On July 6, 1944, a fire broke out during a matinee performance of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Despite circus employee attempts to limit the blaze, it quickly spread, engulfing the big top in flames. One hundred and sixty seven people died. Six victims remained unidentified, including a little girl long known only as Little Miss 1565. In 1991, arson investigator Rick Davey announced he had identified her as Eleanor Cook (see A Matter of Degree), but Stewart O'Nan (The Circus Fire: A True Story) does not concur with this identification.
Records relating to the Hartford Circus Fire can be found in several collections within the State Archives. Materials are summarized below. For published materials, check our online catalog.
RG 003, Records of the Judicial Department.
Hartford County Superior Court Arbitration Agreements with the Ringling Bros. - Barnum and Bailey Combined Shows, Inc. (649 separate agreements), February 1945-June 1946.
Signed arbitration agreements and awards for victims of the Circus Fire.
3 cu. ft. Arranged by case number. See print guide for names and case numbers. Accession 1987-021.
Hartford County Superior Court, Criminal Files, 1848-1946. Case number 16579, State vs. Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Combined Shows, Inc. Official record of proceedings against six Circus officials charged with manslaughter. Box 24, Accession 1982-001 (Offsite).
Hartford County Coroner's Records, Inquest Testimony, 1945.
Testimony taken at Coroner's Inquest into the Circus disaster, January 11, 1945.
Box 10A, Accession1979-003A (Offsite).
Hartford County, Coroner's Hearings, 1898-1979.
Record of hearings held on the body of Elaine B. Akerlind and others who died as a result of the Circus Fire. Box 9, Accession 1979-003A (Offsite).
Hartford County, Coroner's Records, Medical Examiner's Report, 1892-1956.
Medical Examiner's Report to the Coroner for Circus Fire victims. Arranged by year, Box 16 (1944), Accession 1979-002 (Offsite).
RG 005, Records of the Governors
See Records of Governor Raymond E. Baldwin, Box 451, for file entitled "Circus Catastrophe -- Hartford -- July 6, 1944". Accession 1946-10 (Offsite).
RG 012, Records of the Connecticut State Library
See Box 273 for file entitled "Photos: Awards/Citation of Merit for help in the Circus Fire".
RG 017, Records of the Department of Corrections
Includes inmate files for circus employees Leonard Ayesworth, James A. Haley, and George W. Smith.
RG 050, Records of the State War Council
Box 10 includes "Circus Fire" and "Circus Fire -- Citation for Merit, July, Sept. 1944".
Box 95 includes "Circus Fire Death List, 12 July 1944 and "Circus Fire, July 6, 1944.
Box 115 includes "Circus Fire Lists".
RG 069:112, Hartford Circus Fire Private Records
Photographs, memorabilia, legal documents from an attorney who represented some of the victims, private doctors files and other records relating to the circus fire and its aftermath.
RG 161, Records of the Dept. of Public Safety, Div. of State Police
See Accessions 1987-094 and 2000-008, Hartford Circus Fire Investigation Files.