Hartford Circus Fire. (Photo courtesy of Craig Hotchkiss.)
Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer would doubtless have welcomed the fanfare of a circus coming to town, but in Hartford during the darkest days of the Second World War, the anxiously awaited arrival of the “Greatest Show on Earth” turned from celebration to tragedy.
The Mark Twain House & Museum will mark the anniversary of Hartford’s 1944 circus fire on Tuesday, July 6, at 6:30 pm with an airing of the CPTV documentary on the Big Top tragedy, followed at 7:30 by a panel discussion between four authors whose recent work has focused on that terrible day. The evening will be free.
The panel for "Telling a Tragic Tale: Writers on the Hartford Circus Fire" includes novelist Mary-Ann Tirone Smith (Masters of Illusion); poet Paul Janeczko (Worlds Afire); and non-fiction authors Don Massey and Rick Davey, who traced the mystery of “Little Miss 1565,” a girl whose body had never been identified, in A Matter of Degree. The program moderator will be Kathy Maher, Executive Director of the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport. There will be a book signing after the program.
The Hartford Circus Fire of 1944, a production of Connecticut Public Television, uses original footage, photographs, and witness interviews that recall the horrors of the fire, the search for its cause, and the impact of the tragedy on the community and the circus industry.
An exhibition of circus memorabilia, presented by Curatorial Assistant Jeff Mainville, will also be on display in the Great Hall during the program and through July.
The entire evening will be free to the public as part of a collaboration with the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, Conn., that jointly commemorates the Centennial of Mark Twain’s death and the Bicentennial of P. T. Barnum’s birth. The collaboration is funded by a grant from the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism.
The event is one in the museum’s continuing series of Mark Twain 2010 Centennial Celebration events . The Hartford Financial Group, Inc., is the Mark Twain House & Museum’s Centennial Sponsor.