Remembering Bay Village’s Cocoanut Grove 80 Years Later

On Monday, November 28, at 3 PM, the Cocoanut Grove Memorial Committee will host an 80th Anniversary Remembrance Vigil at the site of the former nightclub, Piedmont Street and Cocoanut Grove Lane in the Bay Village neighborhood.  A program of guest speakers will attend and several family members of both victims and survivors plan to attend. A reception will follow at the Revere Hotel’s Liberty Hall and a presentation of “Six Locked Doors,” a documentary will be shown. 

The Cocoanut Grove Plaque on Piedmont St., in the Bay Village with the inscription “Phoenix out of the Ashes”.

The Cocoanut Grove nightclub opened in October 1927, and quickly became the top club in Boston, but with Prohibition followed by the Depression, the club lost its gleam.  But with the end of Prohibition, the Cocoanut Grove rebounded and again was the leading place in Boston to go to for entertainment and fun. 

On Saturday afternoon, November 28, 1942, Boston College, the undefeated and number one college football team in the country, played Holy Cross College at Fenway Park.  The BC Eagles got swamped and lost, 55-12.  Lots of BC fans canceled their reservations at the Cocoanut Grove, but it didn’t stop people from heading to the Grove for a night of celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, wedding, and for departing soldiers to fight the War in Europe and the Pacific and this would be the last night to share a drink and a dance. 

In the downstairs Melody Lounge, a sedate piano bar, a couple was getting romantic when the fellow removed a small light bulb that hung from a fake palm tree causing some darkness.  A teenage busboy tried to screw the bulb back in and struck a match to see the outlet.  He blow the match out, but did a spark fly into the fake palm tree fons and start the fire?  To this day, fire experts are not sure of the origins of the fire that took the lives of 490 patrons that night of November 28, 1942.  

On the Film “Six Locked Doors”

“Six Locked Doors” is a 30 minute short documentary that chronologically tells the story of the events leading up to the fire at the nigh club. It features interviews with some of the eight remaining survivors as they re-tell the harrowing experience.

Later it goes into the lessons learned and how fire and safety codes have forever been changed from this single worst club fire in America.

Former Bay Village resident, Zachary Graves-Miller  worked on this documentary for over four years

“That’s when it really sparked my interest,” said Graves-Miller. “It was only afterwards I thought this was a story. I saw it as an opportunity to show light on a tragedy in a city of Boston that has not been recognized…and I thought it as a way to tell the real story of the Cocoanut Grove.”

Graves-Miller got to work interviewing the survivors willing to talk on camera and made numerous trips to the Boston Public Library searching through old microfilm looking for headlines in old newspapers and searching for photographs of the event.

He said after 75 years a lot of myths and rumors tend to spread, and he wants to make sure his documentary is based off of facts and the experiences the few survivors have.

Graves-Miller said he really wants to use the film as a platform to be used as a teaching tool to prevent other large disasters like this happening again.

“As history tends to repeat itself, it’s important to remember the past and from your mistakes,” said Graves-Miller.

But unfortunately, these types of mistakes are still happening today. He pointed to the Station nightclub fire that happened in Warwick, Rhode Island that killed 100 people and injured over 200 in 2003 and the Colectiv nightclub fire in Romania that killed 64 in 2015.

“This one fire changed the course of history and how fire prevention is dealt with,” said Graves-Miller.

He said it is responsible for the exit signs, the auxiliary doors next to revolving ones, and how doors have to swing out, and so much more that most people don’t even notice.

“In my mind the story should not only be remembered but should be told because some of these mistakes are still happening,” said Graves-Miller.

The film is an independently funded project. Graves-Miller hopes to get enough funding to do a feature-length documentary. To make a contribution and to learn more visit www.sixlockeddoors.com.

As a child growing up in the neighborhood he saw the plaque memorializing the fire on Piedmont St. that for decades sat in front of an empty parking lot.

The plaque was installed at the 50th Anniversary and was dedicated by Mayor Ray Flynn.

After some controversy between the survivors and the Bay Village Neighborhood Association in the summer of 2016, the plaque was moved from its original location at 17 Piedmont St., the site of the revolving door where 40 people perished, to be adjacent to the Revere Hotel parking lot.

The move came after residents showed a concern about visitors congregating in front of the new luxury condominiums that now occupy the site of the empty lot.

“Since the plaque got moved it made me think it was more relevant than ever to do this documentary,” said Graves-Miller.

But, his interest to tell the story through film stemmed from his experience at the 71st Anniversary celebrations that featured speakers from some of the survivors.

“That’s when it really sparked my interest,” said Graves-Miller. “It was only afterwards I thought this was a story. I saw it as an opportunity to show light on a tragedy in a city of Boston that has not been recognized…and I thought it as a way to tell the real story of the Cocoanut Grove.”

Graves-Miller got to work interviewing the survivors willing to talk on camera and made numerous trips to the Boston Public Library searching through old microfilm looking for headlines in old newspapers and searching for photographs of the event.

He said that  a lot of myths and rumors tend to spread and he wants to make sure his documentary is based off of facts and the experiences the few survivors have.

Graves-Miller said he really wants to use the film as a platform to be used as a teaching tool to prevent other large disasters like this happening again.

“As history tends to repeat itself, it’s important to remember the past and learn from your mistakes,” said Graves-Miller.

But unfortunately, these types of mistakes are still happening today. He pointed to the Station nightclub fire that happened in Warwick, Rhode Island that killed 100 people and injured over 200 in 2003 and the Colectiv nightclub fire in Romania that killed 64 in 2015.

“This one fire changed the course of history and how fire prevention is dealt with,” said Graves-Miller.

He said it is responsible for the exit signs, the auxiliary doors next to revolving ones, and how doors have to swing out, and so much more that most people don’t even notice.

“In my mind the story should not only be remembered but should be told because some of these mistakes are still happening,” said Graves-Miller.

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