A graphic photo of a young victim of the July, 1944 Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus tent fire that killed 167 people has caused a bit of a controversy for the Hartford Fire Department. William Pond, removed the photo from the wall of Engine 14, where it stood for years, after he became captain at the station. As a firefighter, Pond long objected to the photo on display in the hallway. Worried upon his retirement that someone would put it back on the wall, Pond took the photo home and burned it.
Hartford Fire Chief Carlos Huertas says the photo is just a copy but believes that Captain Pond “exercised poor judgment” and “demonstrated a lack of professionalism” with his actions. Huertas promised a full investigation.
A retiring fire captain removed decades-old photos of a young 1944 fire victim from the walls of Hartford’s Engine 14 and burned them in his fireplace at home because he disagreed with having the deceased girl’s image “publicly displaced in this horrific manner,” according to sources within the department.
The images in question are of an 8-year-old, identified as Eleanor Cook, one of more than 167 people who died in the massive tent fire at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in July 1944.
According to the email written to Chief Carlos Huertas on January 15, Captain William Pond objected to “naked deceased pictures” of Eleanor Cook displayed in the hallway at Engine Company 14.
Eleanor Cook, formerly known as Miss 1565, was a 6-year-old girl who died in the devastating Hartford circus fire of 1944, which claimed close to 200 lives. Her story gained national attention when more than 40 years after the fire her family was located by Hartford Fire Marshall Rick Davey.
Pond wrote Huertas that he was afraid “this poor girl’s soul would never rest” and hoped “the Cook family had no knowledge that their loved one was publicly displayed in this horrific manor.”
Emails from Captain William Pond to Chief Carlos Huertas:
I received your voice mail and will respond to it in writing. When originally assigned to engine 14 in the summer of 1990 I objected to the naked deceased pictures of Eleanor Cook displayed in the hallway. I objected verbally to every house Captain through my career where my efforts proved fruitless. My first order of business as house Captain was to remove them from display.
I was afraid after retirement they would be placed back on the wall where this poor girls soul would never rest. I removed them today and at my home prayed for peace for Eleanor and burned them in my fireplace. I hope you understand and also the Cook family had no knowledge that there loved one was publicly displayed in this horrific manor.
Statement from Chief Carlos Huertas:
Soon-to-be-retired Captain William Pond exercised poor judgment in removing photos from the quarters of Engine Co. 14. He has demonstrated a lack of professionalism in his decision to take matters in to his own hands and circumvented the process put forth to better handle the situation. The photos removed were found to be copies and have no intrinsic value. However, I will be taking the necessary actions to ensure the situation continues to be investigated in its entirety.