The Circus Fire: A True Story of an American Tragedy

by Stewart O'Nan | Nonfiction |
ISBN: 0385496850 Global Overview for this book
Registered by wingGoryDetailswing of Nashua, New Hampshire USA on 2/21/2009
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2 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Saturday, February 21, 2009
I have a fascination for accounts of real-life tragedies, and this one is perhaps one of the most poignant I've read. It's about the Hartford circus fire of 1944, when a small spark turned the big top into an inferno within minutes, costing the lives of 167 people, many of them children.

This book was very hard to get through - based entirely on the subject matter, not the writing style. It opens with the description of the Cleveland menagerie fire in 1942, and the descriptions of the sufferings of the animals was more than I could take. Later on the author will compare the screams of the terrified victims in Hartford with the silence of the animals - it still makes me shudder...

That's just the setup for the rest of the book, which details the setup of the Hartford circus, the quirks of fate that put some people in the tent on that day while keeping others away, and then leads into the start of the fire and the resulting disaster. Discussions of crowd psychology mingle with accounts of individual heroism, and detailed descriptions of the deaths by smoke, fire, and crushing intersperse with near-miraculous escapes.

The aftermath of the fire takes up most of the book, from the struggles of the survivors to the attempts to identify the dead - and to determine the cause. While there were attempts to bring an individual to account, it was clear that long-standing practices such as varnishing the tents with highly flammable substances were more significant factors. But it's as a human tragedy that the book has the most impact.

[I found that there's a memorial on the site in Hartford now; since I drive through Hartford fairly often, I may plan a side trip to pay a visit...

Update, July 2013: I visited the memorial at last, and found it very moving; I've added a photo.]

Journal Entry 2 by wingGoryDetailswing at Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Released 9 yrs ago (9/11/2012 UTC) at Nashua, New Hampshire USA

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I'm adding this book to the I Hate SF bookbox, which will soon be on its way to BCer grubsneerg in Pennsylvania. Hope everyone enjoys the selection!

Journal Entry 3 by grubsneerg at Greensburg, Pennsylvania USA on Sunday, September 30, 2012
GoryDetails, I <3 you for including this, and several other wishlist books, in the "I Hate SF Bookbox." Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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