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Police release witness statements on Cocoanut Grove fire

Remains of the Cocoanut Grove nightclub

Boston Police announce that with the help of the BPL, they've made public three volumes of witness statements on the nation's deadliest nightclub fire, which killed 492 on Nov. 28, 1942. Some of the interviews were done immediately following the fires in the hospitals to which survivors had been taken.

You can read the transcripts online, from which this excerpt of a police interview of Roland Sousa, 45, of Salem was taken:

Q. Can you tell us anything as to how the fire started?

A. I came down the Grove about quarter of ten.

Q. You know the streets around there?

A. Yes.

Q. You went in the Piedmont Street entrance?

A. Yes. I went downstairs into the lounge, Melody Lounge. It was packed, and I cruised around to see if I could get a seat, and got down the end of the stairs to the right. I was just going to sit down, there is a little palm tree in the corner and it started to get aflame, but I didn't get too excited because I had seen that before and they put it out.

Q. They had put it out on previous occasions during your visits there?

A. Yes.

Q. What do you attribute the cause of it, the tree getting afire?

A. I don't know.

Q. You actually saw that tree afire?

A. Yes. I heard them say, "Put it out, put it out." It hit the ceiling.

Q. That is, the flame hit the ceiling?

A. Yes, started to crawl all around the joint. They didn't stop it. It got ahead of them. So we made for the stairs. The flames were on my heels and crawled right along and spread out and then it started smoking.

Q. How tall would you say those bushes or trees were in there?

A Down there isn't very high. I figure that palm tree about three or four feet.

Q. Very dry?

A. I guess so.

Q. But the first flame you saw when the palm tree was afire?

A. Yes.

Q. It blazed up to the ceiling?

A Yes. That ceiling is made up of clothy stuff.

Q You. are referring to the drapes on the ceiling?

A. Just the ceiling. ...

Q. How much time elapsed from the time you first saw the flame until the whole room was enveloped in flames?

A Seconds.

Photo from the BPL's Cocoanut Grove photo collection. Used under this license.

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Here's a quick and dirty map made from the table of victims linked on archive.org:


The names and addresses are only as good as the text in the pdf, which isn't very! Lots of corrupted data.

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Well, finally someone that knows somewhat how that fire happened.

My father, Maurice Levy was there, and an actual wittness to how it started, and he lost his first wife Jean Levy of 8 months, they were there with friends and family. That clothy stuff you refer to were streamers for decortaing. I can give you a line by line of what happened at that fire if your interested. I can tell you HOW the tree caught fire and by whom, it was a fatal accident. Yes it cost numerous of lives.


Laurence Levy D.Div.

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What a coincidence, I just read Mr. Levy's statement the other night in regards to the Cocoanut Grove fire and I was left wondering what happened to him. Could you elaborate more on your father's account of what happened? While his police testimony was more lengthy than others, I'm sure he's told you a great deal more about the ordeal.

In browsing the flickr photo archives, I came across this photo of a Navy Lieutenant. Would this happen to be your father? http://www.flickr.com/photos/boston_public_library/6131003504/in/set-72157631071090782/

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