Officials Hope Hartford Circus Fire Remains Will Be Identified


By Carla Charter

HARTFORD, CONN.- On July 6, 1844 during an afternoon performance of a Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey circus a fire erupted in flames.  The fire was made worse as the circus tent was soaked in paraffin used at the time to waterproof the circus tent.  There was a stampede to the exit several of which were blocked.

In the end 167 people had died in the fire.  To this day five of those remain unidentified, buried in the Hartford Cemetery with a memorial to remember them.   Among those may be Grace Fifield of Newport, Vermont.  Fifield at that time was visiting family in Wethersfield.  On the day of the fire she had taken her two younger children to the circus.  Her children survived the fire, she was never accounted for.  Sandra Sunrow, Fifield’s granddaughter requested that the remains of the unidentified pople from the fire be tested to see if one of them might be Fifield.

The Medical Examiner’s office went through information they had on the list of remains they had from that event.  “We looked at a list of the remains and determined two individuals could possibly be this person’s relative.” said Dr Kristen Hartnett-McCann Forensic Anthropologist, Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Dr. Gill, chief medical examiner whose job it is to identify missing and unidentified people, even those from 75 years ago, took the family’s request to court. A judge ordered an exhumation of remains to see if the relative could be identified.

The medical examiner’s office is still working with the cemetery to decide when the exhumation will be done, it is expected to be later in the fall.  “We are hoping this gives closure to the family, that they have never received.”

Anyone who knows of family members who may have died in the fire but remain unaccounted for can also contact Dr Kristen Hartnett-McCann at