Tales from the 1944 Hartford Circus Fire

On July 6, 1944, 168 people died when fire broke out at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus performance in Hartford. Almost half of them were under the age of 19.

Uriel Goldsmith was just 8 years old when he lived through the fire.

Seventy-five years later, he doesn't remember much.

After an Alzheimer's diagnosis in 2012, he moved into an assisted living facility.

While cleaning out his house, his daughter Monica discovered a piece of history.

"Shoved in a drawer somewhere I found these letters that my dad had written to his parents right before and right after the fire," she explained.

Monica didn't expect her father to remember.

"It would’ve been great if we had found these letters before," she said. "If we had found them earlier, maybe we could’ve maybe had a conversation."

But when she presented the letters to her father, the pieces of the puzzle came together for Uriel. Watch him tell the story.

Leslie Wright Choquette grew up knowing her grandfather died trying to help others escape that awful fire.

"It changed my mother and my aunt’s life forever and ultimately changed my life forever and I never got to meet my grandparents," she said.

Both her grandparents died in the fire, leaving their young girls orphaned. Her grandfather, a firefighter, got his daughters out and stayed behind to try to help others escape.

She said a lot of the mental health impacts of the fire, including PTSD, were not adequately dealt with at the time.

"Unfortunately along with 7000 other people that attended the circus that day the PTSD or the mental anguish really did not end there or with that generation, because there are those of us like myself who grew up with a parent who suffered greatly from something that was not really understood and the advice that was given at the time was you don’t talk about it," Choquette said.

Hear her read a letter her mother wrote about the fire.

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