On July 6, 1944, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus were performing under a giant tent for an audience of approximately 7,000 in Hartford, Connecticut.
At some point during the performance, a small fire started near the restrooms. Because the tent canvas was covered in a highly flammable waterproofing solution, the whole tent burned down in under ten minutes. A total of 168 people died, with over 700 injured. The cause of the fire was never determined.
In 2002, the people of Hartford decided to memorialize the victims of the tragedy on the spot where it happened, which was an empty field behind what is now Fred D. Wish School at 350 Barbour Street. A local landscape architecture firm worked with a group of volunteers to create the final design. It was dedicated on the 60th anniversary of the tragedy.
Where the central tent post stood, a large circular monument depicts the names of all the victims and a schematic of the tent. Dogwood trees were planted to outline the shape and size of the tent, and a series of stone markers inset with plaques illustrate the chronology of the event.
Six of the 168 victims were unable to be identified and were buried together at nearby Northwood Cemetery, although one has since been moved. A large horizontal stone slab inscribed with their story marks the grave plot.
A beautiful and very moving place. But it seems to be covered for the winter, You should check before you go. And it is worth the trip.
Update as of March 2021: Five of the seven stunning interpretation markers are covered with thick plastic. The main bronze marker locating the center ring is currently covered with a tarp for winter.
Know Before You Go
Behind Fred D. Wish School at 350 Barbour St.