Cocoanut Grove fire

1942 nightclub fire in Boston, Massachusetts

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Cocoanut Grove fire
Cocoanut Grove Night Club Fire.jpg
The Shawmut Street side of the Cocoanut Grove nightclub after the fire
DateNovember 28, 1942
TimeAround 10:15 pm
LocationBay Village, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
CauseIgnition of decorative cloth
Non-fatal injuries130
SuspectsBarney Welansky
ChargesManslaughter, numerous building code and safety violations

The Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston, Massachusetts, United States on November 28, 1942, was the deadliest nightclub fire in history, and second-deadliest single-building fire in American history, claiming 492 lives.

The "Grove" was one of Boston's most popular nightspots, attracting many celebrity visitors. It was owned by Barnet "Barney" Welansky, closely connected to the Mafia and to Mayor Maurice J. Tobin. Fire regulations had not been observed: some exit-doors had been locked to prevent unauthorised entry, and the elaborate palm-tree décor contained flammable materials. The air-conditioning also used flammable gas, because Freon was in short supply.

As it was the first Thanksgiving weekend of World War II, the club was filled to more than twice its legal capacity. The fire started when a young couple removed a lightbulb for privacy, and a busboy was told to replace it, lighting a match to see better in the dimly-lit zone. Although he had apparently extinguished the match, the draperies ignited and flames and smoke spread rapidly through all areas of the club. Blame, however, was directed at Welansky for violation of standards; he served nearly four years in jail, before being released, only weeks from death.

The local hospitals were especially well prepared to treat the casualties, as they had been rehearsing emergency drills in response to possible attacks on the East coast. The crisis demonstrated the value of the new blood banks, and it stimulated important advances in the treatment of burn victims.

Following the tragedy, many new fire-safety laws were enacted for public establishments, including the banning of flammable decorations and a provision that emergency exits must be kept open and that revolving doors cannot be the sole egress outlet.

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