On Saturday, November 28, 1942 the powerful Boston College football team played Holy Cross College at Fenway Park. In a great upset of that period, Holy Cross beat Boston College by a score of 55-12. College bowl game scouts had attended the game in order to offer the Eagles a bid to the 1943 Sugar Bowl game. As a result of the rout, a BC celebration party scheduled for that evening at the Cocoanut Grove was canceled according to Wikipedia.
My mother had planned on going to the nightclub that evening, but stayed home instead and in my youth told how she had heard about the Cocoanut Grove Fire on the radio. The cause of the blaze was tied to a busboy re-inserting an onstage lightbulb, which burst into flames and the conflagration spread quickly through the nightclub. Panicking patrons packed the entrance with their bodies and nearly five hundred people died in the tragedy.
"If Boston College had won, you might not have been born," my mother told her children in our youth and I always checked for the exits of nightclubs throughout my career as a nightclub doorman.
I was lucky.
Our clubs in New York, LA, Paris, London, Nice, and Hamburg passed regular fire inspections.
But not every fire is caused by an accident like the Cocoanut Grove Fire.
Like the 1990 Happy Land Fire in the Bronx, where a jealous Cuban busboy locked the exits and doused the stairway to the second-floor with gasoline. Trapped by the fire the young Honduran crowd had nowhere to go and right-seven Garifunas died that evening.
All because of a busboy had been rejected by the coatcheck girl, $1 of gasoline and two matches. The fire exits had been blocked to prevent people from entering without paying the cover charge. In the panic that ensued, a few people escaped by breaking a metal gate over one door. González then returned home, removed his gasoline-soaked clothes and fell asleep. He was arrested the following afternoon after police investigators interviewed Feliciano and learned of the previous night's argument. Once advised of his rights, he admitted to starting the blaze. A psychological examination found him to be not responsible for the crime due to mental illness or defect; but the jury, after deliberation, found him to be criminally responsible.
Most recently a group of angry arsonists torched a Cairo nightclub with fire bombs after been bounced from the basement club. Eleven men and five women died in the attack, and three people were injured according to the Egyptian interior ministry.
The perpetrators are still at large.
I hate fires.
I hate fires.
The flames are unforgiving.
Back in college my friends and I lived outside Brighton Center. Our old wooden house was considered an eyesore by the community paper. I lived on the top floor of the old farmhouse. My bedroom had a single light socket. None of the other room had any.
During the winter I ran a space heater to warm the room. My friend Frank said I was creating a firetrap. He was right and one night I woke to the reddish glow of fire.
Not in my room, but the apartment complex next door.
Frank shouted for me.
A single spark would have ignited the old house.
I ran down the stairs and joined my friends on the street to watch the firemen extinguish the blaze with powerful jets of water, which turned to ice on our roof.
Frank admonished me not to plug in the space heater, however the bedroom was as cold as an ice cave, so I went downstairs and lit some logs in the fireplace, after which I unrolled my sleeping bag on the floor. Frank joined me and then the rest of my roommates. We huddled together before the fire and smoked a joint before crashing into a deep sleep.
Fire was also a friend.
Just one not to be trusted to be left alone.