The Circus is in town... FIRE!
How did this day start?
Ladies and Gentlemen, step right up, the show is about to begin. What show? The Barnum and Bailey Circus has come to Hartford, Connecticut. When? July 6, 1944.
Carl and Helen Wallis are reluctantly preparing to bring their five-year old daughter, Barbara, to see the circus. Why reluctantly? Because it is a scorcher of a day. They leave their two year old daughter, Diane, with the grandparents. Barbara is nearly jumping up and down in excitement while they give the last minute instructions.
They were almost there. Outside the window Barbara could see the Pratt & Whitney building where her daddy worked during the week. That meant that the city of Hartford was just over the bridge and then they would be at the circus! The circus! With lions and tigers and elephants and clowns! She could hardly wait. Mom and Dad were saying it was too hot and perhaps they should turn around and go back home. Nooo, they couldn’t. They didn’t. Barbara would be too disappointed it was decided, so they continued.
The elephant was tethered right outside the tent by one leg. He was really big to a five year old. He had some hay he held in his trunk, which he curled up and put the hay right up to his mouth. His skin looked leathery. What does it feel like? She never found out. The next thing she knew they were entering the tent.
It was gloomy inside, dark and hot! But she did not care about the heat, there was too much to see. All the people! So many! Barbara had never seen so many people in one place. A man helped her and her parents over a stairway which straddled the animal run to the cage where the big cats would be performing. Then they climbed the bleachers and sat on folding chairs and awaited the first act.
She was not disappointed. As she sat between her parents she felt safe and secure and happy. Nothing could mar this experience. Nothing.
The highlight, thus far, had been the animal act. The Flying Wallendas were climbing the ropes for their high wire act but Barbara was still fascinated by the big cats that were being herded out of the performing cage into the runway and then back to their cages.
A flicker of light caught her eye and she looked over to see what it was. A fire. A fire on the sidewall of the tent. She wasn’t alarmed. After all her parents were right there, her island of security. Still, she wondered, how could a fire start in the middle of a wall? And it was getting bigger!
It is years later.... I am the Barbara in the story.
So, what happened? I am now committed to writing a book on the 1944 Hartford Circus Fire. The 70th Anniversary is coming up fast, July 6, 2014, and it seems, to me, that a book based on the memories of those of us who survived should really be written for that occasion. Writers have to write! There is just no other way of putting it. The voices in our head become words on paper. Words that we hope others are going to want to read because that is our essence. Our destiny.
To learn what the book is all about and to see how you can contribute your stories and memories, please go to The Book page on my website. I thank you in advance for your input.