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Coconut Grove Fire

Coconut Grove Fire

The headline of the Boston Globe said it best, “Nightclub Burns, Hundreds Dead!” The worst nightclub fire disaster in history occurred more than 60 years before the Station Nightclub fire in Rhode Island. On 28 November 1942, the Coconut Grove Nightclub in Boston burned to the ground, killing 492 and injuring 166.

It is believed that the fire started in the basement “Melody Lounge” section of the club, when 16-year old bus boy, Stanley Tomaszewski, lit a match in order to replace a light bulb. A fire started, fueled by artificial palm trees and crepe paper drapery. In just fifteen minutes, the entire building was engulfed in flames.

The reason so many people died in the club was because they were unable to exit the club. The two revolving doors leading into and out of the club were blocked by a mass of frantic patrons. Many of the safety features we take for granted today, such as fire sprinklers, were simply not used in the 1940’s.

In addition to the many patrons, workers, and locals, cowboy actor, Charles “Buck” Jones died in the fire. Many soldiers on military leave were among the dead, others celebrating the Holy Cross defeat of Boston College were victims of a preventable tragedy.

As a result of this tragedy, officials took major steps and advancements in fire prevention and control. Occupant capacity placards, exit lights and emergency lighting were all new rules enacted as a result of the fire. Fire sprinklers, a relatively old invention from 1874, came into widespread use as a result of the Coconut Grove.

Advancements in history only come about after a catastrophic event such as the Coconut Grove Fire. This tragedy has no doubt saved millions of lives by the tough fire laws it brought about. Hopefully, history will never repeat itself, and we will all live to never see such an event again.


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