John Johnson Remembered

Holliston Library Presents the Coconut Grove Fire

by Paul Saulnier
January 26, 2018

The Gilman Room was filled with folks ready to hear from Stephanie Schorow, pictured below, author of The Coconut Grove Fire. The book documents the events before, during and after the fire, both physical and psychological.

Library Director, Leslie McDonnell thanked the Friends of the Holliston Library for putting on the talk and reminded folks that Jensen-Sheehan Insurance offers a discount on certain types of insurance to registered "Friends".

The Club opened after Prohibition and prospered by catering to people of all ages unlike today where predominantly younger people go clubbing. It expanded in 1942 to include more space and redecorated to a beach motif with plastic palm trees and central dance floor.

The night of the fire saw about 1,000 patrons in a space approved for 500. Decorations were supposedly fire resistant and the club had recently been inspected and approved to open. That night many of the city inspectors were given the best seats in the house.

Thousands lined the streets during funeral processions of those who died in the fire or afterwards due to injuries received.

Although there were several exits from the building, all but one were locked or boarded over to prevent patrons from leaving without paying their bills. The one that people knew about and used to enter the building was a revolving door. In the panic, people were pushing on both sides which kept it from turning. There was an investigation after the fire but only the owner received a sentence. The cause of the fire was never officially determined but a 15 year old employee, who was sent to replace a light bulb in a palm tree, lit a match to see what he was doing, told officials that he might have started the fire. Although not blamed, he lived with that burden all his life.

Massachusetts General Hospital dealt with so many burn victims that they advanced the treatment of burns.

The tragedy also advanced safety codes nationally. Notice that now there is always a regular door next to a revolving door to enhance escape.

After the presentation, Stephanie Schorow took questions from the audience and asked if anyone had a personal story about the club to relate. Several people had relatives or friends who were impacted in some way by the fire. HCAT taped the entire presentation and comments so watch for it soon on Verizon or Comcast.

 

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