Contest #680 – Site of 1944 Barnum and Bailey Circus Fire – Hartford, Connecticut, USA

In 1944, traveling circuses would waterproof their canvas tents with a paraffin mixture dissolved in gasoline. While an extremely effective waterproofing recipe, it was also a recipe for disaster.

Such a disaster happened on July 6, 1944, in Hartford. There is some confusion as to whether the fire was started by a carelessly tossed cigarette or was deliberately started, but once the fire caught hold, it spread very quickly.

Once the ringleader realized that a fire had started, he told the band to play “Stars and Stripes Forever”, which is a universally understood signal among circus workers of an emergency. The ringleader started to announce that the crowd should calmly leave the tent, but the power went out as he started. Instead of a calm, orderly evacuation, panic ensued once the audience started to smell smoke. Of the 169 who died, over half were found in piles near the exit, trampled or asphyxiated under layers and layers of other victims.

The best-known victim and face of the tragedy was “Little Miss 1565”. The body of this young girl, approximately 5 or 6 years old, was never claimed and was eventually buried in an unnamed grave. In 1991, Connecticut state officials concluded that the girl was Eleanor Emily Cook and re-interred her in a grave next to Eleanor’s brother who had also died in the fire. However, Eleanor’s mother, when shown the picture, denied that this was her daughter, and there are a number of unresolved issues with the identification (e.g. Eleanor had brown hair, while Little Miss 1565 had blond hair).

Those who found this site before the hint:

  • Garfield
  • hhgygy
  • Eloy Cano
  • Phil Ower
  • Paul Voestermans
  • Martin de Bock
  • Nancy Barbato Sinatra
  • Lighthouse
  • Jesus Rodriguez
  • Kiribatian Jacob

And after the hint:

  • Gillian B
  • Chris Nason
  • Ashwini Agrawal
  • Wista
  • Hilde Lambeir

And thus ends this thoroughly depressing disaster series. Apparently, there are a lot of you WOGErs who are good at tracking down disaster sites, because we had a record number of perfect scores this series. Congrats to Garfield, hhgygy, Eloy Cano, Phil Ower, Paul Voestermans, Martin de Bock and Lighthouse. A close second to Kirbatian Jacob with 18, and thoughts for the recovery of his nation, family, and friends following the Aegean Sea Earthquake last Saturday.

The next series will be more upbeat (and with a much smaller death count).