Tonight is the 74th yahrzeit of my paternal grandparents and great aunt – they died on November 28th of 1942, in the fire in Boston’s Cocoanut Grove nightclub, which killed almost 500 people (and injured more than 160 others); may their memories be a blessing.
When my father's parents Adelaide (Levin) and Theodore Wasserman (pictured, probably on their honeymoon in Bermuda) and her sister Sadie (Levin) Levin (yes, she was a Levin who married a Levin!) passed on, they were significantly younger than their youngest grandchild my brother is now; their son my father was two, and his brothers were in infancy and seven. My great-uncle Benjamin Levin, Sadie's husband, survived.
Another of Adelaide's sisters, Lillian, and her husband, came down with the family party from Maine, but as usual that couple opted to go to the Symphony instead. They began to find out about the fire after they left the Hall and saw all the emergency vehicles. They adopted their nephews, my father and his brothers.
And I do believe that this is a social in/justice story -- though I also believe that all stories are – especially as the fire was so much the result of corruption within and between the club ownership and the city, and the deaths and injuries largely due to the club’s furnishings becoming extremely toxic when heated.
And I think that that is the primary reason why there has been so much silence around the Grove. And as usual, even with the positive changes that resulted, the corruption and silence has led to the forgetting and thus repetition of history -- for instance, the Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island. However, the 70th anniversary of the Grove fire has inspired more acknowledgement and even some action, including the formation of the Cocoanut Grove Coalition -- though I'm not sure how active they've continued to be.
In 2013, there was an official ceremony and reception at the site, and I attended with my father; it included the unveiling of a street sign saying “Cocoanut Grove Lane”, which joined a plaque in the sidewalk that took many years to install and had long been the only marker.
In January 2014, I moved to Maryland after a lifetime in the Boston area, to begin living with my partner of what was then four and half years, Julia (she has always lived in MD or DC, and needed to remain here to care for her parents). I have been missing my usual annual visit(s) to the Grove site, where I would leave flowers and/or other small gifts. My father has continued the visits, and was there this afternoon, though he saw no sign of other visitors. Here are his photos of the plaque and its context today (rather conveniently, he is a professional photographer).
And speaking of drama, there is a new play about the Grove fire -- James Hansen Prince's "Inferno : Fire At The Cocoanut Grove 1942" (Prince, who both wrote and directed, had a relative at the Grove that night); I have heard some good things, and hope to at least read it soon. Too, I will continue to work on a fuller piece about this part of our family’s story -- though I think a truly full version may need to wait until after more people pass away.