The Hartford, Connecticut Circus Fire

Welcome to the Modern Typewriter, a daily blog to discuss topics that can’t be answered easily, or are just some fun topics! Today is June 1st, 2010, I’m Royce, and I’m here to discuss the Hartford, Connecticut Circus Fire of July 1944.

The Hartford Circus Fire was one of the most disastrous fires in American history that occurred on July 6th, 1944 in Hartford, Connecticut. This fire erupted during an afternoon performance of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which was attended by approximately 6,800 people.

“The ‘big top’ was not waterproof, so if the days were rainy, the circus could not go on. But a common waterproofing method used during this time was coating paraffin (dissolved into 6,000 gallons of kerosene) onto the big top. This prevented the water from damaging the ‘big top’ but initially made the tent into a giant candle, which would obviously burn intensely.” Said an anonymous informer.

What started the fire? Sources aren’t 100% sure. Most historians believe and agree on that it was an unknown cigarette smoker who had flicked their cigarette butt on the ground, near the Southwest side of tent. The bandleader of the circus claimed to have seen the fire start first, and ordered the band to play “Stars and Stripes Forever”, which signal to the other circus workers that there was danger.

Claims say that the fire sprung up to the very top of the tent faster than cheetahs could run. So, naturally, with the paraffin coating the ‘big top’, the entire tent caught fire within minutes. Of the 6,800 people who attended the circus, 169 died and over 800 were injured.

One of the more known victims was a little girl known as Little Miss 1565, because that was the number that marked her body in the makeshift morgue that was set up after the fire. Her body was very well preserved, even from being a victim of the fire. Her identity would remain unknown until this day, even after many attempts to try and discover who this girl was. There has been many claims to who she was, but all of these claims seeming to fall short of something.

“The Hartford Circus Fire would eventually lead to the revolution of safety in circuses. Instead of having just one entrance for 6,800 people, they would have emergency exits in case that something like this would ever happen again. Instead of 6,800 people being in the ‘big top’ at the same time, they would limit the amount of people allowed inside. And most importantly, they would learn not to coat the tent with paraffin when there will be works of fire being done within the tent. They learned many lessons that day, and unfortunately, at the cost of many lives.” Says Rochester, a writer at the Modern Typewriter.

A good book for more information regarding the Hartford Circus Fire is the book, World’s Afire, written by Paul Janeczko. It accounts the the fire from different points of view, written in the form of poetry.

“Janeczko’s World’s Afire is an incredible book. It is addicting from the very start, and you won’t want to put it down.” Says Melanie, another writer at the Modern Typewriter.

What do you think about the Hartford Circus Fire? Could they have prevented it? What other improvements can be done to prevent this for the future? Feel free to leave a comment to express your opinion!

Remember, I’m Royce, and this is the Modern Typewriter, OUT!

Circus Picture Taken From:

Book Picture Taken From:


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