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Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum Explosion


October 31, 1963

First report of explosion; initial dispatches  11:06pm Calling Citizens Gas to fairgrounds  11:09:50pm More dispatches; telephone pole on fire  11:15:30pm
Call for ambulances and doctors  11:20:18pm State Fair board member calls for info  11:26:28pm Call to Col. Lang at Fort Harrison requesting assistance  11:34:53pm More dispatches  11:42:54pm
Telephone pole on fire  11:46:31pm Does Col. Lang need troops out there?  11:53:50pm Call from Chicago Civil Defense offering assistance  11:58:20pm Summary and interviews

On the evening of October 31, 1963, more than 4,000 people were attending the opening night of the Holiday on Ice show at the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum. Just after 11 p.m., during the finale of the show, gas leaking from a faulty valve on a propane tank ignited. A violent explosion shook the Coliseum, sending audience members, seats, and enormous slabs of concrete flying into the air and towards the ice. Falling chunks of concrete crushed a number of spectators below, while other people fell into the pit created by the blast. A second explosion caused by the remaining propane tanks soon followed, sending a fireball up to the ceiling and incinerating those in its path.

Four engine companies, two rescue squads and a ladder truck were dispatched to the scene. Firefighters, along with the police, Red Cross, Salvation Army, and many volunteers began rescuing the survivors. In all, 74 people died as a result of the explosion, and nearly 400 were injured. The city, lacking resources for a disaster of this magnitude, turned the ice rink into a temporary morgue until the bodies could be identified.

It remains one of the worst tragedies in Indiana history.

The Indianapolis Firefighters Museum collection was made possible by a partnership of the Indianapolis Firefighters Museum, the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library, and IUPUI University Library and generous funding from the Central Indiana Community Foundation.

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