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Romeo and Rosa Casino

On May 15, 1929, a fire broke out in the main building on Cleveland Clinic’s campus in a room where nitro-cellulose x-ray films were stored. The nitro-cellulose films deteriorated and produced toxic gases when heated, causing the fire. The three possible heat sources considered at the time of the fire  were a steampipe leak, an incandescent lightbulb, and a discarded cigarette or match. The bulb has emerged as the mostly likely explanation.  One was hanging near the x-ray films.

The films warmed and released a toxic gas which ignited.  The toxic gases, described everywhere as being yellowish brown vapors, first exploded and traveled up through the building through pipes. The fire was not the killer that day – a few died from debris from the explosions, but most were victims of the deadly gases.  Some victims died within moments of their exposure, but other succumbed hours after first inhaling the gas.  These victims assisted in treating other with oxygen or leaving the immediate vicinity reportedly feeling fine, and then later collapsed.   By the time the deaths were tallied, 123 were dead – 80 visitors or patients, 43 Clinic employees. Another 92 people were injured.  The Casinos were among their number.  They were laid to rest in Lake View Cemetery, with an epitaph that reminds us that they, like so many others that day, died unexpectedly.

You can find the Casinos on this scanned newspaper list from the St. Petersburg Independent of the victims of the disaster. This transcription lists the dead, their home towns, and some of their reasons for being there that day. The Cleveland Memory Project has photographs as well as a copy of a report written about the disaster a month later.

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