Gulliver's Fire

| 7 Comments

One of the biggest tragedies in the local area was the fire at Gulliver's on June 30, 1974.

Straddling the New York - Connecticut border, it was a popular discotheque spot for young residents who wanted to dance and have a beer. (Today, an office building occupies the spot at 777 West Putnam Avenue where Gulliver's used to stand.) Connecticut residents liked to take advantage of its proximity to the state. Liquor stores closed earlier in Connecticut due to the Blue Laws.

As usual, a large crowd was there that night, enjoying the music and camaraderie. Some people I have met told me they were either there earlier that night, had thought about going or had been there at some other time. Unfortunately, a 25-year-old junior high school dropout - Peter Leonard - had broken into an adjacent bowling alley (Carol Lanes) to steal money and cigarettes. (Leonard was a junior high school dropout who had a long history of arrests, juvenile offences, motor vehicle violations, larceny and breaking and entering.) In the process, a fire started, which spread to the adjacent discotheque.

The band sounded the alarm around 1 am. They asked the crowd to quietly but quickly exit the building. As fate would have it, the crowd all tried to exit through one door. Suddenly, thick, black smoke overcame many in the crowd. People began to panic and some were even trampled.  Twenty-four young people lost their lives.

                                                           

                                   View Image

                                                  

Peter Leonard was arrested on July 12, 1974 and was charged with homicide by Westchester County. At first, Leonard claimed that a cigarette had fallen out of his mouth into a toy hamper. An arson expert testified that a fire of the intensity which burned down Gulliver's would have to have been started with an accelerant. Leonard changed his story, and admitted to setting the blaze to cover up the theft. He claimed he was under the influence of alcohol and marijuana.  In June 1975, Leonard plead guilty the day before his trial was to begin.

In the first of many appeals, Leonard's guilty verdict was thrown out in 1977 on the grounds that Leonard's confession had been coerced.  He was retried and once again found guilty.  Then this guilty plea was thrown out in 1978 because no lawyer had been present during his interrogation. Prosecutors charged him with larceny, breaking and entering and 24 counts of murder.   In 1978, Leonard was found guilty of arson and murder, and sentenced to 15 years to life.  He served out his time at the Auburn Correctional Facility near Syracuse, and was released in April 1986.   Leonard expressed his regret that anyone had died;  he blamed Gulliver's for having furniture that gave off toxic fumes during the fire.    After fullfilling some parole time, he moved to an undisclosed location.

Several lawsuits were filed against Gulliver's and the City of Port Chester and Town of Greenwich.  Survivors claimed neither the establishment nor the towns were up to code. Neither municipality had performed routine safety inspections.   Smoke detectors and fire sprinklers were not installed. A grand jury found that the owners were not negligent, but added that the laws were too weak and should be strengthened.  In 1979 Port Chester and the owners of Gulliver's agreed to pay $1.7 million in damages to the survivors.

At the very least, this tragedy forced Greenwich and Port Chester to review and stringently enforce their fire codes.  Hopefully, it will prevent the loss of life in future fires. 

7 Comments

Mary Roberto, working at the disco the night of the fire, is an unsung hero in this tragedy. Because she knew the exit doors were chained and padlocked, this brave young woman lead a few people out an exit they otherwise wouldnt have been aware of. Mary then went back inside the building and dragged an unconcious young kid outside, turned around and pulled another teenager to safety. after the fifth time entering the inferno, she went in again only to collapse at the doorway. Several firefighters assumed shne was dead, and she was without a pulse for nearly 2 minutes before she came back to life. Mary Was a wonderful lady before the fire and saving 5 lives proved that. Sadly, she was not the lady we knew after the fire, and her life was a struggle of pain and nightmares and ended with an overdose of heroin several years ago. Wherever she is, I hope it is a glorious, or at the very least a peaceful one.

Thank you for this information! It sounds like several people owe their lives to her. I'm sorry to hear about her difficulties after this tragic event. Carl

Did you know that Paul Caravello, later Eric Carr, played in the band that night?
If you haven't heard of him before, he was a member of KISS from 1980 until his death in 1991.

http://www.kissfaq.com/news/0109.html
Scroll down a tiny bit.

I didn't know that! Thank you for that information. Please keep on reading and commenting. Carl

Bouncer Troy Faucette (my next door neighbor) was a hero too many who didn't even know him. He saved many lives in the fire and got little or no credit! I was one because I never got in. He was bouncing and I wasn't in dress code. He told me to go home and change or he couldn't let me in. I was with a girl who didn't have the right clothes either. We said the hell with it and went to the old Newport Inn (now Davy Byrne's).

The next morning my friends and I were sitting outside talking about the sirens when he came in from being there all night and told us first hand what happened even before the newspapers had it.

I'm just curious. Did the survivors only receive the money from the settlement? What about the family members of the 24 people who were killed? Does anyone know if they also received money because they deserved it as well.

At the time of the Gulliver's tragedy I was a member of Reliance E & H Co. 1 , and my worst experience as a volunteer fireman was finding the body of a girl inside Gulliver's. To add to the ghastly scene were over-turned tables and chairs , a grim reminder of the panic that ensued.

Leave a comment

We want to hear from you. Feel free to post comments, questions and other thoughts but please remember:

  • Stay on topic.
  • Be polite and respectful
  • Don’t post copyrighted materials
  • Please don’t post content that installs viruses, worms, etc.
  • No spam please.

Please see our Comment Guidelines page for more information.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Carl White published on October 21, 2010 10:45 AM.

Interesting Programs ! was the previous entry in this blog.

Highway Hi-Jinks is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index, or to browse all entries look in the all entries list or the archives.