The Cocoanut Grove Fire impacted the lives of many people, not just those that were directly involved with the fire. Below, you will see the accounts of visitors to this site who have kindly shared their stories.
Do you have a story about the Cocoanut Grove Fire? Was a loved one involved with it? Did it have a significant impact on your life? Please contact us
so that we can add it to this page.
[Thomas O'Neil, Catherine O'Neil, Isabelle O'Neil, William O'Connor]
The Second Tragedy
On November 28th 1942, Thomas O’Neil, his wife, Catherine and his sister and her date, Isabelle and Dr. William O’Connor, enjoyed an evening of dinner and dancing that only could be had at Boston’s most exciting nightclub, the Cocoanut Grove.
They had paid their bill and were getting their coats when all four were overcome by fire and smoke. Dr. O’Connor survived with burns to his hands, the O’Neils were not so fortunate. All three perished. Following the fire, Thomas and Catherine’s children Andrew 17, Joyce11 and Joanne 8 were separated and cared for by extended family. The separation of family after the fire is known to some as the “second tragedy”. It is Andrew’s children who believed that the memory of all those who perished that evening needed to be remembered in some tangible way even though 70 years had passed.
To coincide with the 70th Anniversary of the Cocoanut Grove Fire on November 28, 2012, The Thomas H. and Catherine D. O’Neil Charitable Foundation, Inc was introduced. The O’Neil grandchildren established the Foundation to raise and distribute funds for the benefit of pediatric burn victims and their families in memory of the 492 victims of the Cocoanut Grove fire. The Foundation website is located at www.oneilfoundation.org
It was only from transcripts posted on www.cocoanutgrovefire.org
that the O’Neil family recently learned of the circumstances leading up to the deaths of their paternal grandparents and grand aunt. The archivists and researchers at the National Fire Protection Association have compiled these transcripts along with many more artifacts and memories of the fire for reference by generations to come. They would surely have been lost if not for their tireless efforts. Our family can never thank them enough for their work.
[William H. Warren]
My aunt's first husband Henry Warren died in the fire.
She (Connie Warren) was dancing at the CG that night. He worked for NCR and
volunteered to cover the register to be with her. Connie escaped
via the stage door. Henry did not make it. My mother , Connie's sister
lived with the grief from that event all her life. She was scheduled to
dance that night, but asked my aunt to take her place.
My grandfather Martin Breen was killed in the fire. My
mother was 4 years old at the time. Her name was Joan Houde (Breen). She passed
away this past February. My grandfather was a bartender in the Melody Lounge
according to my mother’s memory from back then. She told us that he was taken
to Boston City Hospital alive but died soon after. I do have some pictures of
him bartending at the grove I believe if you would be interested in those. I
often wonder about what he was like and what he went through that night.
[S. Joseph Melick, Jr]
On November 28, 1942, my father, S. Joseph Melick, Jr., was
home on leave from the Army Air Force, and went into Boston to have some fun.
In the summertimes before the war, Dad had been a volunteer firefighter in
Wells Beach, Maine; and when Dad heard the sirens from the fire trucks Dad
headed over to see what was going on. As he arrived at the scene, someone told
him "hey, Soldier -- we need help over here." Dad ended up helping to
take quite a few people out of the building, some alive but certainly some who
Growing up, I remember the fire being mentioned in our
house, but Dad never said a word about it. It was only after Dad died in March
of 2009 that his younger brother Richard told Dad's story at his memorial
service; and it was then that I truly understood why the fathers of my
contemporaries who, unlike Dad, saw combat in World War II never liked to talk
about their experiences. How could Dad have ever put into words, to me, what he
saw and did that night?"
[Robert B. Charles and Gladys K. Charles]
Bob Charles was my father's (William A. Faragher,
deceased) best friend. They grew up in Oak Park, IL together. The story, as
told to me by my Dad, is that Bob and Gladys were celebrating the upcoming
birth of their child at the Cocoanut Grove on that fateful night. She was 9
months pregnant and ready to deliver any minute. Her advanced pregnancy
prevented them from attending my parents wedding on November 14th. Bob was to
have been my Dad's Best Man. Such a horrific tragedy. So, in our minds, the
list of casualties will always include one, "Baby Charles". And
finally, as you might imagine, it is no coincidence that my name is Robert
Charles. Just thought I would share this with you as I reflect today.
[Jesse Duncan Elliott Jr and Marion M. Elliott]
I am one of the 11 "children" who were orphaned on
Nov. 28, 1942. It has taken me 60-70 years to learn more about my
family. I was given an "assignment" by the Lord to write a
biography about my parents. All I had to go on was a scrapbook of my
father's father. I wrote what I was able to find out and published it,
bound it, and passed it out to my children (who have never cracked the
cover). A bright friend of my husband asked if he could read it. I
was happy for him to do so. After he finished it, he asked: "Do you
know WHY your father was in Boston?" (I was living in San Antonio,
TX). I had to confess that I did not really know. Our friend told
me that my father had fought in the Naval Battle of Casablanca and his ship,
the U.S.S. Tuscaloosa, had put in to Boston Harbor for repairs. Even his
NARA records did not have any mention of this. I am 72 and was FLOORED by
this information.....also, ticked off that it meant doing more research and
probably writing a Vol. II :). I began reading about the battle and found
Samuel Eliot Morrison's "History of U.S. Naval Operations in WWII", a
TWELVE volume history published in 1947! Of course it was out of print,
but the Lord led me to a used volume. As I read about the battle, I
suddenly was flooded with tears. The RENOWNED naval historian Samuel
Eliot Morrison quoted MY FATHER - a 27 year old "baby" naval
aviator. I was overcome that the Lord would allow me to find this rare
book and to see my father's name in it! I did contact NARA and get the
"Action Reports" (which I had never heard of). My father was senior
aviator (had no idea) so he authored/signed almost every daily report of the
battle action. When I received them, I felt as if I had been given a
letter from my father after 70 years. It was a tremendous blessing.
My Dad Max Taitel wrote the following: ""Jennie
(Max's sister also known as Jean) married Maurice Levy in March of 1942, and
they lived in an apartment on Seaver St. in Roxbury , Mass. -- but her life
ended tragically when she died eight months later in the terrible Coconut Grove
Fire in Boston in November of 1942. They had planned a night at this
popular night club to celebrate Max's graduation from Officer's Candidate
School. Max's leave was cancelled at the last minute and they decided to
celebrate anyway, which turned out to be a fatal decision.
My mother was across the street from the Grove, on the
Statler Roof where BC was holding a ""Consolation Dance""
after their football defeat.
She went to nine funerals the week after the fire.
She went to Regis College, and the Monday after the fire, a
priest who taught them religion came in with banged fingers on his right hand.
He had second- degree burns from anointing the dead outside the club, their
flesh being that hot.
Also her good friend there, Polly Sharby of Keene NH, lost
her father and brother there, and her mother who survived, never recovered
In 1982 when I was in school, I did a paper on the Grove
fire, and have several detailed written interviews with survivors and others. I
also have several AP original prints of morgue crowds. I'd glad to donate
I have an old scrap book put together by a prisoner at Charlestown State Prison (which no longer exists) but this glued together scrap book has every newspaper clipping about the fire. The prisoner kept busy doing this it is authentic and gave it to my grandfather who gave it to me.
My Grandfather Frank Graves who was Deputy Warden of the State prison at that time.
My father-in-law, Marshall Cole, was given your story about the Cocoanut Grove fire and is interested in getting in touch with the people who are looking into the fire.
He was a young dancer performing at the Cocoanut Grove on the night of the fire and has some interesting stories to tell.