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13 years old; and Edward, 20 years old.

In the undertaking rooms of J. C. Gavin, 226 North Clark street, and
Carroll Bros., 203 Wells street, forty-five bodies swathed in blankets
were awaiting identification at midnight. Of the fifty-four brought to
these places only nine had been identified by the hundreds of relatives
and friends who filed through the rooms, and in several cases the
recognition was doubtful.

An atmosphere of awe appeared to pervade the places, and no hysterical
scenes followed the pointing out of the bodies. The morbid crowds usually
attendant on a smaller calamity were absent, and few except those seeking
missing relatives sought admission. Only one of the men, James D. Maloney,
wept as he stood over the body of his dead wife.

"I can't go any further," he said. "Her sister, Tennie Peterson, who lived
in Fargo, N. D., was with her, and her body probably is there," motioning
to the row of blanket-covered forms, "but I can't look. I must go back to
the little ones at home, now motherless."

In Inspector Campbell's office at the Chicago avenue station Sergeant Finn
monotonously repeated the descriptions, as the scores of frantic seekers
filled and refilled the little office. Several times he was interrupted by
hysterical shrieks of women or the broken voices of men.

"Read it again, please," would be the call, and, as the description again
was read off, the number of the body was taken and the relatives hurried
to the undertaking rooms. The bodies of Walter B. Zeisler, 12 years old,
Lee Haviland and Walter A. Austrian were partly identified from the police

The list of hospital patients also was posted in the station and aided
friends in the search for injured.

Sheldon's undertaking rooms at 230 West Madison street were the scene of
pathetic incidents. Forty-seven bodies, some of them with the clothing
entirely burned away, and with few exceptions with features charred beyond
recognition, had been taken there. Late in the night only four had been
identified. The first body recognized was that of Mrs. Brindsley, of 909
Jackson boulevard, who had attended the matinee with Miss Edna Torney,
daughter of Mr. and Mrs. P. Torney, 1292 Adams street. Mr. Torney could
find no trace of the young woman.

Of the forty-seven bodies thirty-six were of matured women and five of
men. There were bodies of six children, three boys and three girls.

Dr. J. H. Bates, of 3256 South Park avenue, was searching for the bodies
of Myrtle Shabad and Ruth Elken, numbered among the missing.

There were similar scenes at all of the undertaking rooms to which bodies
were taken.

"When the fire broke out I was taking tickets at the door," said E.
Lovett, one of the ushers. "The crowd began to move toward the exits on
the ground floor, and I rushed to the big entrance doors and threw three
of them open. From there I hurried to the cigar store and called up the
police and fire departments.

"When I returned I tried to get more of the doors open, but was shoved
aside and told that I was crazy. The crowd acted in a most frenzied manner
and no one could have held them in check. Conditions on the balconies must
have been appalling. They were well filled, but the exits, had they been
opened, would have proved ample for all."

Michael Ohle, who was ushering on the first balcony, noticed the fire
shortly after it started. He hurried to the entrances and cleared the way
for the people to get out. Then, he says, he started downstairs to find
out how serious the fire was. Before he could return the panic was on and
he fled to the street for safety.

"Mrs. Phillipson, Phillipson - is Mrs. Phillipson here?"

That cry sounded in drug stores, cigar stores, and hotels until three
little girls, Adeline, Frances, and Teresa, had found their mother, from
whom they were separated in the panic. At last at the Continental hotel
the call was weakly answered by a woman who lay upon a couch, more
frightened than hurt. In another moment three little girls were sobbing in
their mother's lap.


Friends sought for information of friends; husbands asked for word of
wives; fathers and mothers sought news of sons and daughters; men and
women begged to be told if there was any knowledge of their sweethearts;
parents asked for children; and children fearfully told the names of
missing playmates.

The early hours of the evening were marked by many sad scenes. Men would
rush to the desk where the names of the missing were being compiled and
asked if anything had been heard of some member of their families, then
turn away and hurry out, barely waiting to be told that there would be no
definite news until nearly midnight.

"Just think!" said one gray headed man, leaning on the arm of a younger
man who was leading him down the stairs, "I bought the matinee tickets
for the children as a treat, and insisted that they take their little
cousin with them."

"Have you heard anything of my daughter?" asked a woman.

"What was her name?"

"Lily. She had seats in the first balcony with some girl friends. You
would know her by her brown hair. She wore a white silk shirt waist and a
diamond ring I gave her for Christmas. I went to the theater, but I
couldn't get near it, and they said they were still carrying out bodies."

"And her name? Who was she?"

"She was my daughter - my only one!"

The woman walked away, weeping, without giving the name, and the only
response she would make to questions from those who followed her was:

"My daughter!"

Two men, with two little boys, came in. "Our wives," they said, "came to
the matinee with some neighbors. They have not yet come home."

Before they could give their names a third man ran up and cried:

"I just got word the folks have been taken home in ambulances. They are

The men gave a shout and were gone in an instant.

Men with children in their arms came to ask for others of the family who
had become separated from them in the panic at the theater. Women, tears
dampening their cheeks, hushed the chatter of their little ones while they
gave the names of husbands and brothers, or told of other children who had
been lost.

One man yielded to his fears at the last minute and went away without
asking for information or giving any name. He said:

"I went to the theater with my wife. We have only been married a year.
When the rush came I was torn away from her, and the last thing I remember
is of hearing her call my name. Then I was lifted off my feet and can
recall nothing more except that I found myself in the street. I have been
to all the hospitals and morgues, and now I am going back to the theater

So it went until the last dreaded news began coming in. Identifications
were being made and hearts were being broken. After that time the
inquiries were not for information; they were pleas to be told that a
mistake had been made or that one was possible.



All but one of the 348 members of the "Bluebeard" company escaped,
although many had close calls for their lives. Some of the chorus girls
displayed great coolness in the face of grave peril. Eddie Foy, who had a
thrilling experience, said:

"I was up in my dressing room preparing to come on for my turn in the
middle of the second act when I heard an unusual commotion on the stage
that I knew could not be caused by anything that was a part of the show. I
hurried out of my dressing room, and as I looked I saw that the big drop
curtain was on fire.

"The fire had caught from the calcium and the paint and muslin on the drop
caused the flames to travel with great rapidity Everything was excitement.
Everybody was running from the stage. My 6 year old son, Bryan, stood in
the first entrance to the stage and my first thought naturally was to get
him out. They would not let me go out over the footlights, so I picked up
the boy and gave him to a man and told him to rush the boy out into the

"I then rushed out to the footlights and called out to the audience, 'Keep
very quiet. It is all right. Don't get excited and don't stampede. It is
all right.'

"I then shouted an order into the flies, 'Drop the curtain,' and called
out to the leader of the orchestra to 'play an overture. Some of the
musicians had left, but those that remained began to play. The leader sat
there, white as a ghost, but beating his baton in the air.

"As the music started I shouted out to the audience, 'Go out slowly. Leave
the theater slowly.' The audience had not yet become panic stricken, and
as I shouted to them they applauded me. The next minute the whole stage
seemed to be afire, and what wood there was began to crackle with a sound
like a series of explosions.

"When I first came out to the footlights about 300 persons had left the
theater or were leaving it. They were those who were nearest the door.
Then the policemen came rushing in and tried to stem the tide towards the

"All this happened in fifteen seconds. Up in the flies were the young
women who compose the aerial ballet. They were up there waiting to do
their turn, and as I stood at the front of the stage they came rushing
out. I think they all got out safely.

"The fire seemed to spread with a series of explosions. The paint on the
curtains and scenery came in touch with the flames and in a second the
scenery was sputtering and blazing up on all sides. The smoke was fearful
and it was a case of run quickly or be smothered."

Stage Director William Carleton, who was one of the last to leave the
stage when the flames and smoke drove the members of the company out,

"I was on the stage when the flames shot out from the switchboard on the
left side. It seemed that some part of the scenery must have touched the
sparks and set the fire. Soon the octette which was singing "In the Pale
Moonlight," discovered the fire over their heads and in a few moments we
had the curtain run down. It would not go down the full length, however,
leaving an opening of about five feet from the floor. Then the crowd out
in front began to stampede and the lights went out. Eddie Foy, who was in
his dressing room, heard the commotion, and, rushing to the front of the
stage, shouted to the spectators to be calm. The warning was useless and
the panic was under way before any one realized what was going on.

"Only sixteen members of the company were on the stage at the time. They
remained until the flames were all about them and several had their hair
singed and faces burned. Almost every one of these went out through the
stage entrance on Dearborn street. In the meantime all of those who were
in the dressing room had been warned and rushed out through the front
entrance on Randolph street. There was no panic among the members of the
company, every one seeming to know that care would result in the saving of
life. Most of the members were preparing for the next number in their
dressing rooms when the fire broke out, and they hurriedly secured what
wraps they could and all dashed up to the stage, making their exit in

"The elevator which has been used for the members of the company, in going
from the upper dressing rooms to the stage, was one of the first things to
go wrong, and attempts to use it were futile.

"It seems that the panic could not be averted, as the great crowd which
filled the theater was unable to control itself. Two of the women

"When the fire broke out," said Lou Shean, a member of the chorus, "I was
in the dressing room underneath the stage. When I reached the top of the
stairs the scenery nearby was all in flames and the heat was so fierce
that I could not reach the stage door leading toward Dearborn street. I
returned to the basement and ran down the long corridor leading toward
the engine room, near which doors led to the smoking room and buffet. Both
doors were locked. I began to break down the doors, assisted by other
members of the company, while about seventy or eighty other members
crowded against us. I succeeded in bursting open the door to the smoking
room, when all made a wild rush. I was knocked down and trampled on and
received painful bruises all over my body."

"I was just straightening up things in our dressing room upstairs," said
Harry Meehan, a member of the chorus, who also acted as dresser for Eddie
Foy and Harry Gilfoil, "when the fire started. Both Mr. Foy and Mr.
Gilfoil were on the stage at the time. I opened Mr. Foy's trunk and took
out his watch and chain and rushed out, leaving my own clothes behind. I
was so scantily dressed that I had to borrow clothes to get back to the
hotel. Mr. Gilfoil saved nothing but his overcoat."

Herbert Cawthorn, the Irish comedian who took the part of Pat Shaw in the
play "Bluebeard," assisted many of the chorus girls from the stage exits
in the panic.

"While the stage fireman was working in an endeavor to use the chemicals
the flames suddenly swooped down and out, Eddie Foy shouted something
about the asbestos curtain and the fireman attempted to use it, and the
stage hands ran to his assistance, but the curtain refused to work.

"In my opinion the stage fireman might have averted the whole terrible
affair if he had not become so excited. The chorus girls and everybody, to
my mind, were less excited than he. There were at least 500 people behind
the scenes when the fire started. I assisted many of the chorus girls from
the theater."

Said C. W. Northrop, who took the part of one of Bluebeard's old wives:
"Many of us certainly had narrow escapes. Those who were in the dressing
rooms underneath the stage at the time had more difficulty in getting out.
I was in the dressing room under the stage when the fire broke out, and
when I found that I could not reach the stage I tried to get out through
the door connecting the extreme north end of the C shaped corridor with
the smoking room. I joined other members of the company in their rush for
safety, but when we reached the door we found it closed. Some of the
members crawled out through a coal hole, while others broke down the
locked door, through which the others made their way out."

Lolla Quinlan, one of Bluebeard's eight dancers, saved the life of one of
her companions, Violet Sidney, at the peril of her own. The two girls,
with five others, were in a dressing room on the fifth floor when the
alarm was raised. In their haste Miss Sidney caught her foot and sank to
the floor with a cry of pain. She had sprained her ankle. The others, with
the exception of Miss Quinlan, fled down the stairs.

Grasping her companion around the waist Miss Quinlan dragged her down the
stairs to the stage and crossed the boards during a rain of fiery brands.
These two were the last to leave the stage. Miss Quinlan's right arm and
hand were painfully burned and her face was scorched. Miss Sidney's face
was slightly burned. Both were taken to the Continental hotel.

Herbert Dillon, musical director, at the height of the panic broke through
the stage door from the orchestra side, hastily cleared away obstructions
with an ax, and assisted in the escape of about eighty chorus girls who
occupied ten dressing rooms under the stage.

"We were getting ready for the honey and fan scene," said Miss Nina Wood,
"talking and laughing, and not thinking of danger. We were so far back of
the orchestra that we did not hear sounds of the panic for several
moments. Then the tramping of feet came to our ears. We made our way
through the smoking room and one of the narrow exits of the theater."

Miss Adele Rafter, a member of the company, was in her dressing room when
the fire broke out.

"I did not wait an instant," said Miss Rafter. "I caught up a muff and boa
and rushed down the stairs in my stage costume and was the first of the
company to get out the back entrance. Some man kindly loaned me his
overcoat and I hurried to my apartments at the Sherman house. Several of
the girls followed, and we had a good crying spell together."

Miss Rafter's mother called at the hotel and spent the evening with her.
Telegrams were sent to her father, who is rector of a church at Dunkirk,
N. Y.

Edwin H. Price, manager of the "Mr. Bluebeard" company, was not in the
building when the fire started. He said:

"I stepped out of the theater for a minute, and when I got back I saw the
people rushing out and knew the stage was on fire. I helped some of the
girls out of the rear entrance. With but one or two exceptions all left in
stage costume.

"One young woman in the chorus, Miss McDonald, displayed unusual coolness.
She remained in her dressing room and donned her entire street costume,
and also carried out as much of her stage clothing as she could carry."

Quite a number of the chorus girls live in Chicago, and Mr. Price
furnished cabs and sent them all to their homes.

Through some mistake it was reported that Miss Anabel Whitford, the fairy
queen of the company, was dying at one of the hospitals. She was not even
injured, having safely made her way out through the stage door.

Miss Nellie Reed, the principal of the flying ballet, which was in place
for its appearance near the top part of the stage, was so badly burned by
the flames before she was able to escape that she afterward died at the
county hospital. The other members of the flying ballet were not injured.

Robert Evans, one of the principals of the Bluebeard company, was in his
dressing room on the fourth floor. He dived through a mass of flame and
landed three stairways below. He helped a number of chorus girls to escape
through the lower basement. His hands and face are burned severely. He
lost all his wardrobe and personal effects.


The fire started while the double octet was singing "In the Pale
Moonlight." Eddie Foy, off the stage, was making up for his "elephant"

On the audience's left - the stage right - a line of fire flashed straight
up. It was followed by a noise as of an explosion. According to nearly all
accounts, however, there was no real explosion, the sound being that of
the fuse of the "spot" light, the light which is turned on a pivot to
follow and illuminate the progress of the star across the stage.

This light caused the fire. On this all reports of the stage folk agree.
As to manner, accounts differ widely. R. M. Cummings, the boy in charge of
the light, said that it was short circuited.

Stage hands, as they fled from the scene, however, were heard to question
one another, "Who kicked over the light?" The light belonged to the
"Bluebeard" company.

The beginning of the disaster was leisurely. The stage hands had been
fighting the line of wavering flame along the muslin fly border for some
seconds before the audience knew anything was the matter.

The fly border, made of muslin and saturated with paint, was tinder to the

The stage hands grasped the long sticks used in their work. They forgot
the hand grenades that are supposed to be on every stage.

"Hit it with the sticks!" was the cry. "Beat it out!" "Beat it out!"

The men struck savagely. A few yards of the border fell upon the stage and
was stamped to charred fragments.

That sight was the first warning the audience had. For a second there was
a hush. The singers halted in their lines; the musicians ceased to play.

Then a murmur of fear ran through the audience. There were cries from a
few, followed by the breaking, rumbling sound of the first step toward the
flight of panic.

At that moment a strange, grotesque figure appeared upon the stage. It
wore tights, a loose upper garment, and the face was one-half made up. The
man was Eddie Foy, chief comedian of the company, the clown, but the only
man who kept his head.

Before he reached the center of the stage he had called out to a stage
hand: "Take my boy, Bryan, there! Get him out! There by the stage way!"

The stage hand grabbed the little chap. Foy saw him dart with him to
safety as he turned his head.

Freed of parental anxiety, he faced the audience.

"Keep quiet!" he shouted. "Quiet."

"Go out in order!" he shouted. "Don't get excited!"

Between exclamations he bent over toward the orchestra leader.


"Start an overture!" he commanded. "Start anything. For God's sake play,
play, play, and keep on playing."

The brave words were as bravely answered. Gillea raised his wand, and the
musicians began to play. Better than any one in the theater they knew
their peril. They could look slantingly up and see that the 300 sets of
the "Bluebeard" scenery all were ablaze. Their faces were white, their
hands trembled, but they played, and played.

Foy still stood there, alternately urging the frightened people to avoid a
panic and spurring the orchestra on. One by one the musicians dropped
fiddle, horn, and other instruments and stole away.


Finally the leader and Foy were left alone. Foy gave one glance upward and
saw the scenery all aflame. Dropping brands fell around him, and then he
fled - just in time to save his own life. The "clown" had proved himself a

The curtain started to come down. It stopped, it swayed as from a heavy
wind, and then it "buckled" near the center.


From that moment no power short of omnipotent could have saved the
occupants of the upper gallery.

The coolness of Foy, of the orchestra leader and of other players, who
begged the audience to hold itself in check, however, probably saved many
lives on the parquet floor. Tumultuous panic prevailed, but the maddest of
it - save in the doomed gallery - was at the outskirts of the ground floor



"If you ever saw a field of timothy grass blown flat by the wind and rain
of a summer storm, that was the position of the dead at the exits of the
second balcony," said Chief of Police O'Neill.

"In the rush for the stairs they had jammed in the doorway and piled ten
deep; lying almost like shingles. When we got up the stairs in the dark to
the front rows of the victims, some of them were alive and struggling, but
so pinned down by the great weight of the dead and dying piled upon them
that three strong men could not pull the unfortunate ones free.

"It was necessary first to take the dead from the top of the pile, then
the rest of the bodies were lifted easily and regularly from their
positions, save as their arms had intertwined and clutched.

"Nothing in my experience has ever approached the awfulness of the
situation and it may be said that from the point of physical exertion, the
police department has never been taxed as it has been taxed tonight. Men
have been worn out simply with the carrying out of dead bodies, to say
nothing of the awfulness of their burdens."

The strong hand of the chief was called into play when the dead had been
removed and when the theater management appeared at the exit of the second
balcony, seeking to pass the uniformed police who guarded the heaps of
sealskins, purses, and tangled valuables behind them. A spokesman for the
management, backed up by a negro special policeman of the house, stood
before the half dozen city police on guard, asking to be admitted that
these valuables might be removed to the checkrooms of the theater.

"But these things are the property of the coroner," replied the chief,
coming up behind the delegation.

"But the theater management wishes to make sure of the safety of these
valuables," insisted the spokesman.

"The department of police is responsible," replied Chief O'Neill.


Clyde A. Blair, captain of the University of Chicago track team, and
Victor S. Rice, 615 Yale avenue, a member of the team, accompanied Miss
Majorie Mason, 5733 Monroe avenue, and Miss Anne Hough, 361 East
Fifty-eighth street, to the matinee. They were sitting in the middle of
the seventh row from the rear of the first floor. When the first flames
broke through from the stage Miss Mason became alarmed. Seizing the girl,
and leaving his overcoat and hat, Blair dragged her through the crush
toward the door, closely followed by Rice and Miss Hough.

"The crush at the door," said Blair, "was terrific. Half of the double
doors opening into the vestibule were fastened. People dashed against the
glass, breaking it and forcing their way through. One woman fell down in
the crowd directly in front of me. She looked up and said, 'For God's

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Online LibraryVariousChicago's Awful Theater Horror → online text (page 5 of 22)