Free Press Needed Then & Now

July 7, 2019


Billie Truitt of Windsor, CT, posted this on her Facebook page a few days ago. I pasted it with her permission.

On July 6, 1944, my mother was a young newspaper reporter working in Hartford. She had taken the day off for a dentist appointment. The dentist had just fastened the bib around her neck and was telling her to open wide, when the dentist’s secretary came in. She said, “Excuse me, doctor, but that was your wife on the phone. She just wanted to let you know that she and the children are fine.” The dentist asked why they wouldn’t be fine, and the secretary explained that his family had gone to the circus, and there had been a terrible fire.

My mother took off the bib, got up, and asked to use the phone. She called her boss and said, “Where do you want me?” Her boss said, “Go to the morgue.”

The morgue in question was actually the state armory, which had been pressed into service for the occasion. No regular morgue was large enough. 167 people were confirmed to have died, though the actual total is believed to have been higher. Most of the dead were women and children.

My mother stayed there all day and well into the night, confirming names, ages and towns so that the most complete and accurate report possible could be published in the next day’s newspaper. It was a very necessary job.

When she told this story to me, it always stopped there. She had witnessed horrific scenes of death and mutilation that she did not want to recall or relate. The Hartford circus fire had left a lifelong scar on her soul.

75 years later, as the news media are reviled on all sides and the freedom of the press is being challenged, I just want to say thanks, Mom. And thanks to all the news reporters who bring us the most complete and accurate information they can about things we need to know, even under soul-searing or dangerous circumstances. 💙

About Charles Redfern

Charles Redfern is a writer, activist, and clergyman living in Connecticut with his wife and family. He's currently writing two books, with more in his head.

View all posts by Charles Redfern


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