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Firsthand Accounts

Survivor Louise Bouvier tells her story Top
Source: www.BostonFireHistory.org

There were six in the party journeying from Southbridge, Massachusetts for an evening of fun and merriment in the “big city”. Louise was escorted by Steve Casavant. Steve’s sister Rita and her husband Hiram Bellows together with Ray Martell and his wife Ruth completed the group. They entered the Cocoanut Grove through the Piedmont street revolving door and in spite of having no reservations, were seated for dinner in the main dining room. Louise remembers the club being “very crowded, mobbed, mobbed”.
Survivor Marshall Cole speaks Top
Source:   www.thestory.org
Dick speaks to Marshall Cole, who escaped the Cocoanut Grove Fire of 1942, the deadliest nightclub fire in American history.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher Top
Source: Library of Congress

And the six of us left for the Boston College and Holy Cross game at Fenway Park. And then I was told that we had reservations at the Coconut Grove that evening for dinner and, I understood, dancing. And since I really loved to dance, I thought this was going to be wonderful. And the following day I was treated to a stage show in Boston. And the weekend was just going to be a great weekend. Something that young people would look forward to. And so we went to the game. I don't think Boston College had lost one game that season and Holy Cross beat them. Of course, we were crushed because we were with the Boston College group. And we, after the game, we drove over to the Coconut Grove. Parked the car in the parking lot there. And we were ushered -- we had reservations -- and we were ushered into one of the newest bars that the Coconut Grove had. The Coconut Grove seemed to have a number of small bars off the main part of the club. And we were rather disappointed because there was a piano player there and that was it. That was the entertainment. And none of us were drinkers. And, I mean, if you have one drink, you nursed it the whole evening and maybe have a lot left over. But it was kind of disappointing. And having lived in Boston, or rather in the suburb, at that age, I had attended the Mayfair Club across the way. So I suggested to the group that maybe we could move over there. We hadn't had dinner or anything. And so they were kind of reluctant, in a way, because at least they had a table where we were. But I said, I have a friend who has a neighbor who works there, so maybe we can get a table. We went over there. No luck. So what to do? We went back to the Coconut Grove, or down to the Melody Lounge. And it was so dark. They have a spotlight on the piano player that was up behind the bar. And so many military. Just maybe 10 deep around. Just all standing. Very few tables. It was very dark down there. It was all lined with black fabric. And I saw this man reach up and unscrew a lightbulb. And I thought to myself, it's dark enough in here, you know, what is wrong with -- well, we couldn't find a place, and we weren't satisfied. So someone suggested we crash the Holy Cross celebration up at the Palmer House. So we got in a cab and off we went. Well, it was kind of dull up there because it didn't seem to be much of a celebration, but they had a lot of food. So we enjoyed it. And at that time we could hear a lot of sirens. So we decided to go back to the Grove and take the car and drive down to the South Shore and find a place that we knew of that we could have dinner. So the taxi cab driver said, the Coconut Grove is on fire. And he said, is your car parked there? And it was. He said, my suggestion is, you get down there to that car and get it out of the parking lot before the fire engines get in there. Well, he let us off. And as we walked toward the parking lot, there were people walking away from the Grove who were almost like in a dream. They were just so --
They had gotten out. But they just couldn't believe what was going on. And it seemed like the building behind us, the Coconut Grove building was bursting. It was almost like it was something like dynamite, you know. And later on we came to the conclusion it was probably a lot of the sodas and the beer and everything that was under pressure. And, of course, when the fire hit that. But there was not one person in that bar where we had been that got out alive.

So that was a very sad time. And I was happy to be able to call my parents the next day and say, yes, I was at the Coconut Grove, but here I am. And I am fine.


Survivor Saul Davis Top

Papadopoulos M. Easton doctor recalls surviving Cocoanut Grove fire. [YouTube video (2:57 min.)]. Brockton (Mass.) : The Enterprise of Brockton Mass., 2007. Interviewee: Saul Davis.


First responder William Doogan's oral history recounted. Top

Source: Boston.com

In January 1982, at his son Jim's house in Walpole, he spoke into a tape recorder for an hour, the memories piling up just as the bodies did that night in 1942.


Survivor Joseph Dreyfus tells his story Top
Source: www.BostonFireHistory.org

Joseph Dreyfus wasn’t a regular visitor to nightspots but not too many medical students are. Neither he nor his wife, Adele, even enjoyed liquor. But, because, on this Saturday evening a friend of a friend was leaving for overseas duty in the Armed Services the couple was part of a group of eight visiting the Cocoanut Grove for a farewell dinner for the departing serviceman. Mr. and Mrs. Dreyfus had never before been inside the nightclub.


Survivor Hewson Gray tells his story Top
Source: www.BostonFireHistory.org

Hilda and Hewson Gray, together with three other couples, arrived at the Cocoanut Grove slightly later than originally planned but their dinner reservations were nevertheless honored. They were not, however, shown to a table in the area of the Dining room for which they had expressed preference but instead were ushered to a table against the rear wall of the room, close to the entertainer’s stage door. Happily they had a clear view of both the stage and the dance floor.

Thomas I. Gray Top

Thomas I. Gray was an Ensign in the Navy on the USS Guest, when on the night of the fire, he and a friend heard the fire trucks.  They followed the sounds to the fire and joined in the rescue efforts. This is a first-hand account of the night, captured both in an interview with his son, and a handwritten letter with transcript sent to family in the week following the fire. 


Survivor John Rizzo Top

Parcher A.  Cocoanut Grove survivor shares his story.  [YouTube video (2:08 min.)]. Lynn (Mass.) : The Daily Item of Lynn Mass., 2012. Interviewee: John Rizzo.

Parcher A.  Lynn man looks back on 1942 nightclub fire that killed 500.  Lynn (Mass.) : The Daily Item of Lynn Mass., 2012.  Available at: http://www.itemlive.com/articles/2012/11/28/news/news03.txt
Survivors Marshall Cole, Saul Davis, and Ann Gallagher tell their stories Top

On the 70th anniversary of the Cocoanut Grove fire, three survivors tell their stories. Ann Gallagher was a 16-year-old girl from New Hampshire who was in Boston with her family. Marshall Cole, another 16-year-old, was employed at the popular nightclub as a dancer. He has vivid memories of escaping the fire. Dr. Saul Davis, interviewed in 2007, also gives a harrowing account of the fire that claimed the lives of so many. Their first-person accounts have been part of an organized effort by the Cocoanut Grove Coalition to gather as much historical information as possible. Read more in this special report from NFPA Journal®, the official member magazine of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

NFPA Journal – Cocoanut Grove Survivors tell their stories.[YouTube video (11:46 min.)]. Quincy : National Fire Protection Association, 2012. Interviewees: Saul Davis, Ann Clark Gallagher, and Marshal Cole, survivors.

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