Our 2010 One Book, One Town selection is The Circus Fire, by Connecticut author Stewart O'Nan. It tells the compelling true story of a fateful day in Hartford, July 6, 1944, when the big top caught fire at an afternoon performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Seven thousand people were inside, and the Flying Wallendas were just beginning their act.
As was the practice at that time, the tent had been waterproofed with a mixture of paraffin and gasoline, but the fire started near an untreated sidewall. Attempts to dowse the flames with water failed, and within seconds, the fire raced up the seams to the roof.
What followed was a scene of bedlam--people rushing for the exits, others trampled by the maddened crowd, the big cats roaring in terror, parents torn from their children in the melee. In the end, 167 people died and 487 were treated for injuries. To this day, one small victim has never been identified.
Stewart O'Nan used press accounts, court documents, police reports, and eyewitness interviews to thoroughly research one of America's worst civil disasters. This book will stay with you long after you close the cover. There are a few copies left at the Circulation Desk for checkout, and readers will meet to discuss the book at 7 pm on Wednesday, October 20. If you are planning to attend, we hope you'll register by clicking here and selecting the Register button for this event. You can still attend, even if you don't read the book. Hope to see you there.