Remembering the 1944 Hartford Circus Fire

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.

What happened?

A historian and the daughter of a survivor explain what happened on July 6, 1944.

On July 6, 1944, fire broke out at a performance of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus in Hartford. It has gone down in history on one of the most tragic disasters in Hartford's history.

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.

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.

Ilene Frank, chief curator of the Connecticut Historial Society, explains the significance of the artifacts collected from the 1944 circus fire.
HARTFORD CIRCUS FIRE GRAVE
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What Happens Next?

The five unidentified victims of the Hartford Circus Fire are buried at Northwood Cemetery in Windsor.

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.

Ever wonder how scientists test DNA from a body they exhume? Here's how the process works.

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.

Missing Attachment After 168 people died in a blaze at a performance of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus in Hartford, a grieving community demanded answers as to what happened and who was to 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.

Missing Attachment Leslie Wright Choquette ‘s mother and aunt were orphaned when their parents took them to the ill-fated Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus performance in Hartford on July 6, 1944.
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