National Obituary Review

DPD Exclusive – November 28

0 Comments 28 November 2012


We’re straying off the path a bit for today’s DPD. Instead of focusing on the exploits of one of this planet’s noble foot soldiers we’re going to focus on a few more. About 500 more to be somewhat exact.

On this day in in 1942 the notorious Boston nightclub The Cocoanut Grove suffered the second-worst single-building fire in American history killing more than 490 people and injuring many more.

At first a speakeasy during Prohibition The Cocoanut Grove’s owners were rumored to be well connect thus allowing them to bend the rules a bit when it came to fire ordinances and building codes. For example the only door in was one revolving door in the front of the building. Many of the auxiliary exits were either hidden or boarded up to deter people from leaving without paying the bill. Additionally the interior was strewn with fire hazards up the wahzoo. Fire officials later testified that, had the doors swung outwards, at least 300 lives could have been spared.

When the fire broke there was a mass panic. Hysteria made escape impossible and the interior coaxed the fire to cover the entire interior in a matter of minutes. Firefighters were on record saying they found victims still in their seats with glasses in their hands, not given a chance to even try to escape.

This is a devastating tragedy. Obviously. But some of the outcomes of this are fascinating and have proven to have a tremendous benefit on society. For example:

1. The event caused Massachusetts and eventually the rest of the country to revamp their fire codes. These later became the basis for several federal fire laws and code restrictions placed on nightclubs, theaters, banks, public buildings, and restaurants across the nation. It also led to the formation of several national organizations dedicated to fire safety

2. The influx of smoke inhalation and burn victims to MGH and Boston City Hospital led to a revolution on how to treat these conditions. Doctors at MGH pioneered fluid resuscitation for burn victims and was the first use of the newly created blood bank at MGH.

3. Survivors of the fire were among the first victims to be treated with the newly formed penicillin. When the government saw the amazing effect the drug had on victims they green-lighted the production and distribution of penicillin for the armed forces.

4. By working with the families of the victims Erich Lindemann and Alexandra Adler set the foundation for study the study of grief as well as coping mechanisms for post traumatic stress disorder.

A great write up of the event can be found here.

This dip into Americana (for better or worse) is brought to you by the National Obituary Review.

- who has written 512 posts on The Shade.

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