Yesterday marked the 45th anniversary of the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire, one of Cincinnati’s historic tragedies. On May 28, 1977, 165 people perished in a fire in Southgate, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. Most of the dead were youngish adults in their twenties and thirties. Many were parents of children my age.
This tragedy strikes somewhat close to home for me, even though it was a long time ago, and even though I didn’t actually lose anyone.
My parents, as chance would have it, were supposed to be there that night. My mom wanted to see John Davidson perform.
This is not as noteworthy a coincidence as it might seem. In the late 1970s, entertainment options were not what they are now. An appearance by a star like John Davidson, at a local venue, was quite the event.
In the end, my parents decided not to go. They did not have premonitions of doom. There were no omens. Something mundane simply came up, preventing them from going. Two of my parents’ acquaintances did go, though, and they died in the fire.
Tragedy directly struck a girl in my third grade class. Both of her parents, just thirty-two years old, died in the fire. The girl was in our class the Friday before the Memorial Day holiday. On the following Tuesday, she was not there.
She was subsequently raised by relatives. None of us ever saw her again. I have, though, seen her appear in local television interviews as an adult. She was interviewed about a decade ago, on one of the annual observances of the grim May 28 anniversary.
There were lawsuits over the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire, of course. The litigation went on for years. It remains a blight on the history of this area, and will likely remain so, until the last survivors and the last children of the dead are gone.
There have been various explanations for the fire, too, from faulty wiring to arson. The latter supposedly involved the Sicilian mafia, which used to have a significant presence in Cincinnati. This theory remains unproven.
Most of the people who now commemorate the tragedy each year are adults in their fifties and sixties who lost parents that night. Also, some of the actual survivors, who are now in their seventies and eighties.
I had a happy childhood and wonderful parents. If my parents had gone to the Beverly Hills Supper Club as planned, my early years might have been very different. My life would be different today, for that matter.
Each year at this time, I count my blessings, and remember how fragile we are. All of us.