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  • #198346
    Wandering Author
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    • Topics - 34
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    My parents were from Boston, and I grew up hearing about the Cocoanut Grove fire there seventy years ago, and every now and then, a news story would run on an anniversary. Now, the Boston Police Department has released witness transcripts and reports from the investigation into that fire. They are not just interesting for those who want to learn more about this particular disaster. There are a lot of subtle clues to the way people lived and spoke and thought in that time and place, and it is also a fascinating window into the way police investigations were really conducted – at least for a major case like this. I presume investigations weren’t as thorough if the case was a minor one.

    I also found it interesting because in reading just the first four witness statements, legions of plot bunnies leaped out at me. There are so many interesting vignettes and touches you could use in the right story. It’s heartbreaking, but sometimes those are just the touches you need – and I never realised just how good a skilled policeman can be at drawing out those details. And we are not adding anything to the tragedy that occurred to use these transcripts as a learning tool. I’ll mention one as an example below the link – but read the disclaimer in red first.

    Before I post the link, a disclaimer. It is a formal investigation, and I don’t think there is anything which requires an adult content warning per the TOS. But I haven’t read it all; there’s a huge amount here, so I can’t vouch for every word. And – at least if you know the full story – some of the witness observations are disturbing. If you are easily prone to nightmares, I’d think twice before reading these, at least if you’re good at “reading between the lines”.

    There is nothing at all specifically objectionable. It’s all very low key, so I’m not even sure this warning is necessary. But I have a good imagination, I already know a lot about this fire, I’ve seen interviews with survivors, and although I was not at all surprised, I did find some of the statements a bit intense, knowing just what lay behind them.

    Cocoanut Grove Fire transcripts at the Internet Archive

    The following example is not graphic – but to me, at least, it illustrates how the right touch can be even more effective than a more graphic scene. So continue reading at your own risk. Nothing in violation of the TOS, nothing specifically “adult”, just very powerful imagery.

    The example that impressed me was the third witness (I’ve already forgotten his name). He arrived with his friend, and was still removing his hat and coat when the fire broke out. He made it out the door, since he was just inside it – but by the time he got across the street, and turned back, the doorway was already “a sheet of flame”. That’s awful enough, but then you learn he hasn’t seen his friend, who was only a few feet ahead of him. He “still has hope” – but they came there in his friend’s car, which was, twelve hours later, still parked where they left it. The policeman had to coax that detail out of him, but, to me, the car (a 1939 Packard) sitting just where it was left, waiting for an owner to return who is probably dead, is the kind of detail that could make an entire story. (Obviously, your mileage may vary.) I assume there are further touches like this, since I’ve already run across one or two more (although this may just be me, but the first couple – the first two witnesses – seemed incredibly dull, or else anxious not to commit themselves to anything at all).

    #208503
    Magic Seeker
    Moderator
    • Topics - 89
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    How fascinating! It’s the little details that make a historical story – any story – so memorable.

    Thanks for the link!

    Happy writing,
    Deb Salisbury
    The Mantua-Maker, Quality Historical Sewing Patterns and Books
    www.mantua-maker.com

    The Art of the Hoop: 1860 - 1869, Dress, Sewing, and Clothing Care Advice
    https://www.mantua-maker.com/a---1860s-fashion.html

    Dead Wizard's Loot: Wizard Whitewing #1
    http://www.djsalisburybooks.com/Dead-Wizard-s-Loot.html

    #208504
    J.A. Marlow
    Moderator
    • Topics - 311
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    I remember seeing a documentary about this fire years ago (when Discovery still did documentaries instead of this Reality Show junk). It was fascinating in a horrible way about how the fire spread, and how fast, and who survived and who did not. So many times it was just pure luck.

    Not something I ever want to be in myself, but you are right. There are so many plot bunnies in something like this.

    J.A. Marlow
    The String Weavers, Salmon Run, Redpoint One series.

    Writer alter-ego of Dreamers Cove

    #208505
    magpie_roost
    Participant
    • Topics - 0
    • Replies - 4

    Wow. You got my attention. I’ll have to check this out. I did a lot of research on the Coconut Grove fire when I was younger for a school report. My dad had kept a scrapbook of all the newspaper clippings that had come out related to it. Things like photos of necklaces and rings that were published in hopes that someone would recognize them so they could identify some of the victims. I learned all about how the fire codes changed because of it. I even built a paper model of the place, showing details such as the emergency exit that had been bricked over. I still have the scrapbook from my dad (now passed). It has a prominent spot in my shelf.

    Wow. Kinda flashing back here.
    I haven’t checked out the link yet, but if someone goes all Coconut Grove plot bunny frenzy, or is interested in the Coconut Grove Fire in general, I could probably make scans of the scrapbook if it would be helpful.
    (Not sure why this last part is stuck in italics….)

    #208551
    Wandering Author
    Participant
    • Topics - 34
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    magpie_roost wrote:
    Wow. Kinda flashing back here.
    I haven’t checked out the link yet, but if someone goes all Coconut Grove plot bunny frenzy, or is interested in the Coconut Grove Fire in general, I could probably make scans of the scrapbook if it would be helpful.
    (Not sure why this last part is stuck in italics….)

    The historian and genealogist in me says there are many people who might be interested in this. I wonder if any of the web sites devoted to this disaster (by the way, if you try searching for it, the nightclub seems to have spelled the name “Cocoanut Grove”) would agree to host the scans. With the approaching seventieth anniversary, there is bound to be interest. Although to save bandwidth, I wonder how much work it would be to OCR the text, and simply use scans of the photos.

    Also, for anyone who is interested, the friend whose Packard was untouched twelve hours after the fire does not seem to be listed on the official casualty list. This does not mean he survived, although it does suggest that is a strong possibility. (Which doesn’t make the detail any less powerful for a story, since in the story, it turns out any way you want…)

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