Chicago's Awful Theater Horror online

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somebody yelled fire. I looked up and saw the curtain ablaze. Then came
the stampede. I picked up my children and ran toward the door. I was
caught in the jam and it seemed that I would fail to reach it. Some man
saw my plight and jumped to my assistance. He picked up Florence and threw
her over the heads of the rushing people. She fell upon the pavement, but
was not badly injured."


The first woman to be rescued over the temporary bridge between the
theater and the Northwestern university building was Mrs. Mary Marzein of
Elgin, Ill. She was severely burned and lost consciousness after her
rescue. A score or more suffered death on every side as she crept over the
ladder. They were thrown aside and knocked down, but she clung to the
ladder and escaped. She was taken to the Michael Reese hospital and did
not regain consciousness until the following day. Her husband, who is an
employe of the Elgin Watch Company, searched all the morgues and was
making a tour of the hospitals when he found his wife.

When Mrs. Marzein recovered in the afternoon the first person she inquired
for was her husband, who at that moment was being ushered into the room.
Their eyes met as she was whispering his name to the nurse, and an
affecting scene followed.


One of the most miraculous escapes from the fire was that of Miss Winifred
Cardona. She was one of a party of four and with her friends occupied
seats in the seventh row of the parquet.

"The first intimation I had of the danger was when I saw one of the chorus
girls look upward and turn pale. My eyes immediately followed her glance
and I saw the telltale sparks shooting about through the flies. The
singing continued until the blaze broke out. Then Mr. Foy appeared and
asked the audience to keep their seats, assuring them that the theater was
thoroughly fireproof. We obeyed, but when we saw the seething mass behind
struggling for the door we rushed from our seats. I became separated from
the other girls and had not gone far before I stumbled over the prostrate
body of a woman who was trampled almost beyond recognition. For an instant
I thought it was all over. Then I felt someone lift me and I knew no more
until I revived in the street. It was the most awful experience I have
ever had and I consider my escape nothing short of miraculous."


"I'm the most grateful man in all Chicago," said J. R. Thompson, who owns
the restaurant. "My sister was in the theater with my two children - John,
aged 9, and Ruth, aged 7. Sister got almost to the door with both of them.
Then Ruthie disappeared. She told me she knew the child must be safe, but
I was like a maniac. It was an hour before we found her. How it happened I
didn't know, but she ran back into the theater and out under the stage,
out through the stage entrance."

"Where is the little girl now?" I asked him.

"I sent her home to her mother," he said.

Only ten feet away lay the chestnut-haired girl who "was a great one to


Members of four generations of a family were turned into mourners, only
one member remaining from a party of nine made up of Benjamin Moore and
eight of his relatives, of whom only one, Mrs. W. S. Hanson, Hart, Mich.,
escaped. Following are the names of the eight victims: Mrs. Joseph
Bezenek, 41 years old, West Superior, Wis., daughter of Benjamin Moore;
Benjamin Moore, 72 years old, Chicago; Roland Mackay, 6 years old,
Chicago, grandson of Mrs. Joseph Bezenek and great grandson of Benjamin
Moore; Mrs. Benjamin Moore, 47 years old, wife of Benjamin Moore; Joseph
Bezenek, 38 years old, West Superior, Wis., husband of Mrs. Bezenek and
son-in-law of Benjamin Moore; Mrs. Perry Moore, 33 years old, Hart,
Mich., daughter-in-law of Benjamin Moore; Miss Sibyl Moore, Hart, Mich.,
13 years old, daughter of Mrs. Perry Moore and granddaughter of Benjamin
Moore; Miss Lucile Bond, 10 years old, daughter of George H. Bond and
granddaughter of Benjamin Moore, Chicago.


Three daughters and two grandchildren, constituting the entire family of
Mr. and Mrs. Morris Eger, Chicago, perished in the fire. The daughters
were Miss S. Eger, who was a teacher in the Mosely school; Mrs. Marion
Rice, wife of A. Rice, and Mrs. Rose Bloom, wife of Max Bloom, and the
children were: Erna, the 10-year-old daughter of Mrs. Rice, and her
11-year-old brother, Ernest.

After a long search among the many morgues of the city the bodies were all
identified, two of them being found there.



The New Year came to Chicago with muffled drums, two days after the
calamity that threw the great metropolis into mourning.

Scarcely a sound was heard as 1904 entered.

Jan. 1 - day of funerals - was received in silence. Streets were almost
deserted, even downtown. Men hurried silently along the sidewalks. There
were not half a dozen tin horns in the downtown district where ordinarily
the blare of trumpets, screech of steam whistles, volleys of shots and the
merriment of late wayfarers make the entrance of a new year a period of
deafening pandemonium.

Merrymakers were quiet when in the streets and subdued even in the
restaurants. Noise, except in a few scattered districts, was unknown.

It was a remarkable, spontaneous testimony to the prevalent spirit
throughout the city. Mayor Harrison had asked, in an official
proclamation, that there be no noise, but few of those who desisted from
the usual practices of greeting the New Year knew that they had been
requested to be silent.


There were mourning families in every neighborhood; crepe in every street;
grief stricken relatives throughout the city; unidentified dead in the
morgues, and sufferers in the hospital. The citizens did not need to be
requested to be quiet.

Jan. 1, 1904, meant the beginning of funerals and the burial of dead who
were to have lived to take part in merrymaking.

A year before in downtown Chicago the din was an ear-splitting racket of
horns, whistles, yells, songs, and exploding cannon.

A year before the downtown streets were filled with hundreds of laughing
men and women, roystering parties filling the air with the uproar of tin
horns and revolvers.


That night there were a messenger boy in La Salle street blowing a tin
horn and a man at Wabash avenue and Harrison street. The other pedestrians
looked at them as if they considered the noise a sacrilege. It was with
the same feeling that they heard the blowing of the factory whistles in
the few cases where the engineers forgot.

A year before the outlying districts were awakened by the firing of cannon
and the shouts of people in noisy celebrations. That dread night there was
nothing to keep residents awake except grief.


To insure this condition, as the only fitting one, Mayor Harrison had
issued a proclamation in which he said:

"On each recurring New Year's eve annoyance has been caused the sick and
infirm by the indulgence of thoughtless persons in noisy celebrations of
the passage of the old year. The city authorities have at all times
discouraged this practice, but now, when Chicago lies in the shadow of the
greatest disaster in her history for a generation, noisemaking, whether by
bells, whistles, cannon, horns or any other means, is particularly

"As mayor of Chicago I would, therefore, request all persons to refrain
from this indulgence, and I would particularly ask all railway officials
and all persons in control of factories, boats, and mills to direct their
employes not to blow whistles between the hours of 12 and 1 o'clock

Persons not reached by this proclamation had seen the lines waiting
entrance at the morgues. The few peddlers who had tin horns for sale found
no buyers. This market, which in other years has been a profitable one, on
Dec. 31, 1903, was dead. The venders slunk up to the building walls and,
even in trying to sell, made little noise with their wares.


In such restaurants as the Auditorium Annex, the Wellington, and Rector's
there were gay crowds, but the merriment was subdued. "No music" was the
general rule throughout the city. At Rector's the management took down
flowers which were to have decorated the restaurant and sent them to the
hospitals where the injured theater victims were.

At the Annex and the Wellington the lobbies had been filled with gayly
decorated tables, and this space as well as the cafes was entirely
occupied. Congress street was filled with carriages and cabs for the
guests at the Annex.


Even these gatherings, which were the least affected by the gloom over the
city, were ghastly as compared with those of former years. There were
exceptions to the general rule, but even in the places which felt the
effect the least there was abundant testimony to the fact that Chicago was
a city of woe.

The aspect of the downtown district was evidence that there was scarcely
a neighborhood in the city which had not at least one sorrowing family.

Not only was this indicated by the lack of noise on the noisiest night of
the year but by the absence of lights. Many electric signs and
illuminations which usually lighted up the streets had been closed, and
gay, wicked, noisy Chicago was clothed with gloom such as it had never
before known.

Dark and solemn as was the opening day of the new year it was no
circumstance compared with the day that followed. At the suggestion of the
mayor Saturday, Jan. 2, was set apart to bury the dead. The proclamation
issued in that connection follows:

"Chicago, Dec. 31. - To the citizens of Chicago: Announcement is hereby
made that the city hall will be closed on Saturday, Jan. 2, 1904, on
account of the calamity occurring at the Iroquois theater. All business
houses throughout the city are respectfully requested to shut down on that


The request was generally followed, and on that mournful day the interment
of the victims of the holocaust began, filling the streets with
processions moving to the grave. From daybreak until evening funeral
corteges moved through the streets. Church bells at noon tolled a requiem.
The machinery of business was hushed in the downtown district, and long
lines of carriages, preceded by hearses or plain black wagons, followed
the theater victims to the grave.

In no public place, in no home was the grief of the bereft not felt. Many
of the dead were taken directly from the undertaking rooms to the
cemeteries and buried with simple ceremony. Before dark nearly 200 victims
were borne to the grave. A score were taken to railroad stations, to be
followed by the mourning back to their homes.


The board of trade closed at 11 o'clock. The doors of the stock exchange
were not opened. Few of the downtown mercantile houses and few of the
offices were open after noon. There was little business.

It was a day of mourning, and the army of the sorrowful that for days had
searched for its dead performed the last rites. At noon bells in all the
church towers were rung to the rhythm of "The Dead March in Saul." Those
who heard the solemn dirge stood still for the space of five minutes with
bared heads. The proclamation of the mayor generally was observed.
Everywhere there was gloom and no one could escape from the pall that
enshrouded Chicago.

The demand for hearses was so great that the undertakers were compelled to
make up schedules in which the different hours of the day were allotted to
the grief-stricken.

Flags were at half-mast, while white hearses bearing the bodies of
children and black hearses with the bodies of others took their way to the
various churches. In some blocks three and four hearses were standing, and
at the churches one cortege would wait until another moved away.

The pall seemed to pervade the air itself. Pedestrians halted on the
sidewalk, and in the cold stood with bared heads while the funeral
processions passed.

Children saw their parents laid away; parents followed the coffins of
their child. Students just reaching manhood or womanhood were laid at
rest, while relatives and companions mourned. Kindly clergymen wept as
they spoke words of comfort to those bereft of father, mother, brother,
sister, or even of all.

Two double funerals passed through the downtown districts just as the
department stores were dismissing their thousands of employes. Sisters
were being taken to their last resting place, and this cortege was
followed by two white hearses containing the bodies of another brother and
sister. Both funeral processions went to the same depot, and all four
victims were buried in the same cemetery.

The numerous funeral trains which left Chicago contained in nearly every
instance more than one coffin. Hearse after hearse and carriage after
carriage arrived in the blinding snow and stopped at the depots, opening
an epoch of funerals that continued daily until the last victim was laid
to rest.

Thus opened the year 1904 in Chicago, the stricken and desolate.



A majority of the victims of the fire were laid to rest, however, during
the Sabbath succeeding the awful calamity. The main thoroughfares of the
benumbed city leading north and west toward the resting places of the dead
were crowded with funeral processions, sometimes four and five hearses
together showing as white as the snow on the ground, bearing as they did
the bodies of children.

As one funeral procession after another passed through the streets the
numbers of the sorrowing at the cemeteries increased. A few hundred feet
from one freshly made grave there was another and a short distance away
still another that told the mourners at one funeral that others were

The work of burying the dead began early in the morning and lasted until
late in the evening. Sometimes the homes of several of the dead were
grouped in a few blocks and in one instance a glance down a single street
would reveal the thickly crowded carriages for half a dozen funerals that
had thrown an entire neighborhood into mourning. Where hearses could not
be furnished they were improvised from other kinds of vehicles and
mourners who could not get cabs rode in carriages. As the night closed
down on hundreds of mourning homes, in every cemetery in the city the
speaking mounds of fresh earth told of the end of families broken and
altogether destroyed.


More than a thousand turners joined in the services for seven victims who
were members of their societies. The Chicago Turnbezirk, the central body
of the turners, had charge of the exercises. Representatives of the Aurora
Turnverein, Schweitzer Turnverein, Forward Turnverein, Social Turnverein,
and other turner organizations joined in the services.

The exercises were held at the Social Turner hall, Belmont avenue and
Paulina street. The coffins of the victims were placed in front of the
stage at the end of the hall. After the services the coffins were taken by
uniformed turners through the hall to black wagons and the march to
Graceland cemetery began. Three drum corps, with muffled drums, beat a
funeral march.

Women turners, in their gymnasium suits, escorted the bodies of the women
victims, and uniformed turners watched the coffins of the men.

Short services were held at the cemetery.


At the residence of Ludwig Wolff, 1329 Washington boulevard, the bodies of
his daughter, Mrs. William M. Garn and her three children, Willie, 11,
John, 7, and Harriet, 10 years old, lay. All day long until the time for
the funeral services a stream of sympathizing friends poured in. A crowd
of more than a thousand surrounded the house and the policemen stationed
there were compelled to force a way for the caskets when they were borne
to the hearses. The service was read by the Rev. William C. Dewitt of St.
Andrew's church. Twelve boys acted as pallbearers for their former
playfellows and followed the little white hearses to Graceland. The
funeral was one of the largest ever seen on the west side of the city,
more than one hundred carriages being in the funeral train.


Far different in all except the grief was the funeral from the little
frame church at Congress street and Forty-second avenue. Inside lay the
bodies of Mrs. Mary W. Holst and her three children, Allan, 13, Gertrude,
10, and Amy, 8 years. They were in the ill fated second balcony of the
theater and met death trying to reach the fire escape. Of the family only
the father and a 6 months old son survive. Mrs. Holst was the sister of
former Chief of Police Badenoch. Interment was at Forest Home.

The building was still gay with its Christmas decorations and a large
motto, "Peace on earth, good will to men," which the Holst children had
assisted in making.


Another quadruple funeral was that of the daughters and the grandchildren
of Jacob and Elizabeth Beder of 697 Ogden avenue. The two women, Mrs.
Edyth Vallely, 835 Sawyer avenue, and Mrs. Amy Josephine McKenna of 758
South Kedzie avenue, went to the theater accompanied by their two
children, Bernice Vallely, aged 11, and Bernard McKenna, aged 3. The
bodies were found after the fire by the husbands of the dead women at the
morgues. The services were in charge of Rev. D. F. Fox of the California
Avenue Congregational church. Interment was at Forest Home.


Memorial services were held in the afternoon for Mrs. Eva Pond, wife of
Fred S. Pond, their children, Raymond, 14, Helen, 7, and Miss Grace
Tuttle, sister of Mrs. Pond, at the family residence, 1272 Lyman avenue.
The services were conducted by the Rev. Mr. Bowles of All Saints'
Episcopal church.

Miss Tuttle had been for eighteen years a teacher in the Chicago public
schools. She attended the performance at the Iroquois with her sister and
her sister's children, and none of them emerged alive. Mrs. Pond was the
wife of Fred S. Pond, for thirty years cashier of the Deering Harvester
Company, who is the only survivor of a once happy family circle. The four
bodies were taken to Beloit, Wis., for burial.


None but friends attended the Beyer funeral service during the afternoon
at Sheldon's undertaking rooms, for the entire family, mother, father, and
child, were numbered among the Iroquois dead. Otto H. Beyer, his wife
Minnie, and their 4 year old daughter Grace, were the victims. The bodies
were taken to Elkader, Iowa, for burial. This was perhaps the saddest of
all the sad services conducted during the day, as no relatives were
present to mourn the dead.


Mrs. Emilie Hoyt Fox, daughter of William M. Hoyt, the wholesale grocer;
George Sidney Fox, her 15-year-old son; Hoyt Fox, 14 years old, and Emilie
Fox, 9 years old, were all buried side by side in Graceland cemetery. The
funeral services were held in Graceland chapel and were conducted by Rev.
Henry G. Moore of Christ Episcopal church, Winnetka.


Simple and short were the funeral services at Boydston's chapel,
Forty-second place and Cottage Grove avenue, over the remains of four
members of the Hull family. Mrs. Hull, the mother, was the wife of Arthur
E. Hull, 244 Oakwood boulevard, and attended the theater with her little
daughter, Helen, and two nephews, adopted sons, Donald and Dwight. The
services were directed by Rev. J. H. McDonald of the Oakland Methodist
Episcopal church and consisted simply of a prayer and the reading of a
poem found in the desk of Mrs. Hull, and which had evidently been clipped
from some newspaper. At the conclusion of the services the caskets were
carried to the Thirty-ninth street station of the Michigan Central
railroad, over which they were taken to Troy, N. Y., for burial.


"We were four of the happiest mortals in all Chicago until that awful
thing blasted our lives forever," sobbed Mrs. Louis Lange of 1632 Barry
avenue at the close of the funeral of her only two children, Herbert
Lange, 17 years old, and his sister Agnes, 14. The service was held at the
Johannes Evangelical Lutheran church at Garfield avenue and Mohawk street.


While the last rites were being held for Albert Alfson in Chicago, the
body of his sweetheart, Miss Margaret Love, was being buried in the
cemetery at Woodstock. Two hundred persons, 125 from Woodstock, attended
Alfson's funeral at 24 Keith street.


The largest funeral at Oakwoods was that of Dr. M. B. Rimes, 6331
Wentworth avenue, his wife and three children, Lloyd, Martin, and Maurice.
The five from one family were buried together in one large grave.


At the home of Ludwig Wolff, 1329 Washington boulevard the body of his
daughter, Mrs. William M. Garn, and her three children, Willie, John and
Harriet, lay. All day long until the time for the funeral services, a
stream of sympathizing friends poured in, bearing many floral tributes to
the dead. The impressive service of the Episcopal church was read by the
Rev. William C. Dewitt of St. Andrew's church, of which Mrs. Garn was a
member. Twelve boys acted as pallbearers to their late playfellows, and
followed the little white hearses to Graceland cemetery. The funeral was
one of the largest ever seen on the West Side, more than one hundred
carriages being in the train.


A funeral was held which saddened the hearts of all Winnetka. The little
north shore suburb lost eight of its residents in the fire, and the
funeral of four of the Fox family was held yesterday. The services were
conducted by the Rev. Henry G. Moore of Christ Episcopal church, Winnetka.


Three hearses carried away the bodies of Mrs. Louise Ruby and her
daughters, Mrs. Ida Weimers and Mrs. Mary Feiser. The services were held
at the late home of Mrs. Ruby, 838 Wilson avenue. Father F. N. Perry of
the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes celebrated mass for the two daughters,
who were members of his parish. The Rev. John G. Kircher of Bethlehem
Evangelical church read the service for the mother.


Triple funeral services were held at the residence of Henry M. Shabad,
4041 Indiana avenue, for his two children, Myrtle, aged 14 years, and
Theodore, aged 12 years, and little Rose Elkan, daughter of Mr. and Mrs.
N. Elkan. The three children attended the matinee together and all were
killed. Rabbi Jacobson of the Thirty-fifth street synagogue conducted the
service and at the conclusion referred to the Iroquois fire as one of the
"greatest calamities of the age." The interment took place at Waldheim.


Attended by many grief stricken schoolmates and friends, the funeral of
Robert and Archie Hippach, sons of Louis A. and Ida S. Hippach, was held
at the Church of the Atonement, Kenmore and Ardmore avenues. They lived at
2928 Kenmore avenue. At the church several women fainted and had to be
taken from the church.


Miss Viola Delee of 7822 Union avenue, and Miss Florence Corrigan of 218
Dearborn avenue, victims of the Iroquois theater fire, whose remains were
buried, were life-long friends. They were schoolmates at St. Xavier's
College, where both graduated two years ago. On the afternoon of the fire
Miss Delee had arranged to meet her friend downtown and attend the
matinee. It is thought they secured seats on the main floor about eight
rows from the front. Their bodies were found lying some distance apart.

The body of Miss Delee showed marks that must have caused her excruciating
pain. Her face was badly burned and disfigured. Miss Corrigan was burned
almost beyond recognition. She was not identified until after the identity
of Viola's body had been established through a card which she carried in
the pocket of her dress.

The funerals of two friends who had perished together in the fire met in
Forest Home cemetery when Mrs. Floy Irene Olson of 835 Walnut street and
Bessie M. Stafford were buried in graves not thirty feet apart. The two
women had been life-long friends and were co-workers in the Warren Avenue
Congregational church. Rev. Frank G. Smith conducted the services over

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Online LibraryVariousChicago's Awful Theater Horror → online text (page 9 of 22)