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Scouts, community mark 70th anniversary of tragic nursery fire

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A member of Pack 111 places a flower for one of the victims on the bronze memorial plaque.

On February 7, St. Peter’s Cemetery hosted a 70th anniversary memorial service for the seventeen victims of a tragic nursery fire that occurred in Auburn, shocking the nation in the final months of World War II. Organized by Cub Scout Pack 111 of Auburn, Matthew Richard of the Fortin Group and Gerard Raymond of St. Peter’s Cemetery., the event remembered the victims, sixteen of whom were infants, of the tragic fire at Lacoste Babies Home in New Auburn on January 31, 1945.

The ceremony, which took place inside the Mausoleum at St. Peter’s Cemetery, was well attended by relatives of the victims and Scouts of Pack 111. Richard served as Master of Ceremonies. Other speakers included Gerard Raymond of St. Peter’s Cemetery, Cameron Hartley of Cub Scout Pack 111, Deputy Chief Tim Allen of the Auburn Fire Department, Bettyann Sheats of Auburn, Deacon Denis Mailhot and Auburn Mayor Jonathan Labonte.

Corresponding to the number of fire victims, seventeen Cub Scouts, participated in the ceremony. Each recited the name of one of the victims and placed a flower in their honor on a bronze memorial plaque. The pack’s younger Scouts posted the Colors in honor of the sacrifices of the victims’ parents, many of whom, at a time when WWII was still raging in Europe and the Pacific, were stationed away as servicemen and war workers. Some of the victims’ fathers had never met their children, while one of them, home on leave, had just met his daughter for the first time several days earlier.

The ceremony was the culmination of a year-long service project by Pack 111 under the direction of Pack Leader Cameron Hartley, whose aunt perished in the fire as an infant. Upon learning that many of the victims were buried in unmarked graves around Maine, Hartley decided to act. He and Pack 111 launched a fundraising campaign, including a candy sale and a bottle drive, to purchase grave markers for the victims, 14 of whom are buried at St. Peter’s Cemetery.

The pack met its financial goal and timing deadline to have the grave markers and two new memorial plaques completed in time for the 70th anniversary of the tragedy. In the spring, one of the bronze plaques will be installed at the cemetery, while the other will go on permanent display at Auburn City Hall.

Following the ceremony, the Fortin Group hosted a gathering at their Auburn location for those in attendance. Relatives shared their stories and spoke to the Scouts over coffee, juice, and donuts. A brother and half-sister of several of the victims were especially grateful. They had never been told of their siblings lost in the fire and became of aware of them only through the Scouts’ efforts.

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