The Fire That Changed Everything: Cocoanut Grove Witness Accounts Now Made Public

Boston police and firemen watch the rear entrance to the “Melody Lounge” section of the Cocoanut Grove Night Club, Nov. 29, 1942. Over 400 people perished in the fire. (AP File)Survivors of the Cocoanut Grove night club fire are carried out to safety during chaotic rescue efforts on Nov. 28, 1942. (AP)Chairs are piled up inside the charred Cocoanut Grove night club. (AP)Stanley F. Tomaszewski, 16-year-old busboy of the Cocoanut Grove night club, was quoted as admitting that he was the innocent cause of the fire which snuffed out more than 400 lives on Nov. 28, 1942. He said he used a match to aid him in replacing a light bulb in the ceiling, setting the decorations on fire. He is shown at police headquarters. (AP)

It’s been 70 years since Boston’s infamous Cocoanut Grove fire, the deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history.

On Nov. 28, 1942, 492 people were killed by the inferno, believed to have been started accidentally by a busboy lighting a match while replacing a lightbulb.

Now, for the first time, transcripts of interviews with survivors have been released to the public.

The firsthand witness accounts reveal how the fire started and dispel myths about just how forthright the 16-year-old busboy at the center of the tragedy really was about his role in starting the fire.

We speak to veteran reporter Stephanie Schorow, author of the 2005 book, “The Cocoanut Grove Fire,” to find out how the 1942 tragedy reformed safety standards across the country and set historic legal precedents about criminal negligence.

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Coconaut Grove Fire, Schorow will be speaking at Boston Public Library’s Central Library in Copley Square on Wednesday, Nov. 14, at 6 p.m.



A segment on Cocoanut Grove from the WGBH series, “Boston: The Way It Was,” released in 1995:


Other stories from this show:

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.

Host Meghna Chakrabarti introduces us to newsmakers, big thinkers and artists and brings us stories of relevance to Bostonians here and around the region. Live every weekday at 3 p.m. and 10 p.m.

  • Listen: Weekdays, 3 p.m. on 90.9 FM
  • Live Call-In: (800) 423-TALK
  • Listener Voicemail: (617) 358-0607
Most Popular
This site is best viewed with: Firefox | Internet Explorer 9 | Chrome | Safari