The fire spread throughout the shiny building, as employees urged customers to flee the building. In, the popular nightclub in Southgate, Kentucky, was filled with a crowded audience waiting for singer John Davidson to take the stage. A fire broke out in the Zebra Room and spread rapidly. A waiter, Walter Bailey, came on stage and told everyone to evacuate.
The outings were packed with people. People were overwhelmed by smoke and toxic fumes and 165 people never made it out. Code violations, limited fire exits, faulty wiring, and overcrowding played a role in the high death count. A federal court jury decides that a connection overheated by outdated aluminum wiring caused the fire.
The decision overturns a previous judgment. When the Supper Club burned again in 1977, there had been major mafia-style arson fires at nightclubs and restaurants every year in the Newport area. I got behind that guy, and he started pushing people in front of him, and all of a sudden the people behind me were pushing me. I started around 1 or 2 in the afternoon and I was working on the preparation, fixing the tables, getting water and butter, things like that.
Mention the Supper Club anywhere in the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region and you'll hear a story. He has never wavered in the belief that mafia types set fire in retaliation for the Schilling family's refusal to sell. New York and Chicago mobsters owned clubs in Newport, but most of the nightclubs, brothels and casinos were run by former members of the Remus gang until the Cleveland Four took over. I looked back over the pile of — they weren't dead people; there were dead and alive in that pile — and I went in and started picking them up two by two and pulling them out of the pile and dragging them out.
A veteran of the Navy, he was a true connoisseur of the club, having worked there not only shortly after the 1971 reopening, but also as a card dealer in the late 50s, during the club's illegal gambling era. Previous settlements included lawsuits against club owners, insurance companies, a utility company accused of failing to inspect wiring, and manufacturers of polyvinyl chloride and other products and materials used in the club. That started a devastating series of burst beverage bottles, crashing candlesticks, bodies in blocked entrances, and lungs filled with black smoke. Researching the history of the top of the hill in Southgate led me to the first fire in 1936, a mafia arson that also produced the first fatal victim, a 5-year-old girl.
It made me think about being at Shillito's, the department store that is now Macy's, because people looked like mannequins. By the early morning of May 29, 134 bodies had been removed from the building and placed, initially on the hillside surrounding the building and then in a makeshift morgue inside the nearby Fort Thomas Armory. Entertainment entrepreneur Richard Schilling and his family, from neighboring Newport, had developed the Beverly into an architecturally confusing 54,000 square foot complex, with 19 rooms on two floors.