July 5, 2005
By ASHLEY L. BATTLE, Courant Staff Writer
The long-awaited Hartford Circus Fire Memorial will be dedicated
Wednesday, 61 years to the day since the fire took 168 lives
in the single most deadly event in Connecticut history.
Harry Lichtenbaum of Wethersfield,
a survivor of the 1944 fire, attended the groundbreaking ceremony
last July and said he is "very
anxious" to see the finished monument. He plans on attending
the dedication ceremony, which is set for 12:30 p.m. at the Fred
D. Wish Elementary School at 350 Barbour St., Hartford.
"I think it's a wonderful thing," he said of the memorial. "There's
no such thing as closure ... we'll live with it until our dying
Lichtenbaum, who was 13 at the time of the fire, recalls that
he was not supposed to attend the performance, but because the
circus was late setting up the tent, a planned July 5 matinee
performance never took place. Those who had tickets were allowed
into the July 6 matinee.
Lichtenbaum said it was a stroke of luck that he and his sister
sat near an exit that was not blocked by cages. At the time of
the fire, many of the exits were blocked by the cages used to
get the animals into the center ring.
"That wouldn't be allowed now," Lichtenbaum said. "We've
learned our lesson over the years."
The memorial was initially scheduled to be dedicated in November
2004. But because the bronze centerpiece that features the names
of the victims was not completed at that time, the dedication
Designed by DuBose Associates and TO Design, the memorial is
in the park directly behind Wish school. A committee of volunteers
headed by Hartford Fire Chief Charles A. Teale Sr.; Kathy Spada
Basto, a Hartford teacher whose mother survived the fire; city
Treasurer Kathleen Palm; and State Rep. Marie Kirkley-Bey, raised
$125,000 in three years to build the memorial. The majority of
the money came from the purchase of bricks featured at the memorial
and from the families of the victims.
The memorial stretches along a dirt path, along which are six
pedestals. The first pedestal provides information about the
night of the fire. Each succeeding pedestal gives an account
of what happened at a particular minute. The final pedestal tells
visitors that they are within the perimeter of the big top.
Directly in front of the visitor is a bronze disk that features
the names of the 168 victims. The disk is at the location of
the circus tent's center pole. Surrounding the names are bricks
that contain messages from survivors, family members of the victims
and others instrumental in helping create the memorial.
On the perimeter of the disk are four benches where visitors
can reflect. Dogwood trees planted around the memorial outline
the shape of the tent.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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