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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Iroquois Theatre Tragedy of 1903 : Over 600 Victims Perish

Can you imagine holding tickets to a well advertised theatre production in 1903 in Chicago....So many people did expect to see a wonderful program.  The theatre was advertised as being FIRE PROOF.  They even installed an asbestos curtain on the stage to keep the audience from harm in the event there was a fire on stage during a production.

Mr. Blue Beard was billed at the Iroquois Theatre starting the week of December 28, 1903.  Children were out of school for the holiday season.  Families made plans to gallop about town during the winter season to visit the various  family friendly venues in Chicago.  Most of the tickets for the matinee scheduled on December 30, 1903 were  purchased by women and children.  It promised to be an exciting outing.  After all, the theatre had only been open for 5 weeks prior.  What could go wrong?

The horrific scenes that ensued after a fire spread throughout the theatre were etched in the minds of the police and firefighters.  It is said that the fire was started by a spark of a faulty spot light in the stage during the production.  But, that was not confirmed by every fire inspection report.

How could such an ordinary looking spotlight cause the death of over 600 persons?  Impossible?

Newspapers across the nation reported on the horrible news of the massive carnage.  Lists of those who lost their lives were published, as well as those who were not expected to live after their injuries proved to be too much for them to survive.

There are so many graves of the lost from this tragedy strewn across the Chicago area and suburbs.  The Bartlett family lost three of their family members on that fateful day.  They are laid to rest in the Bronswood Cemetery in Oak Brook, Illinois.

In the aftermath of this theatre fire, the fire departments across the nation began to review the building fire codes that were in place. As a result, most of the large city building fire codes were upgraded substantially.  Lessons were learned, and hopes were high that extreme numbers of persons will not lose their lives in tragedies such as this ever again.

Names of the identified victims of the Iroquois Theatre fire can be found at :  

Find A Grave has a virtual cemetery which lists 150 memorials of some of the victims, which can be viewed at

Newspapers across the nation filed their reports of the horrific story.  Search for their stories on Chronicling America at

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