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The Circus Fire: A True Story of an American Tragedy | [Stewart O'Nan]

The Circus Fire: A True Story of an American Tragedy

In 1944, the big top of Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus in Hartford caught fire during the middle of an afternoon performance. Nine thousand people were inside. In seconds, the big top was burning out of control. The toll of the fire, and its circumstances, haunt Hartford to the present day. But it is the intense, detailed narrative - before, after, and especially during the panic under the burning tent - that will remain with listeners long after they finish this book.
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Publisher's Summary

One of America's most acclaimed novelists turns to nonfiction in this powerful re-creation of the great Hartford circus fire, which took the lives of 167 people and forever changed the city and its people.

On July 6, 1944, in Hartford, Connecticut, the big top of Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus caught fire during the middle of the afternoon performance. Nine thousand people were inside. The canvas of the big tent had been waterproofed with a mixture of paraffin and gasoline. In seconds, the big top was burning out of control. Bleacher seats were fronted by steel railings with narrow openings; the main exits were blocked by caged chutes in which leopards and lions were maddened by the fire.

In re-creating the horrific events of one of America's most cataclysmic civic tragedies, Stewart O'Nan has fashioned both an incomparably gripping narrative and a profound, measured glimpse into the extremes of human behavior under duress. In the madness of the inferno, some, like animal trainer May Kovar and the tragic Bill Curlee (who tossed dozens of children to safety over the lion's chute), would act with superhuman bravery. Others, like the sailor who broke a woman's jaw to get past her, would become beasts. The toll of the fire, and its circumstances, haunt Hartford to the present day - the identity of one young victim, known only as Little Miss 1565, remains an enduring mystery and a source of conflict in the city.

But it is the intense, detailed narrative - before, after, and especially during the panic under the burning tent - that will remain with listeners long after they finish this exceptional book.

©2001 Stewart O'Nan; (P)2004 Brilliance Audio, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"This moving elegy does tribute both to the terrible tragedy and to O'Nan's talent as a writer." (Publishers Weekly)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Nona GARRETT, IN, United States 08-06-12
    Nona GARRETT, IN, United States 08-06-12 Member Since 2015
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    2
    2
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    "Very descriptive history of long ago"

    I have listened to this twice now. Could not stop. Is a very sad, but needful lesson to be learned. Was told very well.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    cynthia 07-21-12
    cynthia 07-21-12
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    6
    2
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "The Circus Lure"
    If you could sum up The Circus Fire in three words, what would they be?

    Intense, compassionate and thorough.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Circus Fire?

    How devasting the disaster was in the annals of history. The descriptions of the victims. You could feel the fear.


    Have you listened to any of Dick Hill’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No, but I want to.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    It made me cry. It also made me respect the history of the circus and the lure of the circus.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Angie Alvaton, KY, United States 11-29-09
    Angie Alvaton, KY, United States 11-29-09 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
    33
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    "Compelling"

    Well-written, compelling, moving story. I enjoyed it even though parts are heart-breaking.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    fred port dover, Ontario, Canada 12-31-10
    fred port dover, Ontario, Canada 12-31-10 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
    1
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    "a long day"

    just one sad story after another, more like an endless sad news report than a book

    1 of 7 people found this review helpful
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