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HARTFORD CIRCUS FIRE

Photo’s

Both photo’s show the tent of the Barnum & Bailey Circus burning on July 6, 1944 in Hartford Connecticut. One hundred and sixty eight men, women and children died in the fire.

Photo’s provided by Mike Skidgell

July 6, 1944 The Day The Clowns Cried

On a warm July afternoon in 1944 the Barnum & Bailey Circus

was in Hartford Connecticut with 8,000 people in attendance. The crowd was mainly women and children there to watch the wild animals, clowns and acts in the three ring big tent. The tent sat in a field off of Barbour Street when at 2:40pm flames were first noticed. The fire began in Section A along the sidewall. The fire spread rapidly across the paraffin weatherproofing thinned with three parts gasoline. As the fire spread the crowd panicked as burning pieces of tent

fell around them. Exits were found blocked by wooden benches and many fell to the ground to be trampled to death or smothered by the surging mass of people. Others suffered burns or died of smoke inhalation. Many that had made it out of the inferno returned to cut holes in the tent to rescue those still trapped. Firefighters and police officers risked their lives to save others. The worst of the fire was over within ten minutes when the tent

collapsed. Hundreds were treated at a makeshift staging area or taken to local hospitals for treatment. Survivors and relatives remained at the scene to identify the victims. When the numbers of dead were tallied 168 had died in the fire. More than two thirds of the dead were children.

Hudson Heat May 2010

Two women, a man, and two children were burned beyond

recognition, and are buried in the Northwood Cemetery were a small memorial for the five unidentified victims sits above the graves. One small blonde girls body could not be identified. Officials named her “Little Miss 1565” the number assigned to her body at the morgue. She was about eight years old and was never identified despite she suffered no burns or other injuries to her face. No one ever claimed her body. Officials used publicity of the fire and publication of her photo in nationwide magazines and newspapers to try to identify her. A Hartford Fire Lieutenant and Arson Investigator Rick Davey in

1991 thought that he had identified Miss 1565 as Eleanor Emily Cook, daughter of Wesley W. Cook and Mildred Corintha Parsons Cook. A second author Stewart O'Nan disputes this identification, claiming discrepancies in the dental records. Little Miss 1565 is buried next to her brother Edward who also died in the fire. Mildred Cook was severely burned in the fire and was unable to identify her children. The cause of the fire was never determined. Originally it was

believed the fire was started by a carelessly disposed cigarette.

See Circus on page 15

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