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New Search for Answers in a 1944 Tragedy

Authorities in Connecticut exhume 2 unidentified victims of massive circus fire
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 7, 2019 12:54 PM CDT
In this July 6, 1944, file photo people flee a fire in the big top of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus in Hartford.   (AP Photo/File)
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(Newser) – The two women have lain unidentified in a Connecticut cemetery for more than seven decades, but now authorities hope to prove one of them is Grace Fifield. On Monday, the state medical examiner exhumed the bodies of the women, both of whom died in an infamous 1944 circus fire in Hartford, reports the AP. The blaze took 168 lives, including five people whose badly burned remains have never been identified. Authorities hope to extract DNA from the bodies in Windsor's Northwood Cemetery to see if they match up with a granddaughter of Fifield's. The latter was a Vermont woman who attended the fateful performance of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus on July 6, 1944, and was never seen again.

“The next steps include dental and anthropological evaluation of the remains followed by DNA testing," says Chief State Medical Examiner James Gill, per the Hartford Courant. The process could take months. Authorities caught a break when they determined that the unidentified victims were buried in cement vaults, which would have helped preserve their remains. In addition to the 168 fatalities, nearly 700 others were injured in the fire, whose cause was never determined. Not helping: The tent had been waterproofed with a mixture of gasoline and paraffin wax, notes the Courant, which collects memories of the day from survivors here. (One-legged skeleton might solve Napoleonic mystery.)

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