NewsClips: Ann Haigney, R.N. and the Hartford Circus Fire

Today I kick off NewsClips, an ongoing series of transcriptions of newspaper clippings discovered in my travels. Some of them you’ll love only if you’re as obsessed with Haigneys as I am, which is why I’ll be posting them behind the WordPress Wall.

This first NewsClip, however, might be of interest even if you’re not a Haigney. It’s an interview my great-aunt Ann Haigney gave to the Brooklyn Eagle about volunteering her nursing expertise to help victims of the horrific 1944 circus fire in Hartford, Conn.

I gathered more background on this infamous fire, which I’ll put into another post. (For now I’ll just say that although the young burn victims Ann saw seemed to have put the ordeal behind them, many carried emotional as well as physical scars for decades after.)

Biographical note: Ann Margaret Haigney (1904-1979), known as Aunt Anna to her extended family, was the adopted daughter of my great-grandparents, Joseph and Catherine (Connors) Haigney. She graduated in 1934 from the Nazarene Nurses School in Brooklyn, N.Y. and embarked on a career as an R.N. After she died, one of my aunts was executor of Ann’s estate, and remarked that “as she was independent in life she was also independent in death. A nice human being who gave of herself to humanity.”


Nursed Circus Fire Victims / Back from Hartford, Brooklyn Nurse Tells How Red Cross Aided Casualties

Brooklyn Eagle, Sunday, Aug. 20, 1944, page 12

How seriously burned victims of the tragic Hartford circus fire are being nursed back to health was described at Brooklyn Red Cross headquarters, 57 Willoughby St., by Miss Ann Haigney, R.N. of 102 Berkeley Place, one of several Brooklyn nurses who responded to an appeal for aid for the fire casualties in the Hartford hospitals.

Miss Haigney has just returned from Hartford, where she worked nights in the Hartford Hospital in a wing in which 21 fire victims were located. According to her report, at least 13 special nurses provided y the Red Cross were on duty in the hospital at all times, some of them coming from as far away as Virginia.

“Sixteen of the burned patients in our wing were children, “ she said. “All but one had lost their mothers in the fire. Not one of them mentioned the fire or the circus during the 11 days I was in the hospital. The adults talked about it all the time but the children apparently forgotten.

“I talked to the father of a 6-year-old boy suffering from third-degree burns on the head, neck, arms, shoulders and back, and whose fingers finally fell off while I was there. He said the children cried and were scared for two or three days, but have now become quite used to their surroundings.”

Given Penicillin

All the burn patients were given blood or plasma transfusions, then they were brought in, and while she was there they were all getting 20 units of penicillin every three hours, Miss Haigney said.

“One elderly man, who had taken his housekeeper to the circus for a pleasant afternoon, had lost 78 percent of the skin of his body. It took four of us to turn him over. He couldn’t even scratch his own head.”

Wherever possible the children are kept with their parents, but so many of them had lost parents, brothers and sisters that most were alone, except during visiting hours.

“They don’t cry for their mothers much,” Miss Haigney said. “They’re getting used to seeing the nurses. One 4-year-old was crying, ‘Daddy, daddy, daddy!’ I asked him what the trouble was. ‘My pants are falling down,’ was his complaint.”

Play Happily

“The youngsters have remarkable mental recuperative powers. As soon as they can get out of bed, they gallop around the rooms and play happily with their toys, books, whatever they have. They were easy to care for. They have become conditioned to the bandages. There was one 4-year-old who cried all the time. I promised him a dog, and the next thing we knew he was teaching me to whistle.”

The patients are gradually being discharged, four of them going home while she was in Hartford, Miss Haigney said. Most of those remaining are going through extensive skin grafting operations. Burn specialists have come to Hartford from as far away as Chicago.


2 Comments on “NewsClips: Ann Haigney, R.N. and the Hartford Circus Fire”

  1. Janine K Davis says:

    Wow. That 1944 lead is leaden.

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