Chicago's Awful Theater Horror online

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fire alarms, no telephones, no fire escapes - not a thing that would enable
the hundreds of children to save their lives in the event of a fire. And
these buildings are locked at 9 o'clock, with only one exit left open. Are
not the mayor, the aldermen, and the trustees directly responsible for
this state of things, and are they not the men who should be prosecuted
along with the proprietors of that theater?

"On November 2 last, the newspapers reported that a complaint had been
made before the city council that the theaters were violating the laws.
That report went to a subcommittee and has never been heard of since; and
a day or two later Mayor Harrison came out with a statement in which he
defied criticism and declared that there was no truth in the complaints.
The whole thing strikes me as a splendid lesson in civics - that we cannot
shirk our duty, even as high officials."

The following committee, the majority residents of Chicago, was named to
act, pending further action: J. L. McKenna, 758 South Kedzie avenue; Henry
M. Shabad, 4041 Indiana avenue; J. J. Reynolds, 421 East Forty-fifth
street; E. S. Frazier, Aurora, Ill.; Morris Schaffner, 578 East
Forty-fifth street.

All of these men lost members of their families in the fire, Mr. McKenna
losing his whole family.



More than a quarter of a century ago the prophecy was made by the _Chicago
Times_ that a terrible calamity was in store for the public on account of
the lax provision made for escape from burning theaters. The prophecy was
put forth in the guise of a pretended report of such a horror in the issue
of that publication for February 13, 1875, and was as follows:

"Scores of houses are saddened this beautiful winter morning by the fate
which overtook so many unsuspecting people in Chicago last night. The
hearts of thousands will be stirred to their depths with sympathy for the
unfortunates. It was a catastrophe awful in its results, yet grand in its
horror. Nothing has equaled it for years; it is to be hoped that its
counterpart will never be known.

"There are smoking ruins down in the heart of the city - ruins of one of
the finest theaters in Chicago, which fell a prey to the devouring element
last night. There are mourning households and rows of dead bodies at the
morgue. There will be anxious inquiries on the lips of many persons with
whom one will meet manifesting an eagerness to know whether friends were
swallowed up in the flames or made good their escape.

"While it cannot be said that the catastrophe was entirely unexpected, yet
it came so suddenly and so little had been done to obviate it, that its
results are fearful to contemplate. For months the frequenters of the
various places of amusement in Chicago had often questioned themselves
whether there would not come the day when in some of these buildings
grisly death would stalk forth, like a thief in the night, and lay his
cold hands upon the unsuspecting throng; at last the terrible moment and
the horrible reality dawned.

"With all her experience in conflagrations and attendant horrors, Chicago
has nothing to compare with this catastrophe. Even the fire of 1871, which
swept over a vast extent of country and reduced proud and formidable
looking buildings and scattered their strength to the winds, lacked the
comparative loss of life which this one disaster has entailed. Property
may be dissipated, but it can be recovered once more.

"Death robs us forever of our dear ones, and leaves a void which time can
never fully fill.


"As we tread today upon the very heels of this latest sad event and take a
comprehensive view of its details and results, no one, not even though he
have no personal interest in the loss entailed, can help joining in the
expression of mourning which will go up, and at the same time give vent to
the already too long-suppressed feelings of indignation, which have from
time to time arisen when thinking of the flimsy manner in which theaters
are built, their lack of protection against fire and the inadequate means
afforded inmates to escape therefrom in the event of an undue excitement
that should spread a panic, ere the breaking out of a fire.

"The sympathy for the dead will be equally balanced by vigorous
denunciation of the criminality of everybody who, in an official or
proprietary capacity, is interested therein.


"In the history of the country there are few events that can match this
one. The burning of the Richmond theater, the falling of the Pemberton
mill, the burning of the cotton mill at Fall River, the breaking loose of
the Haydenville mill pond, with now and then of late years the engulfing
of some steamer on inland lakes or the ocean, have for the time cast a
great pall of mourning over the land, but they only stand in the same
category with this last disaster, and can hardly rival it in swiftness of
culmination or suddenness of origin.

"For the time being this will furnish the chief topic for conversation,
and if the _Times_ mistakes not, it will as well arouse the public to a
complete realization of the unsafeness of theaters in general, and have
the beneficial effect even in its tragic nature of moving the people to
insist upon the adoption of a certain amount of safeguards against a like
event in the future. The time to move in this matter is at this critical
juncture, even while the charred remains of the


are lying stark upon their biers and friends are stabbed with the grief of
the untimely taking off of their friends.

"In the excitement of this hour it is no time to deal in sentimental
reflections. The scenes of the past night are too fresh to warrant lengthy
dwelling upon the morale of the occurrence. It is sufficient that it is
distinctly understood that the catastrophe was more the result of
insufficient means of egress from the theater than was the primary cause
of the development of the fire, although the latter, aided by the first
and helped on by the panic stricken people, who from the outset
appreciated the terrible position in which they were placed, augmented to
a large degree the number of deaths.

"Chicago theaters as a general thing are tinder boxes into which humanity
are packed by avaricious managers without any regard to their safety or
thought of the imminent risk which is nightly impending. Evidently their
only desire is to fill the house, gather in as much money as possible,
while they take no heed to the dangers which surround their patrons on
every hand.

"The lesson had to be taught some time, it was inevitable; it had to be
located at some one of the places of amusement, although all of them
were - and those remaining are still - liable to share the same fate at any
moment. If the experience of one should teach the others a little wisdom,
the existing evil may perhaps be remedied, although it shall have been at
the sacrifice of human life.


"The gallery was overflowing and the gate that opened to the stairway
which led to the floor below, as usual, was locked, so that those who
bought cheap tickets could not make their way to higher-priced sections on
the lower floor. In the uppermost gallery - where the 'gods' are supposed
to assemble, and from which comes much of the inspiration which upholds
the ambitious actor and transports the ranting comedian and raging
tragedian to the seventh heaven of bliss - in this gallery there was a
motley crowd.

"They were there in large numbers, because the play had something that
savored of blood; there was a broadsword combat and a murder scene. For
reasons the very antitheses of these were the people downstairs drawn
thither - there were love scenes and heart-burnings and statuesque posings,
and artistic excellencies of varied kinds. It was a play that touched the
feelings of humanity, the vulgar as well as the refined.


"The auditorium was ablaze with light, the audience were lit up with
gaiety. Handsome women, richly clad, ogled one another and cast
coquettish glances at dashing gentlemen. Fond mothers, chaperoning
blooming daughters, chatted pleasantly, while indulgent fathers, although
seeking relief from the cares of the day in the charming play, found
neighbors near at hand with whom to discuss sordid business or perplexing


"As has been stated, the house was filled with spectators. When the
premonition of the impending disaster had been given out, and after the
first great thrill of horror had, for the instant, frozen the blood of
every spectator and caused an involuntary check to every heart, there came
quickly the manifestation of a determination to 'do or die,' to escape
from the angry flames if possible. And with this determination came the
positive assurance of the growing calamity, through the person of one of
the actors, who but a short time previous had been playing the buffoon,
setting staid people agape with amusement and turning dull care into
festivity. Hastily drawing the foot of the curtain back from the
proscenium pillars, he thrust his blanched countenance into view and
screamed with terrified voice:

"'Hurry to the door for your lives; the stage is afire!'


"It hardly needed these words of warning to perfect the demoralization
which had seized upon the terrified crowd. The stampede had already
commenced; the work of death had been inaugurated.

"Those who escaped, and with whom the _Times_ reporter had the good
fortune to talk, on last evening, say that the detail of the horrors of
that scene would defy description. One or two of these informants were so
far down in the dress circle that they saw the whole of the catastrophe
and measured its horrible magnitude as best they could under the
excitement that prevailed. How they escaped is more than they could tell,
but they found themselves borne along, lifted and pushed forward till the
door was reached, and the outside and safety gained. They describe the
scene inside the theater as


"The affrighted audience, rising from their seats, began simultaneously to
attempt to reach the means of egress. Timid females raised their hands to
heaven, shrieked wild, despairing cries and fell to be trampled into
eternity by the heels of the wild rushing throng. Mothers pleaded
piteously in the tumult and the roar that their darling daughters might be
spared, while they themselves were resigned to the fate which was
inevitable. Stout men with muscles of iron and cheeks blanched with terror
clasped wives and sweethearts to their breasts and


and piteously prayed - the one that their progress was impeded, the other
to those who, like them, prayed for a safe deliverance, but who were
unable to afford the slightest assistance.

"Meanwhile the flames had eaten their way to the front, and with one fell
swoop licked up the combustible drop curtain, spread themselves across the
proscenium and were working up towards the ceiling. Reaching this point
the destroying element seemed to pause a moment as though pitying the
position of the puny individuals who were fleeing its approach, and then
remorselessly swept down in forked fury and pierced venom. The
terror-stricken crowd felt the hot breath of the monster and surged and
swayed and tried to escape its fury.


"The corpses recovered were, as has been before stated, taken to the
street, removed two blocks away from the scene of the disaster, and, for
the time being, laid out upon the pavement, awaiting the recognition of
friends. Fathers and mothers, who in the tumult of the stampede had become
separated from children; husbands who, despite their efforts, had felt
themselves torn away from wives; friends who had been


from friends; young men, who, while they had no friends to lose in the
building, yet felt themselves bereft by reason of the common sympathy of
the human heart; all these had, during the time preceding the recovery of
the bodies, filled the streets and poured out their inconsolable grief in
loudest tones. The _Times_ reporter to whose lot fell the recording of the
scenes depicted under this head hopes that it may never again be his to
witness a repetition of the scene. The anguish, the frenzy, the loud
wailings, the heart-broken demonstrations were, indeed, overpowering and
calculated to make an impression upon even the most stony heart that will
last as long as reason holds its sway.


"The silent bearers of these bodies, as they came and went, could not but
be moved to tears at the reception which their burdens met. Here a
charming girl, cut off in the flower of her youth and at the height of her
pleasure; there a promising lad, full of hope but an hour before. Again,
the silvered head of a loved mother, and soon the sturdy frame of one who
had passed the heydey of youth and was beginning to enjoy the fruits of
his youthful labors. There were people well known, whose sudden taking
away will shock many a friend this morning; and there were others, too,
male and female, who, lacking friends in life, found no mourners save the
full heart of a sympathetic public to regret their departure.


"But these scenes are too painful to be dwelt upon. One by one the dead
were removed, some to near hotels, to await the coming dawn, when they
might be taken to their late homes, and others being sent to the morgue by
the police. At 2 o'clock officers were still searching, and the populace
who had been drawn together by the awful catastrophe had dispersed in the
main, although a few still lingered about the ruins, anxious to offer
assistance where it might most be needed, while two streams of water
continued to be poured into the building that every spark might be


"Granting that the conflagration detailed never happened, it is something
liable to occur at any time in this city. Newspaper accounts more
sensational in headlines and more shocking in narrative are to be expected
almost any morning. The above is but a suggestion of what may at any time
become a reality. Theaters are so built and so crammed with inflammable
materials that a fire once started in them would in an incredibly short
period gain such headway that nothing under heaven could check its mad and
devouring career. Furthermore, the means of exit and all other avenues of
escape are so limited that a panic once inaugurated in a crowded house
would bring destruction upon the heads of a large proportion of the
audience. Have theater-goers in Chicago ever thought of this, as, crowded
into a seat, with means of hasty exit cut off, they have sat and looked
around them upon the hundreds of others similarly situated?




ADAMEK, JOHN, MRS., 40 years old, Bartlett, Ill.

ALEXANDER, LULU B., 36 years old, 3473 Washington boulevard; identified by
husband, W. G. Alexander.

ALLEN, MRS. MARY S., 27 years old, 5546 Drexel boulevard.

ANDERSON, RAGNE, 39 years old, scrubwoman, Iroquois; 229 Grand avenue.

ANDREWS, HARRIET, 20 years old, West Superior, Wis.

ALEXANDER, BOYER, 8 years old, 475 Washington boulevard; body identified
by his father, Dr. W. A. Alexander.

ADAMS, MRS. JOHN, Iola, Ill., identified by R. H. Ostrander.

ALDRIDGE, LUELLA M'DONALD, 792 West Monroe street.

ALFSON, ALFRED, 24 Keith street; identified by father.

ANDERSON, ANNIE, 29 years old, 2141 Jackson boulevard.

ANNEN, MARGARET, 299 Webster avenue; identified by Charles Annen.


BARRY, WILMA, 17 years old, 4330 Greenwood avenue, stepdaughter of E. P.
Berry, the insurance man, was with Mrs. Barry, who escaped.

BARRY, MISS MAGGIE, 26 years old, 236 Lincoln avenue.

BARNHEISEL, CHARLES H., 3622 Michigan avenue; unknown to family that he
had attended theater, and published list of dead containing name conveyed
the first information to family; body identified by relatives.

BISSINGER, WALTER, 15 years old, 4934 Forrestville avenue, son of Benjamin
Bissinger, real estate man; attended Howe Military academy at Lima, Ind.;
was with sister, Tessie, 20 years, and cousin, Jack Pottlitzer, of
Lafayette, Ind., who was killed; the sister escaped.

BURNSIDE, MRS. ESTHER, 437 West Sixty-fourth street; body identified by
her son, C. W. Burnside, and the family physician, Dr. Schultz.

BYRNE, CONSILA, 16 years old, 616 West Fifteenth street; Identified by

BICKFORD, GLENN, 16 years old, son of C. M. Bickford, 947 Farwell avenue,
Rogers Park.

BICKFORD, HELEN, 14 years old, daughter of C. M. Bickford.

BREWSTER, MARY JULIA, 116 Thirty-first street, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. L.
H. Brewster.

BRENNAN, PAUL, 608 West Fulton street; identified at Rolston's.

BAGLEY, MISS HELEN DEWEY, 18 years, 24 Madison Park; identified by J. J.

BARKER, ETHEL M., 27 years old, 1925 Washington boulevard; identified by

BATTENFIELD, MRS. D. W., 43 years old; Delaware, O.

BATTENFIELD, JOHN, 23 years old; Delaware, O.

BATTENFIELD, ROBERT, 15 years old; Delaware, O.

BATTENFIELD, RUTH, 21 years old; Delaware, O.

BESMICK, JOSEPH, West Superior, Wis.

BEYER, infant.

BIRD, MISS MARION, Iola, Ill.; identified by cousin.

BLOOM, MRS. ROSE, 3760 Indiana avenue, 30 years old.

BOEAM, PAUL, 608 West Fulton street.

BOETCHER, MRS. CHARLES, 4140 Indiana avenue.

BOICE, W. H., 5721 Rosalie court.

BOICE, Mrs. W. H., 5721 Rosalie court.

BOICE, MISS BESSIE, 15 years old, 5721 Rosalie court.

BOLTIE, HELEN, Winnetka, aged 14.

BOND, LUCILE, Hart, Mich.; identified by an aunt.

BOWMAN, MRS. JOSEPHINE, 20 Chalmers place; identified by B. F. Jenkins, a

BOWMAN, BEATRICE M., 33 years old, 20 Chalmers place, daughter of Mrs.
Josephine Bowman.

BOWMAN, LUCIEN, 14 years old, 20 Chalmers place.

BRADWELL, MISS MYRA, Windsor hotel.

BRADY, LEON, 4356 Forrestville avenue.

BROWN, HAROLD, 16 years old, 94 Thirty-first street, identified by Ella

BUEHRMANN, MARGARET, 13 years, 46 East Fifty-third street.

BUTLER, MRS. F. S., 649 Michigan street, Evanston; suffocated by smoke in
first balcony; body identified by sister.

BOTSFORD, MABEL A., 21 years old, Racine, Wis.


BERGH ARTHUR, 4926 Champlain avenue.

BOGGS, MRS. M., 6933 Princeton avenue.

BRENNAN, MARGARET, 40 years, 608 West Fulton street.

BAKER, MISS ADELAIDE, 17 years old, 4410 Ellis avenue.

BANSHEP, GEORGE, 28 years old, engineer, 4847 Forrestville avenue.

BARTESCH, WILLIAM C., 24 years old, 464 Racine avenue.

BARTLETT, ARTHUR, 6 years old, West Grossdale, Ill.

BECKER, MASON A., 3237 Groveland avenue.

BELL, MISS PET, 60 years old, 3000 Michigan avenue.

BERG, OLGA, 11 years old, 408 West One Hundred and Eleventh street;
identified by father.


BERG, MRS. HELEN, 408 West One Hundred and Eleventh street.

BERG, VICTOR, 11 years old, 408 West One Hundred and Eleventh street;
identified by Frank Berg, father.

BERGCH, Mrs. Annie, 30 years old, 4926 Champlain avenue.

BERRY, MISS EMMA, 19 years old, 236 Lincoln avenue.

BERRY, MRS. C. C., 56 years old, 236 Racine avenue.

BERRY, OTTO, Battle Creek, Mich., visiting at 236 Lincoln avenue.

BEUTEL, WILLIAM, 33 years old, Englewood avenue, near Halsted street.

BEYER, OTTO, 38 years old, Diversey boulevard.

BEZENACK, MRS. NELLIE, 40 years old.

BIEGLER, MISS SUSAN MARSHALL, 27 years old, 6518 Minerva avenue.

BLISS, HAROLD F., 23 years old, Racine, Wis.

BLUM, MRS. ROSE, 30 years old, 5248 Prairie avenue.

BOLTE, LINDA W., 14 years old, Lakeside, Ill.; identified by uncle, John
H. Willard, 2942 Indiana avenue.

BRINSLEY, EMMA L., 29 years old, 909 Jackson boulevard.

BROWNE, HAZEL GRACE, 14 years old, South Bend, Ind.

BURKE, BERTHA, 41 years old, 511 West Monroe street; taken to Reedsville,

BUSCHWAH, LOUISE ALICE, 12 years old, 1810 Wellington avenue.

BUTLER, BENNETT, 13 years old, 649 Michigan street, Evanston.


CALDWELL, ROBERT PORTER, 15 years old, St. Louis grain dealer.


CAVILLE, ARTHUR, 24 years old, 54 Twenty-sixth street.

CHAPMAN, MISS NINA, 23 years old, Cedar Rapids, Ia.

CHRISTOPHERSON, MRS. MINNIE, 35 years old, 231 N. Harvey avenue.

CLAY, MISS SUSIE, 36 years old, 6409 Monroe avenue.

CLAYTON, JOHN V., 13 years old, 534 Morse avenue.

COGANS, MRS. MARGARETHA, 26 years old, 5904 Normal avenue.

CUMINGS, IRENE, 18 years, 5135 Madison avenue. Was with Miss Baker, 4410
Ellis avenue, who was injured. They were in the third row of the balcony.

CROCKER, MRS. LILLIE J., 3730 Lake avenue, teacher at Oakland school. She
went to the theater with Mrs. Pierce and daughter, of Plainville, Mich.

CANTWELL, MRS. THOMAS, 733 West Adams street, mother of Attorney Robert E.
Cantwell; identified by James Roche, a cousin.

COHN, MRS. JACOB, 222 Ogden avenue.

COPLER, LOLA, 18 years old, address not known.

CHAPMAN, BESSIE, 19 years old, Cedar Rapids, Ia., 211 Lincoln avenue;
identified by her uncle, C. W. Pierson, with whom she was visiting. Was at
theater with her sister Nina.

CHAPMAN, NINA, 23 years old, 211 Lincoln avenue; identified by her uncle,
C. W. Pierson, Cedar Rapids, Ia.

COULTTS, R. H., 1616 Wabash avenue. Body identified by granddaughter.

CASPER, CHARLES E., Kenosha, Wis.; body identified by G. H. Curtis of

CURBIN, VERNON W., 10 years, 6938 Wentworth avenue. Identified by uncle,
Carlos B. Hinckley.

CALDWELL, ROY A. G., supposed; identified by cards in clothing.

CLARK, E. D., 30 years old, 5432 Lexington avenue.

CHRISTIANSON, HENRIETTA, 18 years old, 445 West Sixty-fifth street;
identified by W. A. Douglas.


COOPER, MRS. HELEN S., 27 years old, Lena, Ill.

COOPER, WILLIS W., Kenosha, Wis., son of Charles F. Cooper, Kenosha.

COOPER, CHARLES F., Kenosha, Wis.

CORBIN, LOUISA, 37 years old, 6938 Wentworth avenue.

CORCORAN, MISS FLORENCE, 218 Dearborn avenue; identified by brother.

CHAPIN, AGNES, 4458 Berkeley avenue.

CORBIN, NORMAN, 9 years, Peoria, Ill.; identified by Victor B. Corbin.


DEVINE, CLARA, 29 years, 259 La Salle avenue; identified by M. Reece.

DYRENFORTH, HELEN, 8 years old, daughter of Harold Dyrenforth, 832 Judson
avenue, Evanston; body identified by father.

DYRENFORTH, RUTH, daughter of Harold Dyrenforth, Evanston; body identified
and taken away by relatives.

DRYDEN, TAYLOR, 12 years old, 5803 Washington avenue; body identified by

DRYDEN, MRS. JOHN, 5803 Washington avenue, mother of Taylor; body
identified by husband.

DAWSON, MRS. WILLIAM, Barrington, Ill.

DECKER, MYRON, 3237 Groveland avenue.

DELEE, VIOLA, 22 years old, daughter of the late Lieut. W. J. Delee, of
Central police detail, 7822 Union avenue; body identified by M. J. Delee,
her uncle.

DIFFENDORF, MRS., 45 years old, Lincoln, Ill.

DIXON, LEAH, 100 Flournoy street.

DUNLAVEY, J., 6050 Wabash avenue.

DIXON, EDNA, 9 years old, 100 Flournoy street.

DODD, MRS. J. F., 45 years old, Delaware, O.

DODD, MISS RUTH, 12 years old, Delaware, O.; identified by Dr. E. S. Coe.



DORR, LILLIAN, 16 years old, 4924 Champlain avenue.

DOWST, MRS. CHARLES, 927 Hinman avenue, Evanston; body identified by

DRYCHAU, MRS. JOHN, of St. Louis.

DU VALL, MRS. ELIZABETH, 498 Fullerton avenue, 40 years old.

DU VALL, SARAH, 10 years old. South Zanesville, O.; identified by aunt.

DECKHUT, MAE, Quincy, Ill.; body identified.

DAWSON, GRACE, 5 years old, 334 Harding street; identified by her father.

DANNER, J. M., 55 years old, Burlington, Ia.; identified by his
son-in-law, Harry Wunderlich, Wilson avenue and Clark street.

DAVY, MRS. ELIZABETH, 53 years old, 34 Roslyn place.

DAVY, MISS HELEN, 15 years old, 35 Roslyn place.

DAWSON, THERESA, 25 years, 10 Market avenue, Pullman; identified by

DAY, MRS. SARAH, 50 years old, colored.

DECKER, KATE K., 58 years old, 3228 Groveland avenue.

DECKER, MAMIE, 33 years old, 3237 Groveland avenue.

DEE, EDDIE, 7 years old, 3133 Wabash avenue.

DEE, LOUISE, 2 years, 3133 Wabash avenue.

DEVINE, MARGARET, 22 years old, 95 Kendall street.

DICKIE, EDITH, 25 years old, school teacher, 619 Sixty-fifth place.

DIFFENDORFER, LEANDER, 16 years old, Lincoln, Ill.

DINGFELDER, WINIFRED E., 18 years old, Jonesville, Mich.

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