This Week in History: The Cocoanut Grove, 1942 and Our Lady of Angels, 1958

Blog Post created by jrodowicz Employee on Dec 2, 2016

This time of year, we look back at two significant events in fire history that influence codes and standards still today.


The Cocoanut Grove Fire, 1942

Cocoanut Grove, December 1942

On November 28, 1942, a fire broke out in Boston's popular Cocoanut Grove Nightclub. 492 people lives were lost due to the events that night. 200 people died within feet of the jammed revolving doors.


From Volunteer Firemen v. 10, no. 1 (January 1943)

"The radios and newspapers reported the facts apparently responsible for the loss of life: (1) inadequate and locked exits, (2) quick burning decorations...The tragedy started when fire broke out in the basement in a cocktail lounge. The blaze is said to have been first noticed in an imitation palm tree after a bus boy struck a match for a light while replacing an electric bulb near the ceiling. However, other testimony leads to the question whether defective wiring may have had something to do with the start of the fire, or whether there may have been some other unexplained factor."


Our Lady of Angels Fire, 1958


The Our Lady of Angels Fire on December 1, 1958 also struck a chord and is cited as one of the reasons many fire and life safety codes and standards are enforced in schools today.


From the NFPA Journal online, August 20 2008:

"On December 1, 1958, 95 people lost their lives in the Our Lady of the Angels Roman Catholic grade school in Chicago, Illinois. It was the deadliest school fire in U.S. history and the in decades that resulted in a large death toll. Not only did it remind Americans of some major uncorrected fire hazards in U.S. school, but it also shone a light on other hazards that had not been widely recognized before."


For more information regarding these or other historic fires, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Library. The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic. Library staff are available to answer reference questions from members and the general public.