Hartford Remembers Its Darkest Day, 65 Years Later

The Hartford Circus Fire killed 168 people

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    This day, 65 years ago, people in Hartford for a circus became party of one of the city's most tragic days.

    July 6, 1944 started out like any other day in Hartford. It was just two days after an especially patriotic round of July 4th celebrations around the state. Exactly a month earlier, American forces had stormed the beaches of Normandy. 

    While soldiers continued to push their way inland through Europe that July day , hundreds were happily making their way to Hartford's North End to partake in a great American event.  The circus was in town.

    Parents and children crowded into the big top on Barbour Street while the band played and the clowns entertained young and old alike.   

    It was about 20 minutes into the show, as the Great Wallendas were performing, that someone spotted the first signs of trouble. 

    Flames were shooting up the canvas walls of the circus tent, spreading quickly because the big top had been treated with kerosene, which was used as a waterproofing agent in the 1940s. 

    The ringmaster urged people not to panic, but it was too late. Circus-goers began to flee, trampling one another, and becoming trapped by the flames that had now engulfed the tent.

    In all, 168 people died in the Great Hartford Circus Fire.  Some were so badly burned, they couldn't be identified. As many as 700 others were injured.

     A teenager confessed to starting the fire, but later recanted. Investigators never officially determined what started the deadly blaze.

    A small plaque marks the spot on Barbour Street where so many people lost their lives. Hartford's Fire Chief will join the Mayor Monday afternoon for a moment of silence at that location to remember the victims 65 years later.