Seventy-five years ago, the tragic Hartford circus fire claimed the lives of a 168 people and injured many more. Among some of the victims were Bristol residents.
The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus set up its show on Barbour Street, where people from all over were coming to see the animals, clowns and all kinds of acts.
Among the large crowd was Bristol resident, Marion Rose (Blanchard) LeVasseur. LeVasseur had been living in Bristol for 12 years, and she was working as a nurse. She went to the show on July 6, 1944 with her son Gerald, 6. About 40 minutes into the matinee smoke and flames were seen. Panic soon set in as children and adults began to scream as they all tried to get family and friends to safety.
LeVasseur’s son would make it to safety, but she died in the fire. Her body was then moved with all the other bodies to the State Armory. Ludger LeVasseur, Marion’s husband, would make his way to the armory the next day and identify his wife. Marion LeVasseur was only 32 years old.
Anna Marie Euphissyne (Sahlin) Thompson was another Bristol resident attending the circus that day, with her daughter Judith Doyle, 11. They would both survive the fire, but Anna Marie suffered burns to over 28% of her body. She would go on to be treated at Hartford Hospital until September of 1944.
There were a number of other individuals from Bristol who attended the circus and were only, slightly injured or not at all.
Three who went unscathed were Weston Day and his two sons, Fred and Dick.
“We were on the opposite end of the fire and my father threw us off the bleachers onto the ground,” Dick Day said. “He ran over and pulled up the tent and we all went under it to the outside. We then went into a bar across the street and watched.”
Day also remembered Patricia Murphy. Murphy would later become a fellow classmate of Day, but at the time of the fire she was 5 years old and living in Plainville. She would lose both her parents and her brother in the fire, and she also suffered from burns.
“It was a horrible, horrible situation, that’s for sure,” Day said.
It was estimated that over 700 people survived the fire. Among them were: David Sweeney; Gordon and Fern Clarke; Eugenia Czertak and her son, Jackie; Alma DeKow and nine family members from Terryville; Nancy Sandstrom; Attorney Kendall Pierce and his son, Noble; Mrs. Harold Meah and her son, John; and Sumner Johnson with her mother and two children.
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