Chicago's Awful Theater Horror online

. (page 13 of 22)
Online LibraryVariousChicago's Awful Theater Horror → online text (page 13 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

has at last deigned to smile upon him.


Methods of the California placer miner were used by the Chicago police in
recovering the valuables lost in the mad rush for safety by the Iroquois
theater fire victims. Big wagon loads of dirt and ashes taken from the
theater floor were taken down under police guard to a basement at Lake
street and Fifth avenue. There a placer mining outfit, including sieves
and gold pans, had been erected and City Custodian Dewitt C. Cregier thus
searched for valuables in the rubbish.


Margaret Revell, daughter of Alexander H. Revell, with her friend,
Elizabeth Harris, accompanied by a maidservant, sat in the parquet of the
theater, fortunately next to the aisle. At the first alarm they were swept
to the door by the crowd, and were among those who got out early, escaping
with only minor bruises. Mr. Revell was among the early searchers on the
scene, and remained giving assistance after learning of the safety of his


The news of the terrible Chicago calamity was a severe blow to S. A. Nixon
of Philadelphia, part owner of the Iroquois theater. When the news was
confirmed he broke down and wept bitterly.

Fred G. Nixon, son of Mr. Nixon, said: "We were at the dinner table
Wednesday evening when the telephone bell rang and I answered. A newspaper
man told me that the Iroquois theater in Chicago had been destroyed and
many persons killed. I could not believe it and I asked: 'Are you sure it
was the Iroquois?' 'Positive,' came the answer. My father had paid no
attention to what I said, but the word 'Iroquois' attracted him, and as I
returned to my seat he asked: 'What was that you said about the Iroquois?'
'Oh, nothing,' I replied, trying to be calm.

"But my face betrayed me. The news had paled me, and my father, suspecting
something was wrong, insisted, and I told him. He refused to believe it
and went to the telephone to satisfy himself. In five minutes he heard the
worst. Then he collapsed and sobbed like a child. For eight hours we sat
up waiting for full particulars, and at 3 o'clock Thursday morning, when
father went to bed, he was almost a nervous wreck."


Next to Chicago the blow of death at the Iroquois fell heavier on Kenosha,
Wis., than any of the other cities whose residents perished in the
disaster. Two of the leading manufacturers of the city, Willis W. Cooper
and Charles H. Cooper, and the children of Mr. and Mrs. S. H. Van Ingen
were among the dead.

Kenosha was in deep mourning. Trade was practically suspended and the
people gathered on the streets in little groups discussing the one topic.
Four bodies were brought to the city on the evening train, and a crowd of
over a thousand people gathered at the railway station, and walked in
silence through the streets behind the hearses. All the bodies were taken
to the morgue, from which place they will be removed to the stricken


The story of the wiping out of the children of H. S. Van Ingen, the former
manager of the Pennsylvania Coal Company in Chicago, and a resident of
Kenosha, is one of the saddest stories of the tragedy. Following the
custom established years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Van Ingen and their five
children, Grace, twenty-three years old; Jack, twenty; Edward L.,
nineteen; Margaret, fourteen; and Elizabeth, nine, had all come to Chicago
for a matinee party. Schuyler, another son, the sole survivor of the
children, was to join the family for a dinner and family reunion at the
Wellington hotel after the matinee. The seven persons were seated in the
front row of the balcony when the panic ensued, and Mr. Van Ingen,
marshaling his little force, started for the exit at the aisle, but the
mighty crush of people separated the parents from the children, and Mr.
Van Ingen, putting his arm around Mrs. Van Ingen, carried her one way,
while the children were swept the other.

The last Mr. Van Ingen saw of the children was when Jack, the oldest boy,
took his little sister, Elizabeth, in his arms and shouted to his father:
"You save mother and I'll look after the rest." In another moment the
party, including the children, was trampled down.

Mr. and Mrs. Van Ingen started to return to the theater for the children
and both of them were fearfully burned in the attempt. The bodies of the
two boys were located in the evening. Margaret and Elizabeth were found
the next day. Grace, the oldest daughter, and one of the best known young
women of Kenosha, was identified still later. Mr. and Mrs. Van Ingen, both
terribly burned, were taken to the Illinois Hospital.


Willis Cooper was one of the best known men in Kenosha. He was the
secretary of the great Twentieth Century movement in the Methodist
Episcopal Church which resulted in $20,000,000 being raised for missions.
He was last year the prohibition candidate for governor of Wisconsin, and
was recently elected head of the lay delegation of the Wisconsin churches
at the general conference of the Methodist Church. Mr. Cooper was a
millionaire, and his gifts to church charities often exceeded $10,000 a
year. In Kenosha he was the general manager of the Chicago Kenosha Hosiery
Works, the largest stocking making plant in the world.

Charles F. Cooper, his brother, was the factory manager and general
salesman of the company. He was the president of the Kenosha
Manufacturers' Association, of the Kenosha Hospital Association, and the
Masonic Temple Association. He was the founder of profit-sharing in the
Kenosha plant, and under his direction it became known as the plant "where
the life of the worker is flooded with sunshine." He was most popular with
the working classes in Kenosha, and when his body was taken to the morgue
hundreds of men and women stood with uncovered heads while it passed.

There occurred between the acts at the Century theater, St. Louis, on New
Year's night, an unusual incident, when C. H. Congdon, of Chicago, arose
from his seat and related incidents of the Iroquois theater tragedy.

He had proceeded only for a few minutes when some one in the audience
began singing "Nearer, My God, to Thee," which was immediately taken up by
the whole audience, the orchestra joining in with the accompaniment.



Miss Charlotte Plamondon, daughter of the vice-president of the Chicago
board of education, who waited until the fire had caught in the curtains
over the front box, in which she sat, before attempting to get out,
related her experience at the Chicago Beach Hotel:

"I can't tell you how I escaped the awful fate of others," she said. "I
only know that when the flames began to crackle over my head and dart down
from the curtains of our box I leaped over the railing of the box and fell
in the arms of some man. I think he was connected with the theater, for he
immediately set me down in a seat and told me to be quiet for a moment.


"Then I think I lost all reason. I have a vague recollection of having
been pushed up along the side aisle that runs by the boxes. It was as
quiet as death for a moment. The great audience rose like a single person,
but no sound escaped it until those in front were wedged in the doorway.
Then a scream of terror went up that I shall never forget. It rings in my
ears now. Women screamed and children cried. Men were shouting and rushing
for the entrance, leaping over the prostrate forms of children and women
and carrying others down with them.

"Back of me, I remember, there was a sheet of flame that seemed to be
gathering volume and reaching out for us. Then I forgot again, and not
until the crowd surged toward the wall and caught me between it and the
marble pillar did I realize what the danger was. The pain revived me. I
know I was almost crushed to death, but it didn't hurt. Nothing could
hurt, with the screaming, the agonizing cries of the women and children
ringing in your ears.


"And then, somehow, I found myself out on the street and the dead and
dying were around me. When I realized that I was out of the place and safe
from the fire and crush, all my strength seemed to leave me. But the cold
air braced me after a moment and I went around to the drug store, where
the dead were being brought in and the poor actresses and chorus girls
were coming in with scarcely anything on them.

"I never felt as I did when it dawned upon us that the theater was on
fire. It seemed like a dream at first. The border curtain right near our
box blew back, and I think it hit a light or something, for when it fell
back into place I saw it was on fire.

"The chorus girls kept right on singing for a couple of minutes, it
seemed. Then one of the stage men rushed out and shouted: 'Keep your

"Oh, the stage men behaved like heroes! As I think of it now, they
conducted themselves with rare courage. I saw a couple of the girls fall
down, and I knew that they were overcome."


"Just then Eddie Foy ran out on the stage, partly made up, and cried:

"'My God, people, keep your seats!'

"When Foy said this I regained my senses, and when the asbestos curtain
did not come down I felt that the situation was critical. The flames had
taken hold of the front row of seats behind the orchestra and were
creeping up the curtains over our box, when I jumped to my feet and leaped
over the railing.

"I saw the children lying in heaps under our feet. Their little lives were
ended, and rough feet were bruising their flesh; and such innocent
children! Men leaped over the rows of prostrate forms and fought like they
were mad, trying to get out of the entrance."


Mrs. A. Sorge, Jr., whose husband is a consulting engineer, with offices
in the Monadnock Building, and who lives at the Chicago Beach Hotel,
attended the theater in company with Dr. Jager, who is a guest of Mr. and
Mrs. Sorge. They occupied a seat well down in the parquet.

"When the fire started," said Mrs. Sorge, "persons on the stage told us to
keep our seats. Dr. Jager also told me to sit still, and we did until the
flames began to come near us. Then we clasped hands and started for the

"I was not half so much afraid of the fire as I was of being crushed to
death, and I tried in every way to keep out of the crush. Dr. Jager got
separated from me by catching his foot in an upturned chair, but he soon
found me. We later managed to get out on the street without suffering any
injuries of a serious nature.

"The saddest thing I saw inside the burning building was a little girl
looking for her baby sister. The two had got separated in the rush for the
entrance, and it is quite likely that both were killed in that crush, for
it was something awful."


Mrs. Baldwin, wife of Dr. F. R. Baldwin of Minneapolis, immediately after
her return from the scene of the awful Chicago catastrophe, through which
she had passed, overwhelmed with the horror of the sights and sounds she
had seen and heard, gave the following account:

"It was too unutterably shocking for one to realize at the time. The
horror of the thing has grown upon me ever since. It fills my mind and
imagination, so I can hardly think of anything else. I cannot help feeling
almost ashamed to be here, safe and unharmed, while whole families were
burned and crushed to death in that awful place. I cannot say how glad I
am to be home and see my babies safe, when so many mothers are crying
aloud in Chicago for their children to come back to them.

"At first nobody seemed to realize the awful danger. No water was used to
put out the flames on the stage. It was only flimsy, gauzy scenery at
first that was burning, and the people on the stage tried to tear it down
and stamp it out as it fell. I heard no screams, and the people for many
moments kept their seats. I did not hear the cry of 'fire.'

"But all at once a great ball of fire or sheet of flame - I don't know how
to express it - shot out and the whole theater above us seemed to be full
of fire. Then there was a smothered sound as of a sighing by all in the

"By that time I began to realize that it was time to see what could be
done about getting out. It so happened that I could not have chosen a
better place from which to get out of the building. We were on the alley
side, opposite the Randolph street side of the building, and only two
seats from the wall.

"I did not know that there was an entrance here, but all at once the doors
seemed to be opened close to us. We had but to take two or three steps and
then were thrown forward out of the doors by the crowd behind us. My
mother, who was with me, was unhurt, and I had but a few bruises.

"One of the first things I saw as I got up was a girl lying on one of the
fire escape platforms with the flames shooting over her through the
window. One man, who jumped from the platform, had not taken two steps
before a woman who jumped a moment later from a height of about forty feet
came right down upon him, killing him upon the spot.

"The sights all about the city have been many times described, but nothing
can picture those terrible scenes. In a flat just below my mother's five
out of a family of six perished, leaving but one demented girl.

"Of another family living near us, only the husband and father was left,
his wife and four boys and his mother all having been killed in the fire.
As I passed near the theater the next day I saw a man walking up and down
in front of the building muttering to himself, and every now and then he
would sit upon the curb and look up at the building, breaking out into
peals of laughter. He had been through the fire."


Mrs. Walter Raymer, wife of the alderman, attended the Iroquois in charge
of the "F. P. C.," a club of young girls, of which her daughter was
treasurer. Of the eight members only two escaped uninjured. Miss Mabel
Hunter, the president, was killed; Miss Edna Hunter was taken to her
residence, 85 Humboldt boulevard, severely injured; Miss Lillian Ackerman
was borne to the Samaritan Hospital, burned about the head and body.

Edna Hoveland was badly injured, and her little sister, who accompanied
her, was burned to death. May Marks is dead. Viva Jackson, missing all
Wednesday night, was found in the morning at an undertaker's rooms. The
two who escaped injury were Miss Abigail Raymer, daughter of the alderman,
and Miss Florence Nicholson.

The eight girls, all between sixteen and eighteen years old, had organized
their little club a few weeks ago for the purpose of literary study and
recreation, and the theater party was arranged by Mrs. Raymer as a
surprise for the members.

The Theta Pi Zeta club of the junior class of the Englewood High School,
with the exception of two members, was wiped out of existence. The club
was composed of eight young women living in Englewood and Normal Park.
Seven had purchased seats in the sixth row of the dress circle. What they
encountered after the panic started no one knows, for of the seven only
one, Miss Josephine Spencer, 7110 Princeton avenue, was saved and she was
taken to the West Side Hospital terribly burned. The only member who
entirely escaped was Miss Edith Mizen of 6917 Eggleston avenue, daughter
of Mr. and Mrs. George K. Mizen. Her parents objected to her attending a
theatrical performance.

Those who perished are Helen Howard, 6565 Yale avenue; Helen McCaughan,
6565 Yale avenue; Elvira Olson, 7010 Stewart avenue; Florence Oxnam, 435
Englewood avenue; Lillie Power, 442 West Seventieth street; and Rosamond
Schmidt, 335 West Sixty-first street.



Eddie Foy, whose real name is Edwin Fitzgerald, has faced many audiences
under all conditions and circumstances during his stage career of a
quarter of a century, during which he rose from a street urchin to the
distinction of one of America's most entertaining and unctuous comedians.
Never before had such interest centered in his appearance as when on
Thursday afternoon, January 7, 1904, he took the witness stand to relate
under oath what he knew concerning the calamity of the preceding week.

The actor's face was a study. His deep-lined countenance, ordinarily
irresistibly funny without effort on his part, took on a truly tragic
aspect as he entered upon his story. His indescribable, husky voice that
has made hundreds of thousands laugh with merriment, was broken; there was
no suggestion of humor in it. Instead it was a wail from the tomb, the
utterance of a man broken with the weight of the woe he had beheld in a
few brief, fleeting moments.

The questions were propounded by Coroner Traeger and Major Lawrence
Buckley, his chief deputy, and were promptly and fully answered by the

The full text, as secured through a stenographic report, follows:

Q. Will you kindly tell us, Mr. Foy, or Fitzgerald, in your own way, what

A. Well, I went to the matinee with my little boy, six years old, and I
wanted to put him in the front of the theater to see the show. I sent him
out before the first act by the stage manager, and he took him out and
brought him back and said there were no seats. I sent him downstairs and
put him in a little alcove that is next to the switchboard, underneath
where they claim the fire started, and where I saw the fire first.

Q. That is on what side of the stage?

A. On my right facing the audience. On the south side of the stage. The
second act was on. I was in my dressing-room tying my shoes, and I heard a
noise, and I didn't pay much attention to it at first. I says to myself,
"Are they fighting again down there" - there was a fight there about a week
or two ago; and I says, "They are fighting again." I looked out of the
door and heard the buzz getting stronger and stronger, with this
excitement, and I thought of my boy and I ran down the steps. I was in the
middle dressing-room on the side, and I ran down screaming "Bryan." I got
him at the first entrance right in front of the switchboard, and looked up
and saw a fireman there. I don't know what he was doing; he was trying to
put the fire out. Then the two lower borders running up the side of this
canvas were burning. I grabbed my boy and rushed to the back door, and
there was a lot of people trying to get out.


Q. What door?

A. The little stage door on Dearborn street.

Q. How did you find that door - was it open?

A. No. I knew where the door was.

Q. Was the door open when you got there?

A. Yes; they were breaking through it.

Q. Who?

A. All of our people.

Q. Employees on the stage?

A. Not many of them. It was crowded there, and I threw my boy to a man. I
says: "Take this boy out," and ran out on the footlights to the audience.
When I did they were in a sort of panic, as I thought, and what I said
exactly I don't remember, but this was the substance - my idea was to get
the curtain down and quietly stop the stampede. I yelled, "Drop the
curtain and keep up your music." I didn't want a stampede, because it was
the biggest audience I ever played to of women and children. I told them
to be quiet and take it easy "Don't get excited" - and they started up on
this second balcony on my left to run, and I says, "Sit down; it is all
right; don't get excited." And they were going that way, and I said to the
policeman, "Let them out quietly," and they moved then, and I says, "Let
down the curtain," and I looked up and this curtain was burning - the
fringe on the edge of it.


Q. It was caught, was it?

A. It did not come down.

Q. How near to the bottom of the stage was it?

A. Three feet above my head. I would have been outside if the curtain had
come down.

Q. It was lowered down after you hallooed?

A. I hallooed for it to come down.

Q. And it came down that far and then caught?

A. I did not see it come down, but it was there when I looked up.

Q. When you looked up it was caught, was it?

A. Yes, sir, it must have been caught - it didn't come down. Then when I
was hallooing, I kept hallooing for the curtain to come down - how many
times I don't know - and talked to this man to let them out quietly, there
was a sort of a cyclone; the thing was flying behind me; I felt it coming.

Q. What do you mean by a cyclone - cyclone of what?

A. It was a whirl of smoke when I looked around - the scenery had broken
the slats it was nailed to; it came down behind me, and I didn't know
whether to go in front or behind. The stage was covered with smoke, and it
was a cold draft, and there was an explosion of some kind like you light a
match and the box goes off. I didn't know whether to go front or not, so I
thought of my boy - maybe the man did not take him out - so I rushed out the
first thing and went back of the stage.

Q. You went out yourself, then?

A. Yes, sir, and I was looking for my boy all the way in. I wasn't sure he
was out. I found him in the street.

Q. Do you know what started the fire, Mr. Fitzgerald?

A. No, sir.


Q. Was there any light of any kind near where you first saw the fire?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. What kind of a light?

A. A lens light - one that you throw spot light on people with.

Q. How close was that to the drop that was on fire?

A. That I could not tell - there were three or four drops on fire when I
got there for the boy.

Q. They were all close together?

A. Yes.

Q. Too high up for anybody to reach?

A. Impossible.

Q. Were there any other fires of any kind, fires or lights, near those
drops or the fire, besides this drop light?

A. That was the only one I saw.

Q. Then there would not be anything else able to ignite those drops, only
this light?

A. I should think so, yes.

Q. You are satisfied in your own mind that it was caused from that light.

A. That it was caused from that light.

Q. You have been playing there in the theater since "Mr. Bluebeard, Jr.,"
started, or since the theater opened, haven't you?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. Do you know of any drill or any precautions that were taken by the
management or parties in charge of the theater in emergency cases in the
case of fire - that is, drilling or handling the employees as to what they
should do in case of fire?

A. No. I know I couldn't smoke in the theater; the policeman was around
there all the time in the dressing-rooms.


Q. Did you notice any fire extinguishers of any kind on the stage?

A. No, sir, I did not.

Q. Any appliances of any kind to be used in case of fire?

A. No. I don't think I did; there might have been.

Q. Did you notice any fire extinguishers in your dressing-room?

A. No, sir.

Q. Did you ever notice while in the theater whether there was any
policeman or fireman stationed on the stage or around the stage?

A. Yes, sir, there was a fireman there always on the stage.

Q. Did you ever hear while in the theater of an asbestos curtain there?

A. I cannot say that I did.

Q. Did you ever hear of a fireproof curtain there?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. Did it take long for this curtain that you say was down and stuck to

A. I couldn't stay there long enough to see if it was burning - it was on

Q. You have had a good deal of experience in theaters?

A. Thirty-five years.

Q. Would you consider that there was as good a protection taken at the
Iroquois theater as there was in the average theater throughout the
country in cases of fire?

A. You mean in the construction of the theater?

Q. Not the construction, but I would say in the management, and in the
furnishing of fire extinguishers and appliances to extinguish fires.

A. Well, I never took notice of the fire extinguisher. If a man would look
at that stage he would naturally think they couldn't possibly have a fire
without everybody getting out in front of the theater.

Q. I didn't ask you that. My question was, in your experience in traveling
through the theaters in different cities, would you consider there was as
good protection taken on the Iroquois stage to extinguish fire, as there
was in the average theater throughout the country?

A. Well, I couldn't say; I never took notice of what was on the stage to
extinguish fires.

Q. Did you at any other theater?

A. Well, I have seen fire extinguishers around at times.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryVariousChicago's Awful Theater Horror → online text (page 13 of 22)