On the evening of November 29th, 1942, a night club in Boston called the Cocoanut Grove burned to the ground, killing a total of 492 people. The Cocoanut Grove was tropical-themed and a popular hotspot. On the night of the fire there were around 1,000 occupants, about twice as many as the official capacity allowed.
The fire began in the basement, in what was called the Melody Lounge. According to accounts, a busboy was trying to tighten a light bulb that had apparently been loosened by a soldier looking for some privacy with his girlfriend. While trying to re-screw it, the bulb popped out, and trying to get a better view of the socket, the busboy struck a match that caught some of the extremely flammable tropical decorations on fire.
Compounding the tragedy, the club didn’t have any safety precautions set up. The main entrance was a single revolving door, windows were boarded up and other entrances were bolted shut for various reasons that dated back to the time when the club was a speakeasy. The club’s owner was eventually found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to 12 to 15 years, of which he only served four of before dying of cancer a few weeks after his early release.
To memorialize the tragedy, a small bronze plaque is set into the red brick of a sidewalk outside of a parking lot near where the club once stood. It was created by Anthony P. Marra, the youngest survivor of the tragic inferno. The plaque bears a schematic of the club layout with seven palm trees, an explanation of the fire, and the phrase, “Phoenix out of the Ashes,” a reference to the changes in fire codes and advances in burn treatments that occurred as a result of the tragedy.
Adapted with Permission from: The New England Grimpendium by J.W. Ocker
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