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many to go out before we started. At the aisle some one stepped on Mrs.
Gibson's dress and she fell to the floor. Men, women and children trampled
over her, and having done all I could I started out. In the lobby I begged
some men to return for Mrs. Gibson, but they said it was no use. The
curtain by that time was burned up."

Mrs. Gibson, wife of Dr. Charles B. Gibson, confirmed Mrs. Schweitzler's
assertions that no asbestos curtain was visible from the audience. "From
the place where I fell," said Mrs. Gibson, "I crawled on hands and knees
to the entrance. When I got to the rear the curtain was all burned away."


Mrs. William Mueller, Jr., 3330 Calumet avenue, who at the time was
confined to her bed from injuries sustained by trying to get out of the
Iroquois as the panic began and from bruises sustained by being trampled
upon, tells the story that she with her two children, Florence, 5 years
old, and Belle, 3 years old, occupied three seats in the second row from
the back on the ground floor on the right side of the theater. The
children became restless as the second act began and Mrs. Mueller took
them to a retiring room.

After the children had been in the retiring room for some minutes, they
wanted to go back and see the performance. Mrs. Mueller started back into
the lobby to go to her seats, when she saw, in a glass, the reflection of
the flames. She hurried back into the retiring room and asked for the
children's wraps, saying she thought something was wrong and did not want
to stay in the theater any longer. The maid in the room asked her what was
the matter and Mrs. Mueller told her.

"Oh, that's all right. I won't give you the things now," the maid replied.
"I'll go and see what is the matter."

Mrs. Mueller demanded the children's wraps, but they were refused. Just
then Mrs. Mueller thinks she must have heard the first cry of alarm and
she ran to the front doors with the children. She tried one door and found
it locked. Then she tried another, and that was locked. She pushed against
it and then threw herself against it, trying to force it open. She does
not remember seeing any employee near the outer door.

Mrs. Mueller then heard people in the audience shrieking and then she
fainted. It is thought that the oldest little girl, Florence, also

As the people pushed out of the theater they trampled upon Mrs. Mueller
and the child. Mrs. Mueller was horribly bruised and was either kicked in
the eyes or else some one stepped on her face. It was at first feared she
would lose her eyesight.

The first person carried out when the rescue began was Mrs. Mueller; she
was right in front of the doors. Near her was Florence. Just before the
men entered, and after every one else seemed to be out, little Belle came
walking out. A man ran to her, picked her up and took her to a barber
shop, where she continued to cry for her mother. The little girl,
Florence, was also carried out and was taken to the same barber shop,
where the two children were later found by Mr. Mueller. Mrs. Mueller was
taken to the Samaritan hospital, where she was found that night.


John Maynard Harlan visited the morgue in search of the body of Mrs. F.
Morton Fox and her three children, who were intimate friends of Mrs.
Harlan. In speaking of his experience he said:

"I was profoundly impressed by the expressions on the faces of many of the
dead. Perhaps it was only a fancy, but it seemed to me that the faces of
those having the higher order of intelligence showed less horror and more
resignation. Some of these seemed to have passed away almost with a smile
of faith, so serene were their countenances. But the faces of the less
intelligent were uniformly struck with suffering to a terrible degree.

"When I found Mrs. Fox's little boy the smile of courage on his face was
one of the most noble sights that I ever saw. It seemed to me that I could
see the brave little fellow trying to reassure his mother and facing death
with a heroism not expected of his years."


Mrs. W. F. Hanson, of Chicago, was the only member of a theater party of
nine to escape. She wept as she talked of her companions and shuddered as
she recalled the manner of their death.

"I cannot tell how I got out of the theater," she said. "I remember
starting for one of the aisles when the panic was at its height. I was
separated from my friends. We had a row of seats in the second balcony.
Suddenly someone seized me and I was tossed and dragged along the aisle
and I lost consciousness. When I came to my senses I was in a store across
the street. Every one of my companions perished. We composed a holiday
theater party and we were all related by marriage."


Arthur E. Hull, of Chicago, who lost his entire family in the Iroquois
fire, tells the following pathetic story:

"It is too terrible to contemplate. I can never go to my home again. To
look at the playthings left by the children just where they put them, to
see how my dear dead wife arranged all the details of her home so
carefully, the very walls ring with the names of my dear dead ones. I can
never go there again.

"Mrs. Hull had called the children from their play to go and see the show.
They were laughing and shouting about the house in childish glee, when
she, all radiant with smiles, came to tell them of the surprise she had
planned for them.

"They left their toys just where they were. She fixed the things about the
house a bit, and then took them with her.

"Mary, our maid, went with them. She, too, was joyous at the prospect, and
a happier party never started anywhere. Everything was smiles and

"They had planned for a day of joy, and it turned out a day of sorrow.
Sorrow more deep than can be fathomed by human mind. Sorrow so acute that
it is indescribable."

The party consisted of Mrs. Hull, her little daughter, Helen Muriel, her
two adopted sons, Donald DeGraff and Dwight Moody, together with Mary

The two boys had been adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Hull but three weeks before,
and had lately come from Topeka, Kan., where their father, Fred J. Hull,
had died.

The party was gotten up for them particularly, and it was the first and
last time they were ever to witness a stage production. This was only one
of a score of recorded cases where the unselfish desire to give pleasure
to the young caused their death.


Dr. Charles S. Owen, a physician and one of the most prominent men in
Wheaton, died at the Chicago homeopathic hospital from injuries sustained
at the Iroquois fire. On Christmas day Dr. Owen held a family reunion, and
eight relatives came from Ohio to spend the holiday week. Wednesday a
theater party was arranged and twelve seats were secured at the Iroquois
in the front row of the first balcony. Out of the entire party of twelve
Dr. Owen was the only one to escape.


It appears that Miss Blackburn had attended the matinee with her father,
James Blackburn. They had seats in the first balcony. In the panic father
and daughter became separated. The father escaped to the Randolph street
lobby and then started back for his daughter. He found her body on the
staircase horribly burned. Catching up the lifeless form and wrapping it
in his overcoat, Mr. Blackburn rushed to the street and procured a cab, in
which he was driven with his burden directly to the Northwestern station.
He caught the first train for Glen View and had the body of his child at
home in half an hour.


Mrs. Lulu Bennett, Chicago, whose daughter, Gertrude Eloise Swayze, 16
years old, was a victim of the holocaust, thought she would avoid the
gruesome task of making a tour of the morgues, so she asked a friend to
search for her daughter's body. After visiting a number of morgues he
finally found the body of a girl at Rolston's, in Adams street, which he
identified as Miss Swayze. The body was conveyed to the mother's
residence, but when she looked at the body she turned away with a moan
and said: "That is not my Gertrude; take it away, take it away. There has
been some terrible mistake made."

Mrs. Bennett made a personal tour of the morgues afterward and found her
daughter's body.


The asbestos curtain at the Iroquois theater was not hung in a manner
satisfactory to Lyman Savage, the stage carpenter who put it up, according
to a statement he made to his son, C. B. Savage, head electrician at
Power's theater, a short time before his death which occurred indirectly
as a result of the fire.

Mr. Savage, who lived at 1750 Wrightwood avenue and who was a stage
carpenter in Chicago for twenty-five years, worked at the Iroquois theater
until two weeks before the fire, when he was compelled to leave because of
kidney trouble. His son ascribes his death to excitement over the Iroquois
fire. That disaster was uppermost in his mind.

Mr. Savage said: "I asked my father if he hung the asbestos curtain at the
Iroquois theater and he said he did. I then asked him if he hung the
curtain according to his own ideas, and he replied in substance: 'No, that
curtain was not hung my way, but Cummings' (the stage carpenter's) way. If
you want to see a curtain hung my way you should see the curtain in a
theater I worked on in Michigan last fall.'

"My father did not specify what point about the hanging of the curtain he
did not approve, and I do not know what feature of the work he was not
satisfied with.

"I asked my father if the curtain was hung on Manila ropes, and he said
that it was not, but that it was hung on wire cables. I know that to be a
fact, for I saw the cables myself.

"I do not desire to shield any negligent person, but Stage Carpenter
Cummings was not responsible for the lowering of the curtain only in so
far as he was responsible for having some one there to lower it.

"I was on the stage when the fire broke out, having gone to the theater to
see Archie Bernard, the chief electrician. The statement has been made
that the lights were not thrown on in the auditorium after the fire was
discovered. Just before the fire broke out Bernard was stooping down
preparing to change the lights, and he had just said to me: 'I will show
you how I change my lights.'

"When the fire was discovered I saw him reach down to throw a switch.
Whether he threw the switch that lights the auditorium I do not know, but
I do know that the fire from the draperies fell all around the switchboard
and burned out the fuses. Consequently if the lights had been turned on
the fact that the fuses were burned out would cause them to go out.

"The first I knew of the fire was when I heard some one behind and above
me clapping his hands. I looked up and saw McMullen trying to put out the
blaze with his hands. If he could have reached far enough he would have
extinguished the fire. He did the best he could.

"I carried four women out of the theater and burned my hands. I stayed on
the stage as long as it was possible for me to do so."


Many Chicago people spent a part of the Sabbath following the fire in the
dingy little storeroom at 58 Dearborn street, where the effects and the
valuables of the Iroquois theater victims are kept.

The storeroom was crowded all day. The line formed at Randolph street and
pushed its way to the north. A mother stepped to one of the show cases.
She had lost a boy and she had come to find his effects. She was looking
through the glass when she called one of the policemen to her side.

"That's it. That's my little boy's," and she pointed at a prayer book.

The policeman took it from the case.

"Yes, that's it," she murmured.

From the street came the tolling of the half hour.

"Just a week ago he started for Sunday school with it. It was a Christmas
present and he took it to church for the first time."

A young man, well dressed and prosperous looking, came in and walked along
the wall, gazing at the dresses and the furs. Suddenly he seized a fur boa
and kissed it.

"It was her's," he cried. "May I take it with me?"

The officer told him to visit the coroner and get a certificate.

Two young men entered the place and began making flippant remarks. The
officers overheard their conversation and escorted them to the threshold
of the door. Two heavy boots assisted in making their exit into the street
a rapid one.


John R. Thompson's restaurant at 3 o'clock in the afternoon of the fatal
day was an eating-house, decked here and there with late lunchers; at 3:20
it was a hospital, with the dead and dying stretched on the marble eating
tables; at 4 o'clock it was a morgue, heaped with the dead; at 7:30 it was
again a restaurant, but with chairs turned on top of the tables that had
been the slabs of death, with the aisles cleared of the human debris, and
the scrub woman at work mopping out the relics of human flesh, charred
and as dust, and sweeping in pans the pieces of skulls that had lain about
the mosaic floors, yet damp with the flowing length of woman's hair.

The terror, the horror, the tragedies, the martyrdom, the piercing screams
of the dying, the agonized groans, the excitement of the surging mob, the
hurrying back and forth of the police with their burdens of death and life
that only lasted a moment, the pushing of physicians, the casting of dead
about on the floors like cord wood, one on top of the other, to make room
on the marble slabs of tables for the oncoming living, the cries of
children, the sobbing of persons recognizing their loved one dead, or
worse than dead - this unutterable horror can never be imagined, and was
never known before in Chicago, not excepting the horrors of the great
fire, or the martyrdom of war.


The scene presented was most horrible. It was like a battlefield where the
dead are being brought to the church or the residence that has at a
moment's notice been turned into a hospital. In they came, the dead and
the injured, at first at the rate of one every three minutes; then faster,
several at a time, until the restaurant was heaped with maimed bodies
lying on the tables or the floor, with surgeons bending over them, and on
the cashier's counter, with the girl there sobbing with her face hidden in
her hands, afraid to look at the ghastly spectacle.

There were scores of physicians, three to each table, and they worked with
vigor and earnestness and skill, but with the tears coursing down the
cheeks of many a one. At first the bodies were carried into Thompson's,
then they went across the street; many of them were put in ambulances and
taken to the emergency room for women in Marshall Field's store, and
still many others of the injured - those yet able to walk - were half
dragged, half carried to the offices of physicians in the Masonic temple.


Women fought and shoved and pushed their way through the crowd to get to
the door of the improvised hospital, that became a morgue only too

"I am a nurse. Let me help," said some.

"I am a mother. My boy may be dead inside. For God's sake, let me save a
life," said another, a woman in middle age.

Others came in from the crowds, neither mothers nor nurses, women with the
spirit of heroism who longed to serve humanity when humanity was at so low
an ebb.

"She's dead," was more often than not the verdict after much work. "Next!"
and the cold and stiffened form of the victim was dragged, head first,
from the marble eating table, thrown quickly under the tables, and another
form, perhaps that of a tiny child, took its place.


So fast came the bodies for a time that there was one steady stream of
persons carried in - the still living - while without the morgue stood the
ambulances waiting for their burdens. The sidewalk, muddy and crowded, was
strewn with the dead, lying on blankets or else thrown down in the mud,
waiting to be taken to the various morgues of the city.

There was a figure of a man - a large man with broad shoulders and dressed
in black - whose entire face was burned away, only the back of the head
remaining to show he had ever had a head; yet below the shoulders he was
untouched by the fire.

There lay women with their arms gone, or their legs, while one had one
side burned off, with only the cross shoulder-bone remaining. She had worn
a pink silk waist and black skirt; the fragments of the garments still
clung to her like a shroud that had lain in the grave.

There was a little boy, with a shock of red-brown hair, whose tiny mouth
was open in terror and whose baby hands were burned off so that his tiny
wrists showed like red stumps.


There was one young girl, her garments so torn from her splendid figure
that her arms and white bosom rose uncovered from the tattered and
torn - not burned - shreds of her clothing, and the shreds of a
turquoise-blue silk petticoat draped her limbs. She had died from
suffocation - fought and struggled and died. On her finger sparkled a
diamond ring, and about her slender throat was a string of pearl beads.

There was another body of a girl that several persons said they knew, yet
no one could speak her name. She was beautiful in her terrible death, with
a wealth of blonde hair, and staring blue eyes. She was dressed in a
blue-black velvet shirt waist, with gold buttons, a mixed white and tan
and gray walking skirt, with a pink silk petticoat beneath. She had died
of suffocation, and, as she lay on the marble table dead, a tiny blue
chatelaine watch, ticking merrily the hour, was pinned upon her breast.

The crowding, the howling, the screaming in Thompson's was so highly
pitched, that no one could hear the orders of the physicians. Bedlam
reigned - no order, no leader, everyone doing what he could to help. At
length came the loud voice of a man, and those who could hear, stopped
and listened, while those at the front of the restaurant said: "Some man
has gone crazy with grief."

It was State Senator Clark, who, seeing the need of an order, jumped to a
table and gave one.

"Everyone get out," he cried, "and make room for the doctors. Let there be
three doctors to a table and one nurse while they last."

Skillfully, cleverly, worked the looters of the dead. Rings were torn from
stiffened fingers, watches, bracelets, chains, purses taken from bosoms,
then out in the surging crowd of excited humanity went the thieves, lost
to recognition by those who saw them loot in the terribleness of the


Through the mangled mass of humanity moved a priest with a crucifix in his
white hands - Father McCarthy of Holy Name Cathedral, saying the prayers
for the dying - not for the dead, but to give the last words of a hope
beyond. Many persons died with the words of Father McCarthy sounding like
music in their ears.

"I was with the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War," said Dr. H. L.
Montgomery as he worked over the dying. "I rescued 150 people during the
great Chicago fire. I have seen the wreckage of explosions. But I never
saw anything so grimly horrible as this."

"Will Davis is in the theater now and acting like crazy," interrupted the
voice of a boy. "Can't no one speak to him?"

And out dashed all the employes of the burning theater to find Mr. Davis
as he paced the destroyed gallery floor and looked at the ruin below and
at the dead as they were hauled out of the debris.

Little Ruth Thompson, the seven-year-old daughter of John R. Thompson, was
in the fire and almost to the front exit when the mob hurled her back. The
tiny child fought and was yet forced back. She climbed onto the stage,
burning as it was, and worked her way to the rear door and out into the
alley, then through into the scene of death and pain in her father's

"Papa, I got out. Where's grandpa?" she cried.

There was one old man, with white beard and hair, who wept over the body
of his aged wife. He was Patrick P. O'Donnell of the firm of O'Donnell &

Death, pain, tragedy - and at 7:30 o'clock the place was a restaurant


Left under the burning stage during the mad rush by the members of the
"Mr. Bluebeard" company at the Iroquois theater fire a four-year-old girl,
who appeared in the performance as one of the Japanese children, was
heroically rescued by Elois Lillian, one of the ballet girls, who was the
last to escape from the theater.

"I was the last to escape from under the stage," said Miss Lillian, "and
as I rushed headlong through the smoke I saw the little girl screaming
with fright and almost suffocated. The rest had escaped, leaving the child
behind. I took the little one under my arm in a death-like grip and
succeeded in getting into the aisle behind the boxes; and ran through the
smoking-room and out the front door. I don't know how I managed to hold on
to the struggling child, or how I came to get out the front way.

"I was dressed in tights, and as soon as I reached the street ran into
Thompson's, and there soon had her revived. The mother, frantic with
grief, came in, and when she saw her daughter and heard my story she fell
upon her knees, thanking me for saving her little girl's life."


When the Rev. F. O'Brien of the Holy Name Cathedral learned of the fire
and heard that so many were dying he rushed into the Northwestern Medical
University, into which many victims had been taken, to administer the last
sacraments to members of the Catholic Church. Finding he was unable to
attend the great number being brought in, he announced that he would give
a general absolution to all the Catholics among the victims.

The scene of that last absolution beggars description. During the brief
moment the priest, with uplifted hands, besought God to pardon all the
frailties of his dying servants, the poor, mangled men and women seemed to
realize that they were face to face with the inevitable. Though crazed
with pain, they ceased to moan, and fastened their fast-dimming eyes on
the priest.

When the absolution was given many of the victims, horribly burned, with
the flesh of their head and face blackened, and in most cases so burned as
to expose the bones, put out their hands imploringly toward the priest,
for one handclasp, one word of sympathy before they passed away.

Even the stalwart policemen were affected by the touching spectacle.
Another priest of the Holy Ghost order arrived shortly after, and both
clergymen administered absolution, remaining until the injured were
removed to various hospitals and the dead to the morgues.


Warren is the ten-year-old son of former Governor Joseph K. Toole of
Montana, prominent for years in national politics. In the last four months
the boy has been the victim of three accidents, each of which bore serious
consequences for the little fellow.

Thursday night, when he knelt down at his bedside in the Auditorium hotel
to say the evening prayer which his mother had taught him, he mumbled:

"I thank you, God, that you did not let me go to the theater Wednesday
afternoon. You see, if you had not delayed my mamma when she went down
town shopping that day, my little brother and I would have been in the
fire. I thank you, God, for changing my luck."

Warren's mamma and papa heard the prayer. Before he had reached the "Amen"
both had silently bowed their heads.

"Yes, Warren, your luck has changed," said the former Governor, as he bent
over his son to say "Good night."

Less than four months ago Warren was playing with a gun. The firearm
exploded and the boy was seriously injured. He had not fully recovered
when he fell from the top of a cart and broke his arm. Then, a few weeks
ago, a dog upon whom he lavished much of his youthful affection suddenly
sprang at him and bit him between the eyes. He was badly scarred, but his
parents were thankful that he did not lose his sight.

On Wednesday he importuned his nurse to take him to see "Mr. Bluebeard,
Jr." The nurse referred him to his father, and the latter told him that
he and his brother could go if his mother returned from her shopping trip
in time to take them. The holiday crowds detained Mrs. Toole until quite
late in the afternoon. Now little Warren is convinced that good fortune

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Online LibraryVariousChicago's Awful Theater Horror → online text (page 12 of 22)