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The Circus Fire

The Circus Fire An extraordinary book O Nan is amazing in his handling of the abundance of facts rumors and legends that have built up around this fire USA TodayIt was a midsummer afternoon halfway through a Ringli

An extraordinary book O Nan is amazing in his handling of the abundance of facts, rumors and legends that have built up around this fire USA TodayIt was a midsummer afternoon, halfway through a Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus performance, when the big top caught fire The tent had been waterproofed with a mixture of paraffin and gasoline in seconds it was An extraordinary book O Nan is amazing in his handling of the abundance of facts, rumors and legends that have built up around this fire USA TodayIt was a midsummer afternoon, halfway through a Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus performance, when the big top caught fire The tent had been waterproofed with a mixture of paraffin and gasoline in seconds it was burning out of control More than 8,000 people were trapped inside, and the ensuing disaster would eventually take 167 lives.Stewart O Nan brings all his narrative gifts to bear on this gripping account of the great Hartford circus fire of 1944 Drawing on interviews with hundreds of survivors, O Nan skillfully re creates the horrific events and illuminates the psychological oddities of human behavior under stress the mad scramble for the exits the perilous effort to maneuver animals out of danger the hero who tossed dozens of children to safety before being trampled to death Brilliantly constructed and exceptionally moving, The Circus Fire is history at its most compelling A profound remembering of the fire, its victims, its survivors, and its legacy The Boston Globe O Nan s nonfiction is as accomplished as his fiction as gripping as any thriller The Seattle Times

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About Author

  1. Stewart O'Nan says:
    Stewart O Nan is the author of eleven novels, including Snow Angels and A Prayer for the Dying, a story collection, and two works of nonfiction His previous novel, Last Night at the Lobster, was a national bestseller, was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and was named one of the New York Public Library Books to Remember Additionally, Granta named him one of the 20 Best Young American Novelists O Nan lives with his family in Avon, Connecticut Note Stewart O Nan published also the book A Good Day to Die under his pseudonym James Coltrane You ll find it here author show 5445945.James_Coltrane_Stewart_O_Nan_

Comment 289 on “The Circus Fire

  1. Connie says:
    The circus tent had been waterproofed with six thousand gallons of white gasoline and eighteen thousand pounds of paraffin a disaster waiting to happen The circus played to an afternoon crowd of 7,000 people in Hartford, Connecticut It was July 6, 1944, and the circus and the city workers were both shorthanded since so many men were away fighting in the war The largest exits were blocked by animal chutes where the lions and other big cats were exiting A small fire of unknown origin quickly turne [...]

  2. ☕Laura says:
    This book was so well done in every way It was thorough without being tedious and affecting without being melodramatic There is an abundance of interesting information in here, from the details of the tragedy itself to background material on the workings of the circus and the treatment of burns Through vivid descriptions of the mayhem that occurred under the big top in July 1944, of unimaginable injuries and deaths, of parents who lost children and of children who lost parents, the events of so [...]

  3. Chrissie says:
    I have listened to almost four hours total 11 hours 17 minutes of Dick Hill s narration of this audiobook It is unbelievably gruesome Four hours focused upon the description of maimed, burned and dead bodies, human bodies Not one circus animal was killed Now I have had it That s enough It is than I can bear The Circus Fire A True Story of an American Tragedy is written and narrated to shock Others warn in their reviews that it is gruesome, but there ought to be another word to adequately expres [...]

  4. Matt says:
    On July 6, 1944 one month after the Allies landed in Normandy some 9,000 people turned out to watch the Flying Wallendas in the Big Top of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus The Big Top had been waterproofed with 24,000 gallons of white gasoline and paraffin Somehow, a fire started, and the potently flammable tent went up like a Roman candle There was a rush to escape Merle Evans, the band leader, like some latter day Wallace Hartley on the Titanic, cued Stars and Stripes Forever and [...]

  5. Tamora Pierce says:
    This is the absolutely harrowing story of a major American fire, one that took place in Hartford, Connecticut in 1944, in the big top of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus 8,000 people were trapped inside 167 people died of burns, and many, many suffered scarring and injuries, physical and psychological It was the beginning of the end of the tent circus, which was finished off by the arrival of television Author O Nan conducts an exhaustive investigation into the lives of those who [...]

  6. Heather says:
    Growing up in Connecticut I have been interested in the Hartford Circus Fire since I first found out about it It was surprising to be that at the time I had first learned of this disaster there were no books published that were just about this incident Stewart O Nan, a well known novelist, took on the grueling task of writing this non fiction account of the historic circus disaster and hit it out of the park The first thing that really catches the eye of the reader in this book is the forward by [...]

  7. Chaybyrd says:
    Bottom Line A grueling bore about a tragic event The biggest flaw with O Nan s telling of the Hartford circus fire is how he tells the story As other reviewer s have stated the book is super choppy to such an extent that it becomes unreadable He jumps from event to event in such a way that it s impossible to follow the survivor s incredible stories Terms and events are left unexplained and characters are thrown in without creating the proper context.The silver lining I hear O Nan is a good novel [...]

  8. Traci says:
    First off, I started reading this book and I didn t have a real reason why I love the circus, but I knew exactly what I was getting into here a really depressing nonfiction with a lot of unsolved history and questions than answers As I was finishing it today, I happened to read the date of the fire for the ten millionth time and realized that the anniversary of that fire is today Just a creepy little bit of synchronicity to bring everything around full circle.Anyway, this book was de pres sing [...]

  9. Mari Anne says:
    This true life event was amazing and horrific but unfortunately the author s retelling of events is much less interesting O Nan account is choppy and jumps around in time and place to the point of making the reader feel dizzy He has packed his narrative with so many names and references that it s impossible to keep track of anyone and therefore the reader isn t able to relate to any of them.I ended up skimming most of this book I wouldn t recommend to anyone but hardcore disaster book or circus [...]

  10. Sarah says:
    For some reason I m fascinated by old circuses I think a combination of my fascination with freaks and transients my undying love for tatty retro glamour of all kinds too many episodes of Circus of the Stars watched as a kid I found the book s ridiculously macabre subject matter totally compelling and couldn t put it down even though I probably should because I might have nightmares because I m a wimp readable I m a fan of Stewart O Nan s fiction, and was a little surprised by how totally stripp [...]

  11. Kitty says:
    I originally read this book as part of a book club that I never showed up for It took me forever to read this book due to a class and other distractions, last winter However, it heald my attention It is a difficult subject matter It was one of the worst domestic losses of life in the history of nation The horrible thing was the amount of children that died I actually know a woman, who is a former Lt Gov of our fair state, who was a six year old girl and survived this fire A young circus boy took [...]

  12. Susan says:
    My friend who owns my favorite bookshop kept telling me about this book I wasn t all that interested Then last Saturday, he put a copy in my hands and ordered me to read it so I did On July 6, 1944, several thousand people attended the afternoon show of the Ringling Bros And Barnum and Baily Circus under the big tent Just as the show started, the tent caught on fire The result was death and mayhem This books chronicles the people involved Those with the circus and those who were injured or had l [...]

  13. Michael says:
    This is a great book Very tragic I wanted to give it 4 and half stars Sometimes tragedies are waiting to happen This was a matter of many elements combining to create a hazard It took one spark to set of a disastrous chain of events Most likely the flick of a cigarette or match cost many their lives This book is very well written and sticks to the story I love a book that reads so well, so smoothly that you almost feel like you re watching it instead of reading it This book accomplishes that It [...]

  14. Eric_W says:
    Although the circus industry had not been immune to fires one in Cleveland had killed several animals the largest of the shows, P T Barnum, could brag that no one had lost a life because of a fire There had been several close calls, however Another fire had burned the big top, the canvas catching fire from sparks of a fire down the road The canvas was covered with a mixture of 6,000 gallons of white gasoline and 18,000 pounds of paraffin to make it waterproof Unfortunately, that also made it bur [...]

  15. Charlie Newfell says:
    Excellent account of the biggest tragedy in the state of Connecticut Impressive, heartfelt account with many survivors adding lots of details The fire raged over the big top in the days 1944 when circuses travelled city to city via train and set up their own huge canvas tent Somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 were there for the matinee show, with the fire completely sweeping over the arena in a matter of minutes First responders arrived within 10 minutes, but there was nothing left It is amazing [...]

  16. Diana says:
    I read this book years ago and I had a rough time doing it O Nan did so well in describing the fire that I ended up with nightmares, my parents house caught fire and I was in a back bedroom when it happened, it brought back a few memories It s a very sad and tragic event in American history and unfortunately, quite a few people have no idea about it This fire took place during World War II, and due to this most of those who were killed were women and children Well known hobo clown Emmett Kelly w [...]

  17. Jeanette says:
    This is a telling in minutia of the Hartford 1944 Circus disaster It s pure non fiction, with no connective relief for the 8000 or 9000 stories of the individuals that experienced this horrific day For the 167 fatalities there are gruesome and beyond tragic renderings It s instructive for the reality of results for flashing high heat for human bodies and stadium structures So many tragedies have occurred with vast death in crowds but few have had such impact for non recognition of human remains [...]

  18. Pam says:
    Okay, maybe it s morbid, but I love reading about disasters fires, floods, earthquakes, plagues, etc This book has gory detail but O Nan doesn t wallow in it he doesn t sensationalize There s a lot of interesting information about the circus itself, how it travels, how things work, and also some interesting stuff about how people behave in a crisis, how we can be tripped up by habit and expectation Example People tried to get out of the tent the same way they went in, even though other exits wer [...]

  19. Julia says:
    This is a book that I have returned to having read after my sister introduced me to it sometime during my school years Whether I was younger or even now in the present it will be one of those books that sticks out to the reader in so many different ways even long after the cover is closed It also opens the eyes to man s struggle during disaster as well as in trying to understand how it came around or how some of us must forget while others struggle to understand This book at certain parts is a d [...]


  20. Graceann says:
    Waterproofing with paraffin and gasoline what could go wrong When Stewart O Nan moved to the Hartford area, he heard about a devastating fire that had taken place in July 1944 It had killed 167 people most of them women and children He went to the library to get a book on the disaster, only to find that none had been written yet He started collecting materials, with the object in mind of passing them along to a non fiction writer, given that he had always written fiction and had no intention of [...]

  21. Jason says:
    Outstanding research and excellent retelling of the circus fire of 1944.

  22. Barb says:
    This is a really horrific story with details that the faint of heart won t want to read about but O Nan does a terrible job of weaving together the many different stories of survivors and those who worked to sort out the chaos after the fire.His style of writing is awkward unnatural and clumsy He adds confusing tid bits related to the story that seem to have no purpose but to further confuse the reader There were a lot of people to keep track of and I found it difficult to do.I almost felt like [...]

  23. Bob Redmond says:
    If you want to know everything there is to know about the Hartford CT circus fire from 1944, read this book It will numb your brain with all of the detail There are no jokes, not that there should be the tragedy took 167 lives and helped bring an end to the outdoor big tent circus, at least until Cirque du Soliel helped revive the tent spectacle in the late 20th century.But O Nan mentions cultural implications only in passing his sole focus is total documentation of the fire and its specific aft [...]

  24. Florence says:
    I used to be a dedicated circus fan going to see performances of The Greatest Show on Earth as well as following mud shows under canvas Gradually I began to realize that the life of a circus animal is dismal Being confined to a cage for its whole life is certainly cruel to any animal, especially a wild one This book starts off describing a circus menagerie fire in the 1940s in Cleveland The details of death and suffering are too horrible to think about.The narrative of the famous Hartford circus [...]

  25. Edward Lengel says:
    At first glance, this is a decent if not overly impressive entry in the disaster genre O Nan s prose is surprisingly a little pedestrian considering that he s a novelist, and he has a little trouble juggling the characters in such a way that the reader can keep track of them But it is a powerful story, told in unsparing detail.Alas, there is a much bigger problem O Nan subtitles his book A True Story, and he makes a number of contentious assertions about the origins of the fire, the identities o [...]

  26. Gerri Leen says:
    This was hard going and not because of the material the details of the fire itself were mesmerizing and chilling unfortunately, they didn t take up that much of the book I expected to be engaged my uncle was a clown and while he was never in the circus, he had friends who were, so I was in the audience when they were in town They weren t in the big top, but still I have fond memories of the circus if not clowns yes, they scare me I think in some ways this book suffered by trying to cover everyt [...]

  27. Marsha says:
    This book is about a July 1944 fire under the big tent in Hartford, Connecticut, which resulted in the death and injuries of hundreds of people Due to panic, people were trampled to death by other patrons running out of the tent to escape the fire Others sustained horrible injuries from burns, and many died from the fire or from their injuries The cause of the fire was never disclosed, but theories have it that it was started, most likely from a lit cigarette or match in themen s room Despite in [...]

  28. Book Concierge says:
    A compelling read In 1944 the Ringling Brothers Barnum Bailey Circus set up its tents in Hartford CT The big top was waterproofed with a combination of paraffin and gasoline a common practice at the time However the fire started the result was sudden and devastating I had a visceral response to the horror of this tragedy and its aftermath for the citizens of the community.Note I am guessing at the date read because I didn t enter this earlier I know I read it at about the same time I read two ot [...]

  29. Booklunatic says:
    4 SterneGrausam, aber packend Warum liest man sowas nun Ich habe halt ein Faible f r Zirkus und f r wahre Begebenheiten, auch dramatische O Nan hat gut recherchiert Obwohl er recht n chtern berichtet oder vielleicht auch grade deswegen , nimmt einen das Geschehen ungeheuer mit Besonders das Schicksal von Miss 1565 hat mich sehr ber hrt An sie werde ich noch lange denken Oh, und ich bin gottfroh, dass heute bei Gro veranstaltungen bessere Brandschutzvorkehrungen getroffen werden.

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