Metro

On Cocoanut Grove fire anniversary, Evans discusses lessons learned

The Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire, Nov. 28, 1942.
National Fire Protection Association
The Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire, Nov. 28, 1942.

Like many Bostonians, William B. Evans has been both fascinated and appalled by the tragedy of the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire, an event the South Boston native schooled himself in by reading books such as the account of the 1942 fire by Paul Benzaquin.

Unlike most Bostonians, however, Evans has been able to apply the lessons to his law enforcement profession. Now the commander of the city’s police force, Evans said Tuesday that throughout his career, he kept the lessons of the Cocoanut Grove with him while conducting inspections of bars, lounges, and nightspots.

“As a young kid growing up, it always made a lasting impression on me. I used to be fascinated with what happened there,’’ Evans said Tuesday, the 75th anniversary of the fire that claimed 492 lives. “As a sergeant, I was always looking for those things when inspecting nightclubs . . . making sure our nightclubs aren’t overcrowded, egresses aren’t blocked.”

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Evans said his concern about safety continues now that he is the commissioner, so much so that he recently met with bar owners from the South Boston’s Seaport neighborhood to remind them about the horrific fire and to urge them to apply the lessons to their businesses today.

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“It’s always been a priority with me. . . . I never wanted that tragedy to happen again,’’ he said.

“The whole idea is we want to make sure it’s safe.”

The fast-moving fire inside the Bay Village nightclub also injured hundreds more.

Here’s a look at stories about the fire and the survivors:

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On Saturday, a documentary debuted at a Boston hotel to mark the anniversary of the blaze. Two survivors were at the event. “It changed everything in my life,” said Joyce Mekelburg, 93, of Brockton, who survived the fire. Her fiance, however, died.

Ann Marie Gallagher, who survived the fire, died earlier this year. She was 90. “I’ll never, ever, ever forget that day,” she said in a 2013 interview.

In 2016, a plaque memorializing the tragedy was relocated one block away, after condo owners made a request to the Bay Village Neighborhood Association.

John Rizzo, another survivor of the fire, died in September 2016. He was 96. “We were picking up people and putting them out head first,” he said of rescue efforts that night.

A Texas playwright wrote “Inferno: Fire at the Cocoanut Grove 1942,” which debuted in Boston in February 2016. Two writers said in 2015 that they’re working on a film about the fire.

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A section of Shawmut Street Extension was renamed Cocoanut Grove Lane in 2013. Speaking at the dedication ceremony, Fire Commissioner Roderick Fraser said: “It’s my hope and prayer that a tragedy like this never happens again anywhere.”

Survivor John Heyman, then 93, wrote about his memories of the fire in November 2012. “I was one of the lucky ones,” he wrote.

Boston police released transcripts of interviews with survivors in October 2012.

Grandchildren of Cocoanut Grove victims launched a foundation in 2012 to benefit pediatric burn victims and their families.

Historians have long tried to find clues to help them learn more about the fire. One group did so as the fire’s 70th anniversary neared, in 2012.

To see more stories about the Cocoanut Grove from years past, click here.

Firefighters battled a blaze at the nightclub, Cocoanut Grove.
Boston Globe Archive 1942
Firefighters battled a blaze at the nightclub, Cocoanut Grove.
The outside of the Cocoanut Grove nightclub.
File 1942
The outside of the Cocoanut Grove nightclub.

Among a large crowd, a woman waited to hear news of her son at the morgue in Boston.
Associated Press/file 1942
Among a large crowd, a woman waited to hear news of her son at the morgue in Boston.

Chairs were knocked over and the bar was littered with broken bottles as people inspected the Lounge Bar.
file 1942
Chairs were knocked over and the bar was littered with broken bottles as people inspected the Lounge Bar.

Sean Smyth can be reached at sean.smyth@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @smythsays.