The Circus Fire: A True Story

By Stewart O'Nan

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“Halfway through a midsummer afternoon performance, Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus's big top caught fire. The tent had been waterproofed with a mixture of paraffin and gasoline; in seconds it was burning out of control, and more than 8,000 people were trapped inside. Drawing on interviews with hundreds of survivors, O'Nan skillfully re-creates the horrific events and illuminates the psychological oddities of human behavior under stress: the mad scramble for the exits; the hero who tossed dozens of children to safety before being trampled to death. 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.”

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