By Beth Treffeisen
On Nov. 28, 1842, a tragic fire burned through the famous Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Bay Village, killing 492 people, and forever changing the way fire code safety is implemented and used across the world.
As the 75th anniversary of the tragedy comes closer, one former Bay Village resident, Zachary Graves-Miller hopes to memorialize those who were lost through a documentary film called, “Six Locked Doors, The Legacy of Cocoanut Grove.”
The first screening of the documentary film will take place at the 75th anniversary of the Cocoanut Grove fire happening on Saturday, Nov. 25 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Revere Hotel.
“I wanted to tell the story because the 492 people can’t,” said Graves-Miller. “The story is still relevant today and it is important that we remember everyone who died at the Cocoanut Grove that night.”
“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.
Graves-Miller has been working on this documentary for over four years now. As a child growing up in the neighborhood, he saw the plaque memorializing the fire on Piedmont Street. that for decades sat in front of an empty parking lot.
The plaque was installed at the 50th anniversary and 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 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 from 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, R.I., 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.