Cocoanut Grove fire killed 492 people in packed Boston nightclub 80 years ago tonight

Unspeakable tragedy led to dramatic changes in building, fire codes across the country

By Kerry J. Byrne | Fox News

A horrific inferno swept through a packed Boston nightclub 80 years ago tonight, killing hundreds of revelers and forever changing the way the nation plans for, builds for and reacts to fires.

The Cocoanut Grove, in the cramped streets of downtown Boston, was packed at double capacity, entertaining over 1,000 people, according to various reports, when a fast-moving fire engulfed the club after 10 p.m. on Nov. 28, 1942. 

The death toll reached 492 people, with the dead bodies of panicked people stuck between revolving doors or jammed up against other doors that opened only inward. 

“Frantic efforts by medical personnel to save lives, and the very public investigation which unfolded in the days following, led to unprecedented changes to building fire codes, medical treatment, legal directives, and even grief counseling,” reports the 100 Club of Massachusetts, a group dedicated to the families of first responders.

The Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire in Boston is shown in this 1942 photo from files. (Getty Images)

The inferno reportedly began when a busboy lit a match while trying to fix a light bulb on top of an artificial palm tree. 

The tree, made of highly flammable material, caught fire and spread with shocking speed as panicked patrons raced toward a limited number of poorly marked exits.

Many people who lived in the Boston area at or around that time grew up amid tales of the horror. 

Irving and Betty Soroko were at the Cocoanut Grove that night and survived the inferno.

Betty’s brother, Avi Rosenfarb, however, did not. The three family members were there celebrating with a work colleague.

Chairs are knocked over and the bar is littered with broken bottles as people inspect the Lounge Bar on the Broadway Street side of the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Boston on Nov. 29, 1942, after a fire that killed nearly 500 and injured hundreds more.  (Photo by Boston Globe Archive/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The Soroko family got out, as they knew there was a back entrance. The revolving door, meanwhile, was crushed with people. 

But unable to find his work friend, Rosenfarb went back into the burning build to look for her — and did not make it out alive.

Jordan Soroko, who was just a 1-year-old baby at the time, confirmed the details of that dreadful evening that he learned about years later.

“They found my uncle’s remains up against one of the revolving doors,” Jordan Soroko recalled on Monday. “They identified him only by his wristwatch.”

Jordan Soroko’s dad never talked about the horrific night. But his mom shared one haunting memory.

File photos of the deadly Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston on Nov. 28, 1942.  (Getty Images)

“She said the most difficult thing she ever had to do was to go home that night and tell her mother that they couldn’t find Avi,” he said, referring to her now-deceased brother. 

Hundreds of other mothers heard the same unspeakable news that night. 

The outcry from the inferno led to major changes in building and fire codes around the United States and around the world. 

Many of the changes that followed resulted in what are now familiar features of public spaces today. 

Buildings used for public assemblies now needed at least two separate means of egress, while exits had to move the flow of human traffic — outward, instead of inward, for example. 

Revolving doors now had to be flanked by standard swinging doors, while emergency lighting was required to mark the location of exits. 

Combustible materials were no longer allowed for interior decor, while the addition of automatic sprinklers was encouraged and in many cases required for both existing and new construction. 

“The Cocoanut Grove fire was an immense tragedy,” the National Fire Protection Agency reported.

“Yet this event brought about very positive changes in regulations concerning fire safety … Fire officials from all over the country came to Boston in the days following the fire to take back with them the painful lesson learned.”

SOURCE: https://www.foxnews.com/lifestyle/cocoanut-grove-fire-killed-492-people-boston-nightclub

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