Chicago, IL Iroquois Theater Fire Panic Disaster, Dec 1903
The iron doors were closed and locked, and it was then seen that the inner doors were so close to the steel shutters that they could not be opened with the shutters fastened. This exit is not sufficiently high for an ordinary sized man to walk through without stooping, and when the jurors learned this fact by personal experience there was considerable comment among them. The jury then ascended to the top gallery, where the greatest loss of life occurred.
Coroner TRAEGER pointed to the balcony rail, which was bent in several places and said that a number of spectators had jumped through these openings to the lower floor. An inspection was then made of the exits leading to the fire escapes, and the jurors were told that the bodies of the dead were piled ten feet high in front of these doors when the police reached the scene after the fire.
Because of the unlimited scope that the coroner intends to give to the investigation it is expected that the work of taking testimony will consume several weeks.
Late on Saturday on charges of manslaughter preferred by ARTHUR E. HALL, whose wife, three children and maid perished in the fire, Managers WILL J. DAVIS and HARRY J. POWERS of the Iroquois theater, with City Building Commissioner WILLIAMS, were arrested and held under bonds of $40,000 each.
On the same day Mayor HARRISON ordered the closing of every theater in the city, without exception, until it has been definitely ascertained that they are not violating any city ordinance. This is supplementary to his previous order, which closed seventeen theaters, about half the total number of playhouses in the city. In issuing the order for every playhouse to be closed the mayor made the unqualified statement that they were all violators of the city ordinances and that none would be permitted to open its doors until it absolutely complied with every requirement of the ordinances.
Sunday was a day of funerals in Chicago, and for the first time in the history of the city all of the people who desired to bury their dead were unable to do so.
The unprecedented demand for hearses and carriages would have been enough in itself to tax to the utmost the resources of the undertakers, but the heavy snow that had fallen during the last two days had increased their difficulties enormously.
Arrangements were made by the undertakers to have as many funerals as possible held in the early part of the day in order to allow if possible the use of the hearse for a second funeral in the afternoon. In a number of cases this was done, but there were instances where families who were to wait for the return of the hearse were disappointed and were compelled to defer the burial of their dead for another day.
The cemeteries were compelled to keep men at work all through the night digging graves. At one time in the afternoon fourteen burials were in progress in Rose Hill cemetery, and all of them were of interments of victims of the fire.
The Iroquois theater was completed less than two months ago at a cost of $500,000 and was the finest playhouse in Chicago. It was opened to the public on the night of Nov. 23 with "Mr. Bluebeard." It has a total seating capacity of 1,724 chairs, with plenty of good standing room on each floor.
The Iroquois theater disaster was vastly more destructive to human life than any other playhouse fire in the history of the United States. The fire next to it in point of lives lost occurred Dec. 5, 1876, in Conway's Brooklyn theater, Brooklyn, where 295 of the audience perished in the flames.
In the great Chicago fire of 1871, the largest conflagration of modern times, in which 2,124 acres were devastated, only 200 lives were lost so far as the most reliable information shows.
Ticonderoga Sentinal New York 1904-01-07