The Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Kentucky was a popular destination for locals and visitors alike. On the night of May 28th, 1977, tragedy struck when a fire broke out in the Zebra Room and quickly spread throughout the building. Employees urged customers to evacuate, but 165 people never made it out alive. The cause of the fire was determined to be a connection that had overheated due to outdated aluminum wiring.
This overturned a previous judgment that had been made. In the years leading up to the fire, there had been a series of mafia-style arson fires at nightclubs and restaurants in the Newport area. Walter Bailey, a waiter at the Supper Club, recalled his experience that night. He said he was working on preparations when he heard someone on stage telling everyone to evacuate.
He described the scene as chaotic, with people pushing each other in an effort to escape. The tragedy of the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire has become part of local lore in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Many believe that mafia types set fire in retaliation for the Schilling family's refusal to sell. The Schillings had developed the club into a 54,000 square foot complex with 19 rooms on two floors.
The fire also revealed code violations, limited fire exits, faulty wiring, and overcrowding that all played a role in the high death count. In response to this tragedy, lawsuits were filed 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. A veteran of the Navy who had worked at the Supper Club both shortly after its 1971 reopening and during its illegal gambling era in the late 50s recalled his experience that night. He said he started picking up people two by two and dragging them out of the pile of bodies that had formed near an entrance.
Researching the history of the area revealed that this wasn't the first fire at the Supper Club; there had been one in 1936 as well. This one had resulted in the first fatal victim: a 5-year-old girl. The tragedy of the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire is one that will never be forgotten by those who lived through it or heard about it from others.