In 1944, one of the most disastrous fires in U.S. history broke out during a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performance. Dozens of lives were lost and hundreds of people were injured as the largest big top in the country was consumed by flames.
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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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look into view missed in history. Has networks now come to my house?
here we have another frequent listener request, which is the hard bird circus fire. We got a lot of requests for before then. Every
we talk about a fire. It seems like you will ask for more fires. So look at last the request for this one
actually laugh of books about the heart for circus fire and they don't agree with each other.
some pretty fundamental ways. They draw really vastly different conclusions about everything from who started the fire. If anyone deliberately started it
and the identity of the most famous unidentified victim. There's a lot of discovery.
Between them all, and I really didn't relish the idea of reading through multiple books that were effectively quarrelling with each other about what happened. So I took a little bit of a different tack when researching this article, and that was that, instead of reading lots of books, I read historical newspapers that were published at the time of this tragedy, and I followed the story as it happens. So most of the information in today's episode,
comes from the New York Times and the Boston Globe, which was then the daily Boston glue as it was reported and on the day, and I didn't have access to the archives of the Hartford current, which would be the logical paper to read, because, with the local paper,
this tragedy happen, but I did read some of their more recent coverage of retrospectively updates and things like that. So we can talk about the Hartford Surface fire so,
the ringing brothers environment, Bailey Circus, which we are just gonna, can a shortened to wrinkling brothers or wrinkling for the sake of simplicity as needed. So we're not wiping out a huge phrase. Every time we have two reference, it was filled with about eight thousand people in Hartford Connecticut on July sixth of nineteen. Forty four and the big top at the circus was big, really big. I mean a name with him was suitable for this when it was six hundred feet long and two hundred and twenty feet wide.
So that's about twenty by sixty meters and it wait twenty times while it had about eight thousand people in it on this particular day could hold up to twelve thousand, and because this is world war to most of the men of Hartford were either away fighting or they were working, multiple shifts in nearby factories. So overwhelmingly the people in the audience were children. Mothers
grandparents, the show started it too in the afternoon added about two forty, a big cat show in the center ring had just wrapped up the famous flying will end is
darting, their high wire act up above and people started to notice a flame working, its way up the side of the tent near the men's restroom by the main entrance, the fire spread extremely quickly. By the time a trio of ushers got there with buckets of water. It was already too big for them to put out almost sign up simultaneously. People started yelling fire and the ban switch to playing stars and stripes for ever known in the business as the disaster March and used to signal that there is an emergency.
people in the top rows of the bleachers jumped down into the straw that was below them and made for the exits or went out under the tenth side walls. The people who were up in the top of the liters over
all fared better than the people who were lower down. For that reason, because the people who were closer to the floor got caught in the resulting stampede, parents and energy
there's literally through children over animal pages that were blocking the exits, some of them cut their way out of the tent with pocket knife the well and is at risk of being trapped. Above the fire slid down ropes to the ground. The performers exit was blocked by the crowd, so they headed for one of them
its blocked by animal cages, some climbed over, while others tried to feed some of the crowd through the animal shoots that would lead out of the tenth famous clown, Emmett Kelly, who was in his saddle.
Clown role of Weary Willie was actually part of them. All. The windows
While they did their work up in the top of the tent, he would run around below them with a little butterfly net. When he heard people say
You thought that one of them will end as had fallen, and so he worked out inside the tent was on fire. He ran back to his dressing
We aim to grab the buckets that he would use to clean himself up after the show was over any fill them with water. At a horse trough, then, he ran back in to try to put the fire out
he threw the water onto the burning ten, but it was far too late. The fire was much too big to be put out by a couple of buckets, so instead he tried, he started trying to evacuate children from the tenth. The blaze was very close to the main entrance, so he started trying to guide people to aside exit. There was not on fire. Some of the kids are actually scared of him. They were scared anyway, but then they were scared, because this clown was knocking them, but he did get as many of the kids around him as a kid to safety, and then he saw that the fire was getting close to a set of gas engines that operated some of the circus equipment. So he refilled as buckets and tried to soak the canvas near the engines
much as possible, hopefully making them less likely to catch fire. Then he escaped from the tent himself. There are actually pictures of em Kelly stolen his make up carrying buckets that were taken the day of the fire and that led to this event being nicknamed the day. The clowns cried.
Another heroic act by one of the entertainers came from big cat trainer may cover. She was at the centre of the tent, where her animal act has just concluded.
There was still a panther in the metal caves that was part of the big cats show, and she knew
If you didn't get both herself and the Panther out and then secure all
the cases of the other big cats who were part of the show that they have the potential to break loose in all of the chaos and cause more injuries and deaths. Not surprisingly, if you have ever spent time around animals that are panicked, this terrified, Panther balked going don't shoot that led back to its
just outside. It was terrified, so cover used a whip which is really part of her costume and not part of how she handled animals to try to hurt it into the shoot and whence it was on its way. She realised that she was trapped. The escaping crowd had pact against the door leading out of the cage. So she escaped by following the Panther down the exit shoot, and then she got the big cats cages secure so that they could not escape into the crowd. The big top collapsed behind her, and this has only been about ten minutes since the fire started and it burned so hot that it literally melted the tent poles and the animal cage. That was the middle of the centre, ring
as the tent with fell on fire. It trapped a lot of people who were still inside trying to escape, although none of the circus employees were killed, possibly because they knew they could get out of just about any part of the tent by going under the side, walls, many
badly burned, as they tried to get others to safety and, as they formed bucket brigades, to try to extinguish the fire. Since no animals were in the tent and fired and spread to the side show or the menagerie, no animals were hurt or killed in the blaze. A hundred and sixty eight people died, half of them were children, and a third of them were ages. Nine and younger.
only a handful of those last were adult men for entire families died and the children of five other families were orphaned. There are also two six hundred and eighty two injuries and we're going to talk about sort of the aftermath and how Hartford responded to this tragedy after we take a little break
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history, so to return to the city of Hertford, Army and Navy forces were deployed to the scene of the fire along with three hundred ambulances and fifteen hundred Red Cross volunteers. Red cross involvement with the victims of this disaster actually went on. For almost a year, state guardsmen were deployed as well. A shipment of six blood plasma converters was floating from Boston and the doctors who worked with the burn patients credited this increased availability of plasma with saving
many lives morgue was set up at the Hertford Armoury and bodies were laid out in the hopes that next of kin would be able to identify their families, but the fire burned so hot that some of the bodies inside were essentially cremated already in it melted some of the steel girders that held up the tenth. There is a series of investigations. State policy, Commissioner Edward J Hickey
thing is state fire marshal is issued a report that blamed not only the wrangling brothers staff responsible for the tenth, but also the city of Hartford for not having inspected the circus or the tent beforehand, part
report red new arrangements were made or requested by any representative of the circus for firemen or for fire fighting equipment to be in attendance upon the circus grounds during any performance. The Hartford Fire Department did not detail. Any
firemen or a sign any firefight fire fighting apparatus to be in attendance at the circus grounds during any of the performances and throw the clue ends. The only inspection of the circus that the city had conducted was on the part of the building supervisors office, which had judged that the erection of the tent, the bleachers and exits was satisfied satisfactory.
Was the same as in previous years. So aside from man, the big top itself was highly flammable. It had been waterproof using paraffin that was dissolved in gasoline, and I was actually a pretty common method of waterproofing materials. At the time when testifying in the investigation, then wriggling President Robert Ringlets claimed that he hadn't been able to find a material that was both waterproof and fireproof. These the nation was at war, so resources were in high demand and low availability. He also claimed that the war had left the circus short Handed, which is why there were fewer firefighters on staff. Another report filed by Frankie Healy named seven employees of the circus responsible for the fire James, a highly vice President George W Smith, and our manager Leonard asked Ales worth chief tat men, David Debbie Blanche,
the chief truck men, Edward W bursting chief electrician, William Cayley, chief Siegman and Samuel Clark, Siegman the to seek men were supposed to remain under the bleachers during the show and if they had been their chances are one of them would have seen the fire when it was much smaller and stopped it out, which would have prevented the whole disaster. The wriggling brothers circus as a corporation was also charged with involuntary manslaughter along with all seven men, although that charges against Clark were eventually dropped. All seven of the men
and the circus pleaded no contest, their defence counsel maintain that they were innocent but were pleading no contest to avoid a lengthy trial. He also claimed that they were all essential to the circus resuming operations in order to try to get a lighter sentence. It probably sounds Kallas that they were also interested in returning to work, but one of the reasons that they were so eager to resume circus operations is that stopping the show was costing
guess, about ten thousand dollars a day and possibly believing that doing so would get them more
you didn't see the circus had agreed to take full responsibility for the fire am to pay all of the claims that were brought against it. Although the surgeon,
wasn't sword. This insurance wasn't enough to pay out all of the claims which early estimates put out. A million dollars turned out to actually be a lot more or so they weren't you
we have to return to work as a way to get out of it like the genuinely needed to return to work, to make enough money to be able to pay off these lawsuits. Superior court judge permitted the circus to collect its property and leave town on July, fourteenth of nineteen forty four and it returned to its winter quarters and Sarasota Florida to regroup and return to work, so it could pay off its remaining debts to the victims
tracing took six years. The arbitration board awarded nearly four million dollars to five hundred fifty one claimants. The average award was around seven thousand
dollars. Although they range from a thousand dollars to a hundred thousand a professional dancer named Catherine. Our Martin was burned over fifty percent of her body and with hospitalized for six months than she received. The largest settlement put Patricia Murray. He was five at the time of fire
lost both of her parents and her three year old brother and she was rural awarded ninety thousand dollars and as we talked about in our episode on Tv Sand Rina, this is often cited as the first chapter eleven bankruptcy case, but the official classification of chapter eleven didn't really
around until later. However, the structure was quite similar in what became known as the Hartford Arbitration agreement. The circus went into receivership, promising to put all of its profits towards paying the claims and not incur any unusual expenses until all of that was paid off, and you didn't say in the Katy, and we know episode that it specifically was the Hartford Satisfier that we were referencing, but it was
you were curious. Hartford lawyer, Edward Rogan was named as the receiver and he took over financial operations for the circus, while the circus continues to operate during the proceedings of the arbitration. At this time,.
a completely new strategy for a business that was dealing with extreme financial duress happens a lot more often. Nowadays, this really set the precedent for it. The circus finally left receivership in July of nineteen fifty four, when the court authorize payments to Rogan and Julius be shots who had served to this as the circuses council, shots received, a hundred thousand dollars and Rogan received sixty thousand dollars a fraction of his original two hundred and twenty five thousand dollar request a third of its side now, while overseeing circuses, financial affairs Rogan also reported that, in spite of the heart red tragedy, the nineteen
working for a season was at that point the best season in their wriggling brothers, circus history, along with many other governments. In the wake of this fire, the Connecticut General,
simply later past, extremely strict fire safety measures for ten circuses. Wriggling
There's environment Bailey didn't returned to the state for years and they didn't returned a Hartford for decades when the circus tried to arrange an appearance in EAST Hartford in nineteen. Fifty four, the city refuse they flatly said no to the circus, did not return to Hartford until the ninety, seven
He's still not completely clear what caused the fire in this
results blamed carelessly tossed cigarette
later theory was a short circuit in the wiring in the men's room, and another theory is that it was deliberately sat. The city has at various points reopened the case to re, examine the evidence and thereby
when people that have more reexamined all the evidence as a person all hobby in nineteen, fifty
in a high, a man named Robert De Soggy, were guessing on that pronunciation, as he could not find one online. That was definitive claims that he had set the fire deliberately saying that he was aroused about at the circus at the time he claimed that he had been told to do this by a hallucination of quote a red Indian,
He had plead guilty to other arson charges in Circleville in the Circleville Ohio area and serve time for those offences. He was never actually charged in the Hartford Circus fire.
The end. Investigators were generally doubtful that he had actually been involved.
There were a lot of inconsistency in holes in his statements and some of his claims regarding other crimes were kind of outlandish and he did later recant his confession. If you go poking around on the internet or if you have previously poked around on the internet,
fine claims, some of them on pretty reputable websites that he served time in a higher for the Hartford Circus fire. The time you
in Ohio was actually for other crimes that were committed in Ohio and not for the heart when circus fire, and all of this seems to come from a misunderstanding in a high school students paper which perhaps the more recent writers who have use it as a resource then realised by a high school student. I am one hundred percent, not missing.
High school students this paper overall I've read, is extremely good and the news coverage at the time of this guy in his confession
of it is worded very confusingly because he is framed as the man who confessed to the Hartford Circus fire. So it sort of
The man who clay hoo hoo confessed to the half circus fire serves time. He was serving type or something else right.
And there is also around this case a sort of famous unidentified victim, their several actually and working to delve into their stories after we take a little break and have a word from a sponsor. This episode of stuffy miss than his request,
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So today there is a memorial and Hartford Connecticut than the middle of it is where the centre pole of the big tops dead around the perimeter.
several dogwood trees that note where the perimeter of the tent would have been there's also a month
listing the names of the people who died and several plaques that give a timeline of what happened during the fire.
There is also a memorial it Northwood Cemetery for the victims of the fire who were not identified. Three unidentified children and three adults were buried there until I tenth of nineteen, forty four and an unidentified baby was cremated night. I didn't put it in here, but that northward cemetery is not actually in heartbreak proper. It's like a neighbouring community.
Only one of these six bodies that were buried it northward cemetery has ever been identified, and this was an eight year old girl who died in the fire and came to be known as little Miss fifteen sixty five after the number that she was signed at the morgue she wasn't identified per year,
after the fire she had been trampled during the stampede, as people tried to escape.
He died of her injury, is about three hours after being found, but since her face wasn't very badly burned, they were hopeful that her family would find her. Her features were really recognizable and her picture was published in the newspapers. Her story really caught the hearts of a lot of people who were following the tragedy.
but unfolded, especially as the attention kept returning to her case to try to identify who she was and police theorize that her
We must have been new to the area and her parents must have been killed in the fire or perhaps some other family had mistaken. A different, badly burned body is their own child, leaving Little Miss fifteen sixty five behind the search for a little Miss fifteen. Sixty five family went on for months, her picture within papers and Hartford Boston
York and other northeastern cities. There were calls that came in from all over New England from people who claimed that she was their relative, but they didn't pan out. Various things didn't match up. I think they're using dental records and dental records didn't match for decades. Hartford police brought flowers to the grave at Christmas and on the anniversary of the fire, and the coverage of that tradition would start this cycle of letters and calls about little Miss fifteen sixty five
all over again and ninety ninety one. So, almost fifty years after the fire, Hartford fire, lieutenant
Davy identified Littleness fifteen sixty five as Elinor clerk. He
Viewed surviving family members of various films in the hope of finding out who this little girl was. He also
a lengthy re investigation of the fire itself, Eleanor's survive.
Rather Donald, who was nine at the time of the fire and was there, but escaped confirmed her identification.
The reason that she hadn't been identified at the time of the event was that her mother Mildred Cook had been so badly burned in the fire that she was unconscious for weeks and she ended up hospitalized for six months, her son Edward with six, and he had also died in the fire and once Mildred was well enough to leave. She was too traumatized to look for her daughters body, an amended death certificate was
four Elinor on March, eight, nineteen and ninety one and her remains were reinterred next to her deceased brother, where the gravestone had previously marked an empty grave. However, there are still people who actually question this identification in part, because other members of the family had said little
fifteen. Sixty five was not Eleanor at the time of the fire. In fact, this had made Donald reluctant to ask about it. He worried that he would upset his mother or his aunt, who had made the initial identification.
In a weird recent twist upon his retirement Hartford Fire Captain, William Pond, destroyed the photos of her that had hung in the firehouse of engine company fourteen for more than twenty five years
saying he was afraid that her soul would never find rest, otherwise,
being letters to the editor after this, our kind of divine
it is about whether that was the right thing to do or not. Yeah I mean I, I would have questions of lake. Was this something that a decision that he made solely on his own or other people involved? He seems to have been trying to get other fire department leadership to take it down for a long time and and was shut down every time you asked about it, and so he did it himself, as you
tiring figuring. He was untouchable at that point by that that seems to be. That is what I would read into a sort of an odd coda that whole story with you. There are definitely gather definitely some unanswered questions that will probably remain forever about the fire and exactly what happened that it was definitely a tragedy. It definitely lead to so much more stringent rules, especially about tent circuses, in particular Oliver, the United States, not just
Connecticut in Pepe your news, do you have a spot of listener? Male amid the correction about our episode
Qatar and romantic fix- and this is for Louise and Louis- has recently discovered your podcast end.
Really living it so? Well then, I was listening to your episode about the topic in the fundamental six today and I wanted to correct something I am from Perth Western Australia and you said that the free mental six was the only successful prison break from premarital prison. This is not actually true. In the eighteen hundreds there was a Bush ranger
Called Joseph Bow, Lithium Johns no more commonly as moonshine jail, he was their Torreon for escaping and roaming the countryside. So much that we mental prison built a customs that fell specifically designed to keep moonshine in. He escaped you can still visit the cell today. There is a link to more about him, and then she says she really love episode about Katy, send Weena
I'm saying moonshine correctly, so I wrote back and I said well, I wonder which of my sources got back a politically wrong. Some of that was based on books that have had to go back to the library. Since then, though, it was one hundred percent wrong. I have learned since then that not only did this guy escape and the free mental six escape there's a whole page about jail breaks
at the free manful. Britain and ITALY has a tradition, but it turns out that
that will, while they were relying on the the overwhelmingly forbid
territory around the prison to keep people inside there were other people you broke out, so we must better
now. We know the thank you believe or writing to. Let us know that that
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