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Episode 54 | The Lasting Legacy of the Cocoanut Grove Fire, Boston, Massachusetts

This is about the deadly fire at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Boston. Its massive loss of life would change the way we did almost everything. Listen with care.

Crime is history and sometimes history is crime. One single event changed the course of history. In 1942, the world was in the throes of the Second World War. The Great Depression created a kind of desperation Americans hadn’t seen and men and boys were shipping out by the droves.

Two historic events intersected on Saturday, November 28, 1942, Holy Cross and Boston College played before 41,000 college football fans at Fenway Park. Underdogs Holy Cross destroyed any hopes of The Eagles going to the Sugar Bowl or any other bowl, taking the undefeated team down, 55-12. Boston College staff and players were so dazed by what happened, they canceled their planned celebration at the famed Cocoanut Grove in Downtown Boston. They would not know what hand fate dealt them that night, not at the time. 

That night, the nightclub - almost double its legal capacity - went up in flames. The Cocoanut Grove was a tinderbox, given the flagrant negligence of its owner, Barnett “Barney” Welansky, self-proclaimed pal of the mob and local politicians, including Mayor Maurice J. Tobin, cut corners and ignored common sense public safety. Four hundred and ninety-two* people died as a result of the Cocoanut Grove Fire. It was due to absolute negligence by the club owner, but today, 81 years later, the actual cause of the fire remains undetermined. Boston hospitals were overwhelmed by the rate at which the injured were arriving. Doctors and nurses and medical professions were pushed to the brink on how to effectively care for the gravely injured. There is a sliver of a silver lining, a quote from Professor Barbara Poremba’s recent article in The Salem (Mass) News and a member of the Cocoanut Grove Memorial Committee. 

We say let no one die in vain. That’s difficult given that so many of the casualties were young people just beginning their adult lives, but what emerged from the ashes of the Coconut Grove Fire revolutionized medical treatment for burn victims and people affected by this kind of trauma. Sweeping changes to building codes and safety regulations came as a direct result of the massive loss of life at Cocoanut Grove. 

The 2021 documentary, Six Locked Doors, takes us inside the events of that night, accounts from survivors, and the people who played a role in the worst nightclub fire in U.S. history.

Crime of the Truest Kind is Created, written and hosted by Anngelle Wood

*according to the The Cocoanut Grove Memorial Committee, 490 people died in the fire.


Photos: list of casualties, mockup of the new memorial under contruction, drawing of how the fire spread, interior photos of the club before and after the fire, owner Barnett Welansky, busboy Stanley Tomaszewski, citizens lined up to identify the dead, the three living survivors (now only two),



Six Locked Doors, the documentary - recommended viewing

NBC News - Surgeon who pioneered burn treatment dies

Boston Fire History - The History of the Cocoanut Grove - The Cocoanut Grove Revisited

Music Museum of New England - Cocoanut Grove Nightclub, Boston

War Bonds

The Hartford Circus Fire, July 6, 1944 in Hartford, Connecticut

Boston Magazine - Condominiums to Rise on Site of Cocoanut Grove FireEight luxury homes will be built on the site

New York Times - King Solomon shot and killed, 1933

Getty Images of Cocoanut Grove Fire, 1942

Massachusetts Historical Society - The Cocoanut Grove Fire, Boston

UPI - New theory in Cocoanut Grove Fire

Boston Public Library - Cocoanut Grove Fire

All That’s Interesting - Cocoanut Grove Fire

Am PolEagle - Stanley Tomaszewski

Document of the people who died in Cocoanut Grove

Chicago Tribune - St Valentine’s Day Massacre

Holy Cross v Boston College game 

Fenway Park Diaries - Boston College vs Holy Cross
Boston Globe - Holy Cross routs BC 55-12 at Fenway By Jerry Nason. November 29, 1942

Digital Commonwealth

Asbestos on Naval Ships

National Park Service - Charlestown Navy Yard

ESPN - Nomar Garciaparra saves the day, 2005


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