50th Anniversary of Gulliver’s Night Club Blaze: Reflecting on the Fragility of Life

Sunday’s gathering to mark the 50th anniversary of the blaze that overwhelmed a popular night club on the border of Greenwich and Port Chester drew a crowd that included first responders, survivors, and both friends and family of the 24 people who lost their lives that night.

The gathering took place on the small lawn in front of the historic Thomas Lyon House in Greenwich across Route 1 from the former location of Gulliver’s, today an office complex.

About 100 people gathered across the street from where Gulliver’s night club, a popular spot for live music and dancing in 1974, caught fire, killing 24 people and injuring many more. June 30, 2024 Photo: Leslie Yager

Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo said he and both Port Chester Mayor Luis Marino and Village Manager Stuart Rabin coordinated plans for the gathering.

He noted that more lives might have been lost if not for the valiant efforts of firefighters.

“Lots of people responded and there are several people here who were actually pulled out and given CPR that night and survived,” Camillo said. “We want to remember those people who fought the fire, the people who perished and their families, and to remember the lessons of that night.”

“Codes were changed because of that night,” Camillo added. “That’s the only good thing that came out this. It was a senseless tragedy started by a petty act by somebody just up the road – and it’s a reminder of just how fragile life can be.”

Camillo read aloud the names of the 24 Gulliver’s fire victims:

Robert A. Amico, Alexander Blazinski Jr, Thomas F Burke III, George D Chase, Damon De Feis, Denise Di Mauro, Linda Edwards, Virginia Gannat, Michael Gauruder, Janet Haehl, Jonetta Horsey, Cindy Johannessen, Paul Kulikowski, Philip P Memoli, Michael McManus, Eugene F O’Connell III, Betty Annulver, Timothy Scaia, Robin Seeley, Tracey A Thomas, Mark Thompson, Dale Ward, Lynne Wojciechowski and Susan Zizzi.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer, who was 20 in 1974, recalled the popularity of Gulliver’s.

“I think about all the things I’ve had the good fortune to have – the fact that I was able to to graduate, go to graduate school, have a career, get married and have a child.  That’s what those 24 did not get,” Latimer said. “It is a pain that doesn’t end. And if there’s anything to learn out of it, it’s how fragile life is. It’s how fortunate we are at this moment to be alive.”

Port Chester Mayor Marino, Background, Don Migliardi, Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo, Greenwich Fire Dept Chief Joseph McHugh and Port Chester Fire Dept Chief Angelo Sposta.  June 30, 2024 Photo: Leslie Yager

Port Chester Fire Dept Chief Angelo Sposta spoke to a crowd of firefighters, survivors and family of those who perished at the fire at Gulliver’s in 1974.  June 30, 2024 Photo: Leslie Yager

Port Chester Mayor Luis Marino, a firefighter himself, thanked all the firefighters and officials from Port Chester who attended the event. He introduced Port Chester Fire Dept Chief Angelo Sposta who said that in addition to the 24 lives lost, 32 were injured plus 13 firefighters in the Gulliver’s fire.

“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.”

US Senator from Connecticut Richard Blumenthal talked about fire safety.

“Remember that what happened at Gulliver’s was criminal, and it was the result also of failure to take precautions with sprinklers and other means that can protect people. So there is a life lesson here,” he said. “It is gut wrenching to hear the stories of loved ones lost. I want to thank them for their courage to come here and remind us of what’s important and the lessons.”

Stephen Gauruder shared memories of his brother Michael at the 50th anniversary remembrance of the fire at Gulliver’s night club. June 30, 2024 Photo: Leslie Yager

Stephen Gauruder, who lost his 19-year-old brother Michael in the Gulliver’s blaze, grew emotional as he recalled the night of the fire and memories of his older brother.

“I am saddened that we are all here to remember the forever young men and women on this 50th anniversary. 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 way too soon.”

He said he and his brother were born on the same day three years apart. “We are twins separated by three years.”

“When my daughter Chelsea was two years old she had an imaginary friend. Her friend was Michael John. That was my brother’s name. Fast forward 30 years, my grandson, when he was around 2 years old, he started playing with his imaginary friend, Michael,” Gauruder said. “Coincidence or not, I believe he is still with us.”

He also recalled the infectious smile of Michael’s girlfriend, Janet Haehl, who also perished in the fire.

“Truly a happy person. Just so genuine, where you were always comfortable to be around her, with no pretense,” Gauruder said.

Linda Charette shared talked about the impact of the tragic fire at Gulliver’s in 1974. Photo: Leslie Yager

Michael Gauruder’s sister Linda Charette said she had learned many lessons from the tragedy.

“We all have our own way of grieving. I’ve learned to accept it even though I’m not happy about it,” she said, adding that she felt sorry not only for those who lost family members, but also for the gentleman who caused the fire, as well as his family.

Before and after the formal ceremony several people shared their stories.

Bill Frenz, leader of the band Billy and the Showmen, recalled coming to Gulliver’s frequently and had performed there with the Chifonns in the late night 1:00am show.

“It was a hot spot. It was so nice. If  you sat near the girls room so you’d get to see all the girls. It was always a hot spot for young gentlemen,” he said.

“I was 23 at the time. That night I saw my car in the parking lot  – my brother took my Corvette – so I was looking for my brother and found him sitting up on the hill. Once I saw him I felt relieved,” Frenz recalled.

Frenz said that while Creation’s singer George Chase and keyboardist Damon De Feis had both perished, one member survived the fire and went on to become the drummer in the rock band, Kiss.

Paul Caravello, better known as Eric Carr, was the drummer for Kiss from 1980 until his death in 1991.

Bill Frenz and Vin DiMarco at the remembrance ceremony on the 50th anniversary of the fire at Gulliver’s that took 24 lives. June 30, 2024 Photo: Leslie Yager

Cindy Castronovo with George Costarini who held a photo of  Michael Gauruder, who perished in the fire at Gulliver’s in 1974. Seated, David D’Andrea. June 30, 2024 Photo: Leslie Yager

George Costarini, said he was 24 when when he went to Gulliver’s on the fateful night and was sitting with Michael Gauruder when smoke from the fire began to fill the space.

“Me and Michael who was 19, were sitting on the top, looking down at the dance floor. Someone tapped me and told me there was smoke, but I didn’t pay attention. Then there was all black smoke, I couldn’t see.”

“I couldn’t get up. Everyone was falling down and tripping. And you couldn’t get out the back because they had chained the (fire exit) door because they didn’t want underage kids getting in and drinking in the bar. I got pulled out by Eddie – a volunteer fireman,” Coastarini recalled.

“Peter Leonard (who was later determined to have started the fire) was sitting on the balcony watching people come out. He was robbing the cigarette machine at the bowling alley and lit the fire to cover his tracks.”

“And all the guys in the band, Creation – the air conditioning collapsed and only one band guy survived. They all got killed except for one,” Costarini said.

Cindy Castronovo shared a memory of sitting next to Michael Gauruder in her high school driver’s education class.

“It really hit me,” she recalled. “The reason I wasn’t there was because my grandmother passed that night – otherwise I was there all the time. This was our Studio 54. I’d been going there since I was 15. I was 20 when that happened.”

“It changed my life 1,000%. No doubt,” Castronovo recalled. “I always check all the exit doors to make sure there are no chains. I made sure that my space was always safe and that my friends were always safe. To this day I still do that.”

Greenwich Selectwoman Lauren Rabin, Port Chester Mayor Luis Marino, Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo and Greenwich Fire Dept Chief Joseph McHugh

US Senator Richard Blumenthal addressed the gathering at Thomas Lyon house on the 50th anniversary of the fire at Gulliver’s that took 24 lives. June 30, 2024 Photo: Leslie Yager

Don Migliardi, Fred Camillo and Greenwich Fire Dept Chief Joseph McHugh. June 30, 2024 Photo: Leslie Yager

Don Migliardi, who was an 18-year-old volunteer firefighter with the Amogerone Volunteer Fire Co in 1974, said his memories of June 30, 1974 were indelible.

Recalling that night, he said he had never been to Gulliver’s before the night of the fire.

“The band announced that there was a small fire next door and asked for everyone to please leave. I looked up and I took everyone at my table out – I could see smoke starting to puff in and out, which is very dangerous. That tells me it was a flash over – fire was looking to get oxygen.”

Migliardi said after initially getting everyone in his party out of the building, he went out to his car for his helmet and gear, and went back in and advised the bartenders to call the fire departments in Port Chester and Greenwich.

“Then I went inside and got people trying to get out because the smoke had taken over the entire building so quickly that the people on the dance floor were probably totally lost. I put a compressed air mask fast and I didn’t get a tight seal,” he recalled. “I was breathing in smoke the whole time. After the last girl that I pulled out, I collapsed and they put me in an ambulance and I was the first firefighter at the hospital.”

He recalled that Amogerone fire chief John Titsworth saw him collapse and had him put in the ambulance first.

“I do remember getting to the hospital and the doctors were just grilling me. I told them the best I could, and they put me on oxygen.”

Migliardi said despite 50 years passing, the events of June 30, 1974 were forever embedded in his mind.

“I can still remember hearing women and young girls calling for help and I couldn’t reach them. That’s the hardest to live with.”

“They tell me I pulled out a lot of people,” he said. “I don’t know how many.”

After a prayer from Father Carl McIntosh of St. Roch’s Church, Greenwich Police Captain Jim Bonney played Amazing Grace on the bagpipes as Greenwich firefighters stood by. June 30, 2024 Photo: Leslie Yager

Crowd gathered across the street from where Gulliver’s night club once offered live music and dancing. June 30, 2024 Photo: Leslie Yager

Crowd gathered across the street from where Gulliver’s night club once offered live music and dancing. June 30, 2024 Photo: Leslie Yager

View across Route 1 of the office building which was once home to Gulliver’s night club. June 30, 2024 Photo: Leslie Yager

See also:

Town of Greenwich, Village of Port Chester to Mark 50th Anniversary of Deadly Gulliver’s Disco Fire