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Should James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital Be Renamed?

There’s a movement to rename this landmark after a volunteer discovered the namesake was implicated in a fire that claimed 168 lives at a Ringling Bros. Circus performance in Hartford, Conn., in 1944.

Just who was James A. Haley? And, why is the Tampa veterans’ hospital named after him?

Those questions were asked by longtime volunteer Bob Sawallesh, according to The Tampa Tribune.

What the retired Army lieutenant colonel from Valrico uncovered has caused him to ask whether the hospital should have a different name.

Haley was a former vice president with Ringling Bros. Circus, a member of the Florida House and a U.S. Representative. His work in Congress earned him the reputation as a champion for America’s veterans.

It’s his work with Ringling Bros., however, that has some wanting to see the hospital renamed. (See the entire Tribune story here.)

According to the Tribune, Haley was jailed following a 1944 fire that broke out during a Ringling Bros. show in Hartford, Conn. The fire killed 168 people and injured about 500 others. Haley and other circus officials pleaded no contest to 10 counts of manslaughter in the case. They were accused of using a flammable substance to fireproof the big top tent. An arsonist was eventually implicated for causing the blaze in the first place.

For his part in the deaths, Haley was sentenced to five years in a Connecticut prison. He served only eight months.

In 1977, the Tribune story says, the Florida Legislative Delegation asked for the hospital, which had been opened for years, to be named in Haley’s honor. That request was granted in 1978, a few years before Haley’s death.

While Haley has a storied history of helping veterans, some say the fire makes his legacy murky.

"How can you name a hospital that treats severely burned combat veterans after a man who spent time in jail for a fire that killed so many?" Sawallesh asked in the Tribune article.

While it remains unclear whether the hospital's name will be changed, we'd like to hear from you on this issue. 

What do you think about changing the hospital’s name? Should it stay as is or should someone else be honored? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

Bill Browne October 23, 2012 at 02:36 AM
Mr Sawallesh should get a hobby. Leave the hospital name as if. The expense of new letter heads alone makes a name change impractical. Having said that, these public building should not be named after people living or dead. Another twenty years from now and nobody will know who Haley, Chillura, Schwartkoff and Gibbons are. Name them after geographic points.
Brian October 23, 2012 at 11:48 AM
You can name it something like "the place people are dying to get in hospital"...
Linda October 29, 2012 at 04:43 AM
I think that interesting names make for better stories. Leave the name, it is appropriate enough. Expecially if we can convince the hospital to aquire a circus theme!

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