The Circus Fire: A True Story of an American Tragedy

The Circus Fire: A True Story of an American Tragedy

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The Circus Fire: A True Story of an American Tragedy 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
On July 6, 1944, around 10,000 people went to watch “The Greatest Show on Earth” performed by the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus. Some of the people in Hartford, Connecticut had been waiting all year for the circus to come to town, but when it finally did, they were in for a very different show than normal. About halfway through the Wallendas act, a high wire act performed by three people, people began smelling smoke. Almost without warning, the entire big top was up in flames due to the fact that it had been waterproofed with gasoline and paraffin. 167 people went to the circus that day and never returned home. Everything about this book entertained me. The thrill of picturing each act as it would have been performed, being able to almost smell the smoke of the fire as it began to grow, and feeling the fear of what it would have been like to be running for your life as the fire envelops the entire big top. Stewart O’Nan does a wonderful job of putting as many facts together as possible to recreate the horrific day and to put the reader right into the story. Because O’Nan was not present the day of the fire, the book is put together through the community and through interviews with many of the people who were in attendance that day.  Although the facts from people who experienced the horrific day are part of what makes the book so great, they are also what makes it not as great. Some facts are repeated multiple times throughout the book and make it drag on I parts. Some of the facts are very important to the story and trying to find the cause of the fire and should be repeated, but others are of lesser importance and slow the pace of the book. Even with those slow parts, the book is an excellent read and provides a lot of information about the day of the fire.  I would definitely recommend this book, especially to people who have fallen in love with the circus. This is one of the largest tragedies that has ever occurred in the circus world, and it is very well represented through O’Nan’s writing. I woulod also recommend it to people who love history but are looking for that thrill as well. 
sandiek More than 1 year ago
On July 6, 1944, nine thousand people, mostly women and children, attended the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus in Hartford, Connecticut. It was the matinee show and started at around 2:00 p.m. Moments later, the circus tent caught fire and in minutes was completely consumed. Pandemonium reigned as petrified patrons fought and clawed to escape the inferno. One hundred and sixty-seven people died that day. Stewart O'Nan has painstakingly recreated this horrific event. He covers the individual stories of various victims and survivors. The history of the circus is covered, along with the war factory environment of Hartford in 1944. Possible causes of the fire are considered. Was it an act of arson? Or was the fact that the tent was waterproofed with a mixture of gasoline and paraffin the main culprit? The survivors are followed through their months of hospitalization and the various legal issues and court cases are covered. The lives of various circus performers are told, as well as the stories of the men who investigated the fire and its causes for years. The later lives of those involved are covered, especially the struggle to identify one little girl that stretched for decades. Although a horrific event, the painstaking research O'Nan has performed makes this a fascinating subject. The changes that took place due to the fire and the general change in the country as it moved to new entertainment venues such as television made the circus under the big tent a thing of the past. O'Nan takes the reader inside the tent and shows them a world that no longer exists. This book is recommended for readers of nonfiction and circus fans, as well as those who enjoy tales of heroism.
JennGrrl More than 1 year ago
It's amazing that so many people went to the circus to forget their troubles, and instead ended up at best traumatized and at the worst dead. I'll definitely never look at a circus the same again, or for that matter any event that happens under a tent. Worth a read, definitely, but very graphic in parts so not for the faint of heart.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I listened to the unabridged audio version, which was compelling indeed--especially, but not exclusively, if the listener is or was a 'local' to the Hartford area. I think the audio might have made it more dramatic than reading it; on the other hand, the book has some photos that you miss with the audio. One thing about the audio that I seem to recall was a few place names mispronounced, which was a little annoying--it doesn't seem to me an unreasonable expectation for the reader (who was not the author) to have checked on the proper pronunciation. But it was a minor annoyance & nonlocals wouldn't even notice.

Some of the background stuff at the beginning about other circus fires tested my patience a little as I wanted him to 'get to the Hartford stuff,' but once he got into the Hartford stuff, the reason for all that background stuff became clear & was helpful. I thought the amount of research he did to bring all this together was impressive.

I thought he did a very good job of writing about a very complex subject and making it 'followable.' To say it lacked some dramatic emotionality is like saying that the events of 9/11 needed reporters to add drama to the events to make the response emotional--the events are sufficient unto themselves & don't need anything added.

It is very true that some of the description can be gruesome, but I would say anyone who can handle what's on TV these days can probably handle it.

One way it haunted me, besides thinking about certain locations as I drive around Hartford, is that I'm now a little more uncomfortable when in a crowded place--I'm constantly conscious of when a place must be beyond its fire code occupancy level & how would all those people get out, & I pay attention to where the exits are & stay near one of them--which is much like the PTSD some of the victims experienced, & I got it (to a smaller degree of course) just from hearing about it! So I'd say it was dramatic enough!

Guest More than 1 year ago
I had only the most superficial knowledge of this tragedy, including the 'unidentified little girl' known in O'Nan's book as 'Little Miss 1565.' 'The Circus Fire' answers some questions and raises others about not only how and why this tragedy took place but how humans collectively behaved in the face of adversity. The passages detailing the children going through skin grafts are by far the most heartbreaking. As effective and compelling as the story is told, the style is repetorial in a non ground breaking way; this is no Truman Capote/'In Cold Blood.' As an account of the tragedy this is definitive; as an account of a fire disaster it cannot surpass 'To Sleep With The Angels' by David Cowan and John Kuenster, detailing the December 1, 1958 fire at Our Lady of Angels School in Chicago. Images in that haunt me to this day. O'Nan's account is fascinating, if a bit clinical. An effective investigation of a tragey lacking the emotional resonance it ought to put its subject over.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was amazing. While gruesome in parts it was necessary to really show the reader and do justice to the horrific events. The desription really puts you there. You can almost smell the smoke and hear the screams. This was a tragedy thaf should never be forgotten...and thanks to this authors brilliant writing no one who reads this book will.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book covers in detail the terrible tragedy of that day. Highly reccomended for the circus or history buff.
Guest More than 1 year ago
During the dog days of summer in a small city in Connecticut during 1944, the Big Top came to town, promising a diversion from the depressing news of World War II and the oppressing heat. A tent was pitched in an open field, the animals and concessions set up, and tickets were sold. During one afternoon's performance a fire was started (you'll have to read how), and the tent went up almost instantaneously, trapping hundreds of people inside and starting an hysterical stampede towards the few available exits. This is an account that is meticulously researched and grippingly told. It will continue to haunt your thoughts long after you've finished the book. Beware that this book is not for the faint of heart; the descriptions of burned survivors and charred bodies seem awfully vivid. Otherwise, a memorable cautionary tale.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This story brought the tragedy to life and made the fire even more heartbreaking. The in depth interviews and accounts of the disaster are extremly vivid and interesting. Great read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
In the preface to the book, the Author writes that he wrote a non-fiction account of the Circus Fire because even the most well written fictionalized account could not tolerate the lapses, coincidences and gaps that occur in real life. Truth really is stranger than fiction!!! First and foremost this story is a gripping human saga that will leave you talking about the story and thinking about the book for weeks. I would love to see a follow up book detailing what happened throughout the later lives of the survivors and the families of victims. Read this book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Effectively describes the horrors of the fire, its causes, repercussions. O'Nan debunks myths about the disaster, and has his own take on the identity of Little Miss 156
Courtney Owen More than 1 year ago
my first nook book and enjoying it thus far