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Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire memorial to break ground Sunday during ceremony marking 81st anniversary

Boston, MA - 11/1942: Police officers at the scene of the fire at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub on Nov. 28, 1942 in Boston, MA. (Boston Globe Archive) BGPA - FIRES - DISASTERS - COCOANUT GROVE LOUNGE - COCONUT GROVEBoston Globe Archive

A committee honoring the victims of the 1942 fire that erupted inside Boston’s Cocoanut Grove nightclub, killing nearly 500 people, will break ground on a memorial to those lost in the tragedy during a ceremony Sunday afternoon to mark the 81st anniversary of the devastating blaze.

“The Cocoanut Grove Memorial Committee will honor the 81st Anniversary of the Cocoanut Grove Fire and Groundbreaking ceremony of the Memorial on Sunday, November 26, at 1 PM, at Statler Park on Stuart Street in Boston,” said committee member Mike Hanlon in a statement posted to the Facebook page of the Boston Sparks Association.

Hanlon said the committee is “making progress with the Memorial and plan an installation of the Memorial in September of 2024.”

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A related statement on Sunday’s ceremony was posted to the committee’s website.

“Please join us for the 81st anniversary of the Cocoanut Grove Fire and ground breaking ceremony on Sunday, November 26, 2023 at 1 PM at Statler Park on Stuart Street across from the Revere Hotel,” the statement said.

The fire erupted on the night of Nov. 28, 1942.

The blaze was first seen around 10:15 p.m. in the Melody Lounge, located in the basement of the club. A small flare or spark was seen burning in an artificial palm tree in one corner of the lounge, which then ignited the suspended cloth ceiling of the lounge, officials said.

Moments before that, a busboy had reached into the palm tree to screw in a light bulb, and he lit a match so he could see in the dark and locate the socket, witnesses had said.

While some have suggested that the lighting of the match or the act of screwing in the light bulb may have sparked the fire, the busboy was ultimately exonerated by investigators. In 1943, state Fire Marshal Stephen Garrity cleared the busboy of blame, stating, “It is clear to me that he did not ignite the palm tree in the Melody Lounge.”

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Many of those who died were crushed in the panic to get through the nightclub’s doors, some of which were either locked or opened inward.

The official cause of the fire is still listed as undetermined, according to the Boston Fire Department.

Even the total number of fatalities in the Cocoanut Grove tragedy remains a topic of debate today, as different figures have been used over the years. While many published reports (including those in the Globe) have said that 492 people perished in the fire, the real number is 490, according to Hanlon.

Hanlon told the Globe last year that the reason for the discrepancy had to do with duplications in the early casualty lists compiled by news organizations. (One woman had taken her stepfather’s last name, but then reverted back to her given name, so she was mistakenly counted twice; the same thing happened to another man who changed his Italian last name to a more American version, Hanlon said.)

In an interview last year, he told the Globe the committee was working with the city to erect a memorial that will be a replica of the three archways that a patron would walk through to get to the revolving door entrance to the nightclub. It would be located in Statler Park on Stuart Street and will feature the names of the 490 victims who died as a result of the fire, he said.

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Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.



Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.