Christmas of 1903 was a
family filled holiday for the four Murray siblings:
Charlie, Mary, Emma and Sarah. It began with a long
train ride of fifteen hours for Sarah’s family who came
from Delaware, Ohio, and eighteen hours for Emma’s family
and Charlie who came from Martinsburg, Ohio. When
they were all gathered at Mary’s home in Wheaton,
Illinois, west of Chicago, there
were at least twelve, including a family friend and
nursemaid. It is not known if Sarah’s or Emma’s
husbands were part of the gathering in Wheaton.
Emma’s oldest daughter had a new baby that year, her
first, so probably stayed in Ohio.
Sarah Murray Battenfield,
Emma Murray Dodd, Mary Murray Owens and Charles
Murray* were all that remained of the ten children
born to the late Simon and Ruth Cochran Murray of
Delaware, Ohio. Simon had passed in 1889 and their
mother in 1880. Charlie had lost his wife Carrie in
The culmination of the holiday was a matinee in
Chicago’s glamorous new theater, the Iroquois.
During their last Christmas together there were thirteen in
the Murray family. By January 9, 1904 only three
Four Battenfield family victims
Fifty-year-old Sarah Ann Murray Battenfield
of Delaware, OH.
Twenty-three-year-old John Milton Murray Battenfield
(1880-1903) of Delaware, OH.
Twenty-two-year-old Ruth Ann Battenfield
of Delaware, OH.
Fifteen-year-old Robert Murray Battenfield
(1888-1903) of Delaware, OH.
Battenfield family remaining (not known to have been
at the Iroquois): Husband and father, Ohio native
David Holmes Battenfield (1851-1933). David was a
cigar maker early in their married years and later
became a bookkeeper. In 1908 David married
Della Miranda Jackson (1863-1916).
Three Owens family victims
Luella Murray Owens (1859-1903)
of Wheaton, IL.
Nine-year-old William Murray Owens(1894-1903) of
Forty-five-year-old Dr. Charles Owens(1853-1903)
of Wheaton, IL.
Last in the party to die, eight days after the fire, Charles Owens in his
last days described his Iroquois experience either
to a newspaper reporter or to one of his two brother
in laws who in turn described it to a newspaper
at Charles death.
“He showed great presence of mind by telling the people around him to
keep their seats. His words had a quieting effect
upon his neighbors in the audience, but when the
heat became unbearable Dr. Owens stood up and said:
‘Fly for your lives now, every one for himself and
may God help us all.’
“With these words the aged man picked up his little
boy in his arms and rushed with him up the center
aisle. He fought his way toward the door, until
partly overcome by the smoke and partly
by the crowds of terror stricken people he fell to
the floor. He regained his feet and joined the
"Again he was overcome and sank to
the floor, unconscious. The cooler and purer air of
the floor revived him and he arose for the second
time, but this time could not find his son. He
stayed behind to look for the boy when he fainted
again and was carried from the building by a
“After regaining consciousness Dr. Owens walked unaided to a near-by
drug store where he procured bandages and
restoratives. With these he hurried back to the
scene of the disaster and resumed his search for his
family. Despite his will he found himself too weak
to work, and despairingly called a cab and was
driven to the Chicago Homeopathic hospital, of which
he was formerly the house physician. "The physicians at first expressed hopes of his recovery,
but when the doctor was informed by his
brothers-in-law, J.F. Dodd and D.H, Battenfield, of
the death of his entire family, including his wife
and only son, his grief was unbounded and he
gradually declined until last Friday afternoon death
came to the relief of the grief stricken man.”
Thirteen-year-old Ruth Murray Dodd (1890-1903) from
Martinsburg, OH. Reportedly Ruth’s body was
identified by Identified by Dr. E.S. Coe.
Sarah Day (1848-1903) from Martinsburg, OH. Some
newspapers described Sarah as a nurse and others as
a maid. Nothing was published indicating that a
family member was in poor health and there were no
children young enough to need a nursemaid. One
newspaper reported that she was “colored.” Her
body was found on the stairs in the Iroquois
lobby and carried out by police officer
Albert F. Simsrott.
Thirty-nine-year-old Viola “Ollie” B. Kidwell
(1864-1903) from Martinsburg, OH. Reportedly Ollie
grew up with the Murray siblings and was in 1903
employed by the Dodd family, in an unknown capacity.
Ollie was a dressmaker, as was her younger sister,
Kate Kidwell (b. 1863). Ollie, Kate and their
brother, James Norman Kidwell (1859-1923) were the
children of Samuel Kidwell (1820-1907) and Mary Nellans Kidwell (1830-1912).
Dodd family remaining (none known to have been at
the Iroquois): Husband and father, James Foster Dodd
(1858-1926) and daughter Mary Anna Dodd (1880-1962).
Mary Anna married a newspaper publisher in Danville,
OH in 1901 and had a daughter the year of the
Iroquois fire. James was the son of Dr. Stephen
Baldwin Dodd (1820-1863) and Sarah Ann Sinkey Dodd
(1818-1891). As a young man James was a traveling
sewing machine salesman but soon turned to
inventions. In 1880 & 1883 he patented two
envelopes, in 1888 a mechanical pencil, in 1908-1910
two adjustable hats, in 1915 a perpetual calendar
and in 1922-1925 several devices for use at gasoline
stations to display amount and price. James Dodd’s
great grandfather fought in the American revolution.
Murray name carrier, sixty-four year old retired grocer & widow, Charles
Murray (1839-1903) of Martinsburg, OH., was brother of
Sarah, Mary and Emma. Charles's late wife was
Caroline Lawman (1842-1899). Charles and Caroline
didn’t have children and Charles was the last Murray
descended from Irish immigrant, Adam Murray,
Charles’s grandfather. In his later years Charles
accumulated several farms.
Charles served in Company K of the thirty-second
regiment of the Ohio volunteer infantry.
If you have additional
info about an Iroquois victim, or find an error, I would like to
hear from you. Chaos and communication limitations of 1903
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