60 years ago this New Year’s Eve, a devastating fire in Hartford made headlines around the world. The ornate Cathedral of St. Joseph, the mother church of the Archdiocese of Hartford, was destroyed by fire. Shockingly, it happened the day after another fire nearly destroyed St. Patrick’s Church, now called St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church on Church Street.
The disasters were captured on rare film now kept in the Channel 3 archives shot on December 31, 1956 and January 1, 1957. . Channel 3 didn’t go on the air until September of 1957, so the origin of the film is unknown. We can tell you the film aired in 1962 as part of a special commemorating the consecration of the new cathedral, which opened on May 15, 1962.
The special was narrated by Ross Miller and features a report on the fire from Ed Anderson, who was live on the scene for WTIC radio, which back then was part of the Channel 3 family. At the link below, you’ll see vintage clips of inside the cathedral before the fire, firefighters battling the stubborn blaze, onlookers in shock, Archbishop Henry O’Brien talking to reporters, and the subsequent rebuilding.
Worshippers at a morning mass on New Year’s Eve ’56 smelled smoke, but firefighters couldn’t locate the fire right away. By the time they did, the flames were out of control and destroyed the rare wood carvings inside the church. Due to the fact it happened right after the St. Patrick’s fire, arson was suspected, but no one was ever charged, and the case remains unsolved. As you might imagine, people were concerned about another fire, and Ed Anderson’s report talks about beefed up security by HPD at churches across the city.
Watch the old film right here: http://www.wfsb.com/clip/12998806/sixty-years-since-hartford-cathedral-fire