3 Generations Share Loss As Deadly Nightclub Fire Victims Remembered
3 Generations Share Loss As Deadly Nightclub Fire Victims Remembered

3 Generations Share Loss As Deadly Nightclub Fire Victims Remembered

GREENWICH, CT — In the early morning hours of June 30, 1974, a fire broke out as the band played and the crowd danced at Gulliver’s nightclub. The blaze on the Connecticut-New York border eventually claimed the lives of 24 young people, and injured 19 patrons and 13 firefighters.

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And afterwards, everything changed.

Fifty years later, loved ones of those who died gathered to remember their loss and offer each other solace for the pain that still feels fresh after all these years.

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Stephen Gauruder, whose 19-year-old brother died in the fire shook with grief as he told those gathered that his older sibling had always been there to save him from disaster, but was taken in a way that left the younger brother feeling decades of helplessness after not being able to return the favor on one tragic night.

Gauruder told the crowd that words alone could not express the grief he has lived with everyday for 50 years.

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“I am sad that we are all here to remember the forever young men and women on this anniversary,” Gauruder told those gathered. “At the same time, I’m very grateful that we’re all here to remember these young men and women who were so tragically taken away from us too soon.”

He said that while his brother is gone, he never truly left. He told the mourners circled around 90-degree temperatures that his daughter had an imaginary friend named “Michael” and years later, his granddaughter had an imaginary friend, also named “Michael.”

In a poignant moment, he found those two family members of the following generations in the crowd, “Coincidence or not, I believe he is still with us.”

For victims and loved ones, getting answers to just what went wrong on that tragic night was complicated by the unique location of Gulliver’s, which spanned the New York-Connecticut border between Port Chester and Greenwich.

Port Chester Mayor Luis Marino, whose rise to prominence started as a volunteer at the Port Chester firehouse where he continues to serve, said that, like the families of the victims, firefighters will forever keep the memory of that night 50 years ago alive.

Port Chester Fire Dept Chief Angelo Sposta said there are still lessons to be learned from the tragic events.

“Many senior firefighters in our department carry this incident with them in their minds every day,” Sposta said. “While it’s not spoken about, we know their actions will never be forgotten. For me, growing up in the firehouse, having a father who responded to the scene, we learned a lot of details about it. Tragic events don’t disappear. The hurt and the loss that the families have endured doesn’t go away.”

Three-hundred firefighters from New York and Connecticut raced to the scene, but the building was quickly engulfed in flames and smoke.

At the time, the fire at Gulliver’s was the deadliest dance club fire in the United States in memory.

Most of the 24 deaths were determined to have been from smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, more than 70 years earlier, the Gulliver’s tragedy changed fire safety rules across the country for the better. Closer to home, the close relationship in the way cross-border jurisdictions, like Greenwich and Port Chester, coordinate police investigation, zoning and emergency response, is owed in part to the finger-pointing that followed a deadly night on the state line.

Peter Leonard, a 22-year-old Greenwich resident, was arrested and accused of setting a fire to the bowling alley adjacent to Gulliver’s to conceal a burglary.

Years later, Leonard’s convictions were overturned, and he pleaded guilty to manslaughter in 1986 in New York. He was released on time served, which was about 12 years, The New York Times reported in a piece on the 25th anniversary of the blaze.

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