On July 6, 1944, 168 people died when fire broke out at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus performance in Hartford.
Seventy-five years later, five of the victims remain unidentified.
Descendants of some who were there are still looking for answers, which is why there’s a push to exhume some of the bodies and use modern DNA testing to see if they can be identified at last.
Learn more about the fire and the tragic history through the videos below.
A historian and the daughter of a survivor explain what happened on July 6, 1944.
A Tragic Fire
The tent canvas burned quickly because it had been coated with paraffin wax that had been diluted with gasoline, which was considered a waterproofing technique at the time.
A Survivor's Story
Uriel Goldsmith lived through the 1944 Hartford Circus fire at the age of 8. He recalls the terrifying experience 75 years later.
What Was Left Behind
The Connecticut Historical Society has a collection of artifacts from the fire. Something as simple as a bag of peanuts has become a somber reminder of the tragedy that unfolded on what was supposed to be a joyful day.
Artifacts From the 1944 Hartford Circus Fire
Explaining the Artifacts
Ilene Frank, chief curator of the Connecticut Historial Society, explains the significance of the artifacts collected from the 1944 circus fire.
What Happens Next?
A Quest for Answers
A judge has approved an exhumation request for the bodies of two unknown victims of the 1944 Hartford circus fire in an effort to determine if one of them was a Vermont woman. The bodies have been exhumed and scientists are working to test the DNA left after years of mystery. Unfortunately, initial testing failed to identify the victims.
The Science Behind DNA Testing
Here's a look behind the scientific process that goes into exhuming a body and testing the DNA.
What Started the Fire?
There was a lot of anger in the grieving community after the fire. Ilene Frank of the Connecticut Historical Society explains some of the theories behind what caused the fire, and who took the blame.
A Survivor's Grief
Leslie Wright Choquette's grandparents took her mother and aunt to the performance. The girls survived the fire, but they were left orphans. Her mother shared her story in a letter.