Cocoanut Grove Fire: The Deadliest Nightclub Disaster Which Killed 492 People and Injured Hundreds in 1942

On the night of November 28, 1942, A huge fire broke out in the Cocoanut Grove night club which killed 492 people and injured hundreds. It was one of the deadliest fires in American history which resulted in significant improvements in safety laws and also significant changes in the rehabilitation and treatment of burn victims globally.

Cocoanut Grove Club

The Cocoanut Grove was a nightclub in Boston, Massachusetts. It was first opened in 1927 and was originally owned by two orchestra leaders, Mickey Alpert and Jacques Renard. The club had a restaurant, a dance area, pubs, many lounge areas, a rooftop place for dance under the stars, floor displays, and piano-playing entertainers. They sold the club to the bootlegger Charles “King” Solomon. Following Solomon was gunned down in 1933, the club’s ownership passed to his attorney, Barney Welansky. He was a tough businessman who was not going to allow even one penny to slide off. He hired youngsters for minimum wage and he secured and bricked up emergency exits to prevents his clients from fleeing the premises without paying. This greed and ignorance resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people.

The Cause of flames

Different theories blame different people. One of them indicates that it was the fault of a 16-year-old busboy named Stanley Tomaszewski. Shortly before the fire began, a young guy unscrewed a light bulb in the Melody Lounge downstairs because he wanted to kiss his girlfriend in privacy. He instructed, Tomaszewski instructed to twist the light bulb back in and he lit a matchstick to see the lamp. After the light bulb was screwed back in, Tomaszewski extinguished the match. Immediately afterward, some people saw flames on the fake palm trees just beneath the ceiling. However, the official investigation ruled out the possibility that the fire was started by Tomaszewski.

How People tried to escape

Many Patrons tried to exit through the primary entrance, the same way they had entered. The building’s main entrance was just one revolving door, which was rendered useless because the crowd stampeded in panic. Bodies piled up behind each side of the revolving door, jamming it until it broke. Other paths of escape were similarly useless; side doors were bolted shut to stop individuals from leaving without paying. A plate glass window, that might have been crushed for escape, was boarded up and unusable as an emergency exit. Other unlocked doors, such as those at the Broadway Lounge, opened inwards, making them useless against the crush of people trying to escape. Fire officials would later testify that had the doors swung outwards, at least 300 lives might have been spared.

Cocoanut Grove fire victims

Actor Buck Jones also died in this catastrophe. He was in the club along with his wife and the couple initially escaped but Jones went to premises to locate his agent producer Scott R. Dunlap. He was severely burnt and died of his injuries two days later. Coast Guardsman Clifford Johnson suffered extensive third-degree burns over 55% of his body but survived the tragedy. He was a severely burned person ever to survive his injuries at the time. A honeymoon couple died in the incident. Three bartenders, cashier Jeanette Lanzoni, and entertainer Goody Goodelle also died. A total of 492 people died and hundreds of wounded and a few of them were severely burned.


An investigation report revealed that the Cocoanut Grove had been inspected by a captain in the Boston Fire Department, only ten days ahead of the fire and he declared it safe. The club had not acquired any licenses for operation for several years. Tomaszewski testified at the inquiry and was exonerated, as he was not responsible for the flammable decorations or the life safety code violations.

Here below Are some photos that show a glimpse of the Cocoanut Grove club catastrophe.

#1 Men carrying badly burned woman.

Men carrying badly burned woman.

The condition of this woman's clothing and the scars on her face and hands indicate the intensity of the fire and the panic it brought in its wake.

    #5 Burned out Night Club.

    Burned out Night Club.

    Boston's Cocoanut Grove night club through the revolving doors leading to the tiny 10-foot-wide vestibule where stampeding guests were crushed and smothered as they tried to leave the burning club.

      #8 Man carrying Cocoanut Grove burn victim.

      Man carrying Cocoanut Grove burn victim.

      A guest being carried to a waiting ambulance by one of the many civilians who helped police and firemen. The fire, one of the worst in the nation's history, occurred during the height of festivities last night.

        #22 People outside Cocoanut Grove Night Club removing bodies.

        People outside Cocoanut Grove Night Club removing bodies.

        This photo was taken shortly after the holocaust, firemen, priests, and service men stand by the rear entrance to the night club, most of them numbed by the terrible sight of charred and broken bodies being carried through shattered windows and doors. One victim is shown on a stretcher, foreground.

          #29 Victims of Cocoanut Grove Night Club fire lying in Morgue.

          Victims of Cocoanut Grove Night Club fire lying in Morgue.

          The bodies of some of the victims who died in the disastrous fire which raged through a Boston nightclub last night are shown in the morgue being identified. A sailor, left, is holding identification tags that are placed on the bodies after they are identified.

            #31 Burnt remains of revolving Door in Cocoanut Grove Night Club.

            Burnt remains of revolving Door in Cocoanut Grove Night Club.

            Many of the merrymakers, struggling to get out of the burning room, were crushed and smothered to death in a stampede in this tiny, 10-foot-wide vestibule. Panic spread faster than the flames among the capacity crowd of 750 that was jammed in the room when the fire began.

              #37 Victims of Cocoanut Grove Night Club Fire being buried.

              Victims of Cocoanut Grove Night Club Fire being buried.

              Tragedy marked the wedding day of John O'Neill when he, his bride, and his sister, Anna, who served as Maid of Honor only a few hours earlier perished in the disastrous Boston night club fire on November 28th. They were buried in a single grave at St. Joan's Cemetery yesterday, December 2.

                #39 Cocoanut Grove Night Club owners in Automobile.

                Cocoanut Grove Night Club owners in Automobile.

                Among the ten men indicted yesterday in connection with the Cocoanut Grove fire was James Welansky (l), who with his brother, Barnett Welansky (extreme right) owned and operated the night club, and Jacob Goldfine (center), who worked as a steward at the Grove. They are shown as they left state police headquarters on bail after being arrested. They will be tried in Boston beginning next Monday, together with four Boston City officials and other indicted men.

                  #57 Barnett Welansky Arriving at Police Building.

                  Barnett Welansky Arriving at Police Building.

                  The owner of the fatal Coconut Grove, Barnett Welansky is shown as he appeared at the Massachusetts State Police Headquarters with his lawyers. He was one of the ten persons indicted by Suffolk county grand jury in connection with the nightclub fire on November 28, 1942.

                    Written by Benjamin Grayson

                    Former Bouquet seller now making a go with blogging and graphic designing. I love creating & composing history articles and lists.

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