Originally published Sept. 25, 1972
Don McClusky’s four-to-midnight shift at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour Restaurant lasted only 40 minutes yesterday. It ended amid flames, smoke, flying debris and the cries of injured and dying men, women and children.
“The happy Place,” featuring “Fabulous Treats and Fantastic Fountain Fantasies” would never be the same for McClusky, a managerial trainee.
Wandering stunned around the parking lot more than an hour after the tragedy, he recalled the moments before and after the impact. Nervously, he turned a broken, stained, useless Farrell’s straw hat over and over in his hands.
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He had a fireman’s hat on his head for protection as he reentered the building several times.
Farrell’s was one of only two businesses open on a Sunday afternoon in the Crossroads Shopping Center. It was crowded with perhaps 100 people, according to McClusky, many of whom had attended the Golden West Sport Aviation Air Show at nearby Executive Airport.
The young trainee had just served water to a newly seated birthday party of about 17 persons, mostly youngsters, in “the Howard Hughes Room” at the front window overlooking Freeport Boulevard and Runway 20 beyond.
He moved around behind the bar separating the kitchen from the gay 90s-style dining area. He began to fill salt shakers.
“The initial shock knocked me off my feet,” he recalled. “I didn’t know what hit us until after I was outside. I thought one of the blowers had blown up.
I got up and grabbed two fire extinguishers and tried to get to two people I could see. But by then the smoke and flames were too intense, so I helped about five others out.”
He said he passed them out a broken window and then crawled out himself.
The room did not become engulfed in flames immediately, he said, allowing most of the patrons and all of the employees to get out relatively unharmed.
Most of the killed and injured were in the front party room. After the fire was put down and much of the wreckage removed, rescuers could see the charred cabinet containing mangled pressboard hats and tiny plastic animals.
Outside the parking lot was strewn with debris. A stuffed blue and white animal lay soaking in a mixed pool of water and acrid jet fuel beneath a neatly pruned shrub.
Elsewhere were scattered other broken straw hats, Gay 90 wall plaques, charred chairs and strips of the red velvet covered walls.
And in mute testimony to the irony of the whole tragedy, firemen hefted rubber body carriers past a wall of glossy eight-by-ten photographs of famous people and laughing children who have attended other parties at Farrell’s over the years.