Hollywood, Buck Jones was replaced by Roy Rogers, Rex Allen and a host of other singing cowboys. New draftees filed with ranks of the service men who had lost their lives in the fire. By Christmas, except for the families who had lost loved ones and those battling injuries, life was back to normal. Yet for those who witnessed what happened the Saturday after Thanksgiving, 1942, at the hottest nightspot in Boston, for those who somehow lived through it, life would never been the same. Many would avoid crowded buildings for the rest of their lives, others would not sit down in a restaurant until they had located all the exits and most would never fully drive the smell of smoke from their memories. November 28, 1942 was not only a night to remember, it was a night that some could never forget.

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