Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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On July 6, 1944, a fire broke out during a matinee performance of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Despite circus employee attempts to limit the blaze, it quickly spread, engulfing the big top in flames. One hundred and sixty seven people died. Six victims remained unidentified, including a little girl long known only as Little Miss 1565. In 1991, arson investigator Rick Davey announced he had identified her as Eleanor Cook (see A Matter of Degree below), but Stewart O'Nan (The Circus Fire: A True Story) does not concur with this identification.
This research guide was created to assist researchers in identifying materials relating to the Circus Fire catastrophe that are held by the State Library .Published Sources
Cohn, Henry S. and David Bollier. The Great Hartford Circus Fire: Creative Settlement of Mass Disasters. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991 [CSL call number KF 228 .R495 1991].
Connecticut. State Fire Marshal. Report of Commissioner of State Police as State Fire Marshal to State's Attorney for Hartford County Concerning the Fire in Hartford on July 6, 1944 at the Ringling Bros.-Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows, Inc. [CSL call number ConnDoc F51r].
Disney, Doris Miles. No Next of Kin. New York: Zebra Books, 1990, c1959 [CSL call number PS 3507 .I75 N6 1990]. Loosely based on the Hartford Circus Fire.
Hammarstrom, David Lewis. Big Top Boss: John Ringling North and the Circus [CSL call number GV 1811 .N67 H36].
Hartford. Board of Inquiry on the Circus Disaster. Report of the Municipal Board of Inquiry on the Circus Disaster. Hartford, 1944 [CSL call number SpecColl TH 9449 .H3 A5 1944].
Massey, Don and Rick Davey. A Matter of Degree: The Hartford Circus Fire and Mystery of Little Miss 1565. Simsbury, CT: Willow Brook Press, 2002 [CSL call number F 104 .H357 M38 2002].
North, Henry Ringling and Alden Hatch. The Circus Kings: Our Ringling Family Story [CSL call number GV 1821 .R5 N6].
O'Nan, Stewart. The Circus Fire: A True Story. New York: Doubleday, 2000 [CSL call number F 104 .H357 O5 2000].
Siemiatkoski, Donna H. The Ancestry of Eleanor Emily Cook, 1936-1944, or, The Connecticut Valley Family of Little Miss 1565. Windsor, CT: Connecticut Heritage Press, 1991 [CSL call number CS 71 .C77 1991]. A genealogical study of the girl identified by Rick Davey as Little Miss 1565.
_______________. "The Connecticut Valley Family of Little Miss 1565." Connecticut Nutmegger 27:2 (1994) [CSL call number F 93 .C64 v. 36].
Smith, Mary-Ann Tirone. Masters of Illusion. New York: Warner Books, 1994 [CSL call number PS 3569 .M537736 M37 1994]. A novel based on the events of the Circus Fire.Vertical File Materials
State Archives Record Groups
RG 3, Records of the Judicial Department.
See Accession 87-21, Hartford County Superior Court Arbitration Agreements with the Ringling Bros. - Barnum and Bailey Combined Shows, Inc. (649 separate agreements), February 1945-June 1946. 3 cu. ft.. Arranged by case number.
RG 3, Records of the County Coroners
See Hartford County Coroner, Item 2, Reports and Hearing Transcripts, 1898-1947. The Hartford Circus Fire Evidence Report, January 1945, is in a separate box.
RG 5, Records of the Governors
See Records of Governor Raymond E. Baldwin, Box 451, for file entitled "Circus Catastrophe -- Hartford -- July 6, 1944"
RG 12, Records of the Connecticut State Library
See Box 273 for file entitled "Photos: Awards/Citation of Merit for help in the Circus Fire". Two other boxes contain materials documenting a commemoration held at the Connecticut State Library on July 6, 2000.
RG 17, Records of the Department of Corrections
Includes inmate files for circus employees Leonard Ayesworth, James A. Haley, and George W. Smith.
RG 50, Records of the State War Council
Box 10 includes "Circus Fire" and "Circus Fire -- Citation for Merit, July, Sept. 1944".
Box 95 includes "Circus Fire Death List, 12 July 1944 and "Circus Fire, July 6, 1944
Box 115 includes "Circus Fire Lists"
RG 69, Manuscripts Collection
RG 161, Records of the Dept. of Public Safety, Div. of State Police
See Accessions 1987-094 and 2000-008, Hartford Circus Fire Investigation Files
Prepared State Archives and History and Genealogy staff. Revised: April 1996 and February 2004.