Martin Sheridan, a veteran war correspondent who survived one of the worst fires in American history, died on Dec. 31 from kidney failure. He was 89.
On Nov. 28, 1942, Sheridan was promoting cowboy movie star Buck Jones’s appearance at the Cocoanut Grove club in Boston. Around 10 p.m., a 16-year-old bar boy working in the basement lit a match to screw in a light bulb. An artificial palm tree caught fire and within 15 minutes, the crowded nightclub was engulfed in flames.
Terror caused the crowds to rush the two exits, trampling on fellow patrons in their haste. A side door equipped with a panic lock wouldn’t open, so the only available escape route was the club’s main revolving door, which quickly jammed. The Cocoanut Grove fire killed 492 people, including Jones and Sheridan’s wife, Constance Misslin. Sheridan was originally included in the death toll until he was found recuperating at Massachusetts General Hospital.
When the severe burns he sustained in the fire prevented him from enlisting in the Coast Guard, Sheridan became a war correspondent for the Boston Globe. His overseas reports included the aerial coverage of a deadly B-29 bombing raid on Tokyo. The only journalist embedded on a submarine patrol during World War II, Sheridan’s experiences on the USS Bullhead were chronicled in the book, “Overdue and Presumed Lost.” The Naval Institute Press will reissue the title in February.
When he returned to the states, Sheridan became a successful freelance writer. He interviewed numerous historical figures, such as President Theodore Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway, Bob Hope, George Gershwin and Jacqueline Kennedy. The former First Lady spoke to Sheridan two days before her husband was assassinated. In 1973, Sheridan published “Comics and Their Creators: Life Stories of American Cartoonists.” He also spent 20 years working in public relations for the Admiral Corp. and the New England Council.