Paisley Cinema Disaster
Few events in our history equal the Paisley Cinema Disaster for tragedy, perhaps only the horrific crush at the Sunderland theatre disaster in 1883 being more devastating in the sheer number of children killed.
On December 31 1929 around 1000 children were in the Glen Cinema in Paisley , watching a cowboy film, the first part of an early afternoon matinee. When the first reel ended the 15-year-old assistant projectionist removed it, set the next running, and went with the first to rewind it in a separate room. He placed the spool down in its metal case, but perhaps because it was atop a battery the nitrate material within began to smoke. The boy didn’t panic, however, seeking help from the chief projectionist who sent him to the manager. The latter forced open a locked door and kicked the hot metal box outside. By this time, however, the smoke had drifted inside the auditorium and almost blacked out the screen. The danger was over, but when one voice cried: “Fire,” pandemonium broke out, though there was in fact no fire burning.
Children rushed to the rear exit, but it was padlocked. Before a passing policeman could break the lock 71 children had died, asphyxiated by the weight of those pressing behind them. Firemen found some of the victims standing, pleading hands still held high in death.
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