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The Classics

Political leaders join in mourning for Eventide Victims

Published:Thursday | May 25, 2023 | 11:11 PM
Members of Parliament, the Clergy and People from all walks of life gathered at the grave of 145 of the victims of the Eventide Home fire at the burial service at National Heroes Park ON May 26, 1980.

Thousands turned up for the historical burial of the 145 persons who were burnt to death at the Eventide Home. Speakers called for healing, unity, and peace. Some of the fifty-seven survivors were present at the funeral.


145 Fire victims buried in Heroes Park

Thousands attend burial after memorial service in Cathedral

26 Wooden coffins in a single grave

THE CHARRED REMAINS of 145 of the victims of the May 20 fire at the Eventide Home in Kingston were buried in 26 wooden coffins in a single grave at National Heroes Park yesterday.

Thousands of people watched the burial. Thousands more attended the memorial service at the Roman Catholic Holy Trinity Cathedral, North Street, Kingston, where the Governor General, the Most Hon. Florizel Glasspole, the Prime Minister, the Hon. Michael Manley and the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Edward Seaga took part in the service.

There were no disturbances although at the entrance to the Cathedral immediately after the service, hundreds of people waved the Jamaica Labour Party's "V" sign and booed the Hon. Michael Manley and cheered Mr Seaga.

Wreaths were laid on the huge grave at National Veroes Park by the Governor General, Mr Manley, and Deputy JLP Leader Miss Enid Bennett for the JLP and Mayor Arthur Jones.

One hundred and forty-four charred bodies were found after the fire that razed Myers Ward, a two-storey wooden wing of the Eventide Home, on May 20, shortly after midnight. Two more people, of about nine admitted to hospital after the fire, died subsequently. Fifty-seven people survived. On Friday, Miss Loretta Cranson, who had been hospitaliesd after the fire, died yesterday. Miss Cynthia Baily died in hospital. However, only Miss Cranson was buried yesterday with the other 144 victims.

Two of the coffins were placed at one end of the huge grave with two red and white wreaths on top. The other 24 coffins were packed closely towards the opposite end of the grave with no wreaths.

A foul smell developed at the area around the grave. Police stopped most of the mourners outside the immediate vicinity of the grave. Only officials, the press, employees of the Eventide Home dressed in their uniforms, and survivors of the fire were allowed within the barricades.


KSAC Chief Engineer Mr George Rattray, who supervised the burial, said that although no dirt would be thrown into the concrete grave, as is normal, the grave would be well sealed and would hold no possibility of endangering the public's health. He said that the grave was exactly 40 feet long, eight feet wide, and nine feet deep.

Most of the mourners were dressed in black, some in keeping with the designation of yesterday as a National Day of Mourning for the victims of the fire.

The memorial service at the Holy Trinity Cathedral began at 3 p.m., with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kingston, the Most Rev. Samuel Carter presiding. The service began with the singing of the hymn "Hark, Hark, My Soul."

This was followed by the reading of the "Sentences" by the Anglican Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Neville DeSouza. The "Ceremony of the Paschal Candle" was conducted by the Moravian Bishop, the Rt. Rev. S.U. Hastings. Prayers were said by Evangelicals, the Rev. Meremoth Weir, representing the Seventh-Day Adventist Churches and the Rev. Cleve Grant of the Church of God of Jamaica.

The first lesson was read by the Governor. This was followed by the singing of the hymn "The Lord's My Shepherd" The second lesson, Revelation 21, verses one to seven was read by Prime Minister Michael Manley. The Gospel, John Chapter two, verses 21 to 27 and 32 to 45, was read by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Edward Seaga.


The Rev. Byron Chambers Pastor, of the Methodist Church, read the sermon, in which he said:"The tears of many have witnessed the nation's loss"

“As we share the sorrow, we are also conscious of our neglect, our unfulfilled good intentions, and our procrastination. Many of us who speak and write are great moral theorists. But when the crunch comes, we are nowhere to be seen," he said.

“We say in our hearts, “If only I could have done something. But now in the face of death, we know that we are helpless. There is nothing that can be done which will restore our sisters to us if our sisters died accidentally. We mourn their passing with tremendous grief. The severing of connection with them from this has shaken the entire foundation of our being. On the other hand, our sisters died violently at the hands of heartless men whether by their own initiative or by the suggestion of instigators internally or externally. Then their death will be on such person’s conscience for life.”

“Despite the slaughtering of many, the blindness of some, and the uncertainties of life by others, they were never cynical about life, nor did they give up their faith in God. So St Paul rightly asks us this question in the midst of sorrows.

“Who then can separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble do it or hardship or persecution or hunger or poverty or danger or death? He answered his own question in these words: ‘No in all these things we have complete victory through Him who loved us.”

“Let us, therefore, thank God for those brave lives who struggled against all the vicissitudes of life, and who still speak to us. Let us be consoled as a nation by these words from St. Paul. He is saying to all of us who are left behind: `You can think of every terrifying thing that this or any other world can produce. Not one of them is able to separate the Christian from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ, who is Lord of every terror and master of every world."


Mr. Chambers went on: "Cease from neglecting and laughing at the old and abandoning them. Cease from fighting and threatening and hating. Cease from killing and dividing, for these are signs of separation, immaturity and barbarism and not the actions of those who are working towards the common good of all."

He said that God implores governments, all institutions, and people not to wait until tragedies of this nature and scale occur to respond to crying human needs,

Prayers of the faithful were said by Mr Ernest DeSouza, Spiritual Leader of the Jewish Community, the Rev. Luther Gibbs of the Jamaica Baptist Union, and Kes Gabre Selassie Fitzerald of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.


Expressions of sympathy and consolation were given by Mayor Jones, who said that he hoped that out of the ashes of the fire would rise a "much longed for" spirit of national unity, which would be the foundation for peace and prosperity in the land.

The disaster, he said, had surfaced the need to have a sense of responsibility to properly care for and protect the handicapped.

He said that many of the victims were the mothers of very young children who were now housed at the Maxfield Park Children's Home.

At the burial site, the Rev Raymond Coke, Pastor of the Meadowbrook United Church of Jamaica and Grand Cayman, presided. Prayers were said by the Rev. Christopher Haynes of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Prayers of committal were said by Colonel Orval Taylor of the Salvation Army and Mr Frank Davis of the Society of Friends. The huge crowd streamed out of the park after the service at the cemetery while a huge crane lobbed the concrete and steel slabs over the huge grave and KSAC workmen positioned them tightly together before sealing the grave.

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