From the archives: The Cocoanut Grove fire
From the archives: The Cocoanut Grove fire
Nov. 28, 1942 / Eyewitness Benjamin Ellis of Beacon Street was standing just across the street when the fire broke out. “Suddenly a huge sheet of flame burst out through the entrance, setting fire to clothing, hair, hats, evening dresses, and searing human flesh. Those flames belched 15 feet out into the street.”
Nov. 29, 1942 / Firemen stream water into the Cocoanut Grove Lounge through the windows. Although the windows were wide and not more that 4 feet above the sidewalk level, they were made of "brick glass" 3 inches thick. Each individual pane of this glass was set in cement. The effect of this construction was that the windows, which might have been avenues of escape, became part of the trap. Firemen had to use axes to break these windows so that they had access to the interior.
Nov. 28, 1942 / Rescue workers included officers and enlisted men of the armed forces, police, firemen and bystanders who found themselves ministering to victims. Victims were rushed to hospitals in ambulances, taxis, trucks, and private cars.
Nov. 30, 1942 / An elderly woman sought news of her son from Sergeant Joseph E. Green of the Boston Police Department outside the Northern Mortuary on North Grove Street. Extra details of 200 police were assigned for 24-hour duty handling crowds at the Northern and Southern mortuaries. Only those people who could claim a relative missing and knew of some ring or trinket or bit of clothing which might serve as identification were allowed in the morgues.
Nov. 30, 1942 / Investigators sifted through the ruins after the fire. One of the largest night clubs in Boston, the Cocoanut Grove had three rooms: the night club on the street floor, the Melody Lounge in the basement, and the Cocoanut Grove Lounge and cocktail bar, which was a new addition that had opened just the previous week with an entrance on Broadway. The main entrance to the Grove was on Piedmont Street. Although the license was for 460 persons, it is estimated that more than 1,000 poeple were there the night of the fire.
Dec. 3, 1942 / Workers at the the Commission on Public Safety at 9 Park St. catalogued the dead. Commission staff and more than 200 volunteers aided in operating the information service and the file for civilian identification.The dead were divided into three groups - Army, Navy, and civilians. The Army victims were taken to Fort Banks, Winthrop; the Navy to the Marine Hospital in Brighton and to the Chelsea Naval Hospital, and civilians to the local morgues, the Southern Mortuary on Albany Street and the Northern Mortuary on North Grove Street. All of the 500 dead were identified 89 hours and 40 minutes after the alarm was sounded at 10:20 on Saturday, Nov. 28.
Nov. 28, 1942 / Staff at the emergency ward at Boston City Hospital attended to those patients who could be treated for their burns from the fire. The dead were brought in and piled sheet-clad in the corridors. Hospital Superintendent Dr. James Manary said, "I've never seen anything like it. There's been nothing in the history of the hospital to approach it. I've just seen 150 persons wheeled in and I don't know how many of them are dead."
Nov. 29, 1942 / Sophie Urban of Dorchester rested in a hospital emergency ward set up in Boston City Hospital after receiving treatment for burns suffered in flames that swept the Cocoanut Grove night club, trapping scores of people inside. The lipstick "M" on her forehead indicated she had received an injection of morphine on entry to the hospital.
Nov. 30, 1942 / So great was the confusion following the Cocoanut Grove tragedy that the identity of many of the victims is still unknown. At the hastily set up information desk at 9 Park St. at the Commission on Public Safety, Boy Scouts lined up to serve as couriers with the duty of carrying printed information to relatives of the victims who were waiting there.
Nov. 30, 1942 / Stanley Tomaszewski, the bus boy suspected of starting the fire by lighting a match to better see the electric light bulb he was replacing, was questioned during the inquest on the Cocoanut Grove fire. The Roxbury Memorial High school cadet captain received many letters from around the United States praising his manly act in volunteering to aid police with his testimony as eyewitness to the catastrophe. His mother praised Police Commissioner Joseph F. Timilty saying he treated her boy "like a son" during the investigation.