In court, George N. Dusenberry (1852-1940), superintendent of ushers at the Iroquois, reported the gates
remained locked throughout the audience's rush to
escape. According to Dusenberry, it was his job to
lock the gates during performances and unlock them
when the second act was completed. I've not
found any testimony explaining where Dusenberry was
during the fire and why he did not move heaven and
earth to get to and open the gates.
One gate was at the dress circle landing where it
compensated for a convoluted hallway configuration
that confused audience members when entering the
theater and finding their seats. The second gate was
on the stairway between the dress circle door and
the gallery landing -- used to prevent people in the
third floor gallery from sneaking down into more
expensive seats on the first floor.
Together the locked gates prevented passage from the
gallery and balcony to the ground floor.
Some who broke door glass, climbed through
transoms and defied the ushers to get through exits
on the south side of the balcony and gallery, and
survived crushing by the throng, then confronted
Four to five feet high, the traditional key-operated
padlocked gates were uninstalled after the fire but
not soon enough to escape notice by investigators.
In 1903 media reported George Dusenberry’s middle
initial as M, N. and W. I think it must have been N.
because the 1910 census report recorded a George N.
Dusenberry living in Chicago, working as a theater
In 1897 a George N. Dusenberry worked for the
Chicago police department. He was one of dozens let
go that year in a political gambit by the mayor's
In 1900 a George Nichols Dusenberry and his wife
Louisa A. Prescott Dusenberry (daughter of Calvin
Prescott and Mathilda Jordon Prescott) lived in
Chicago with their daughter Nellie Adele Dusenberry,
age seventeen, (b. c1882). At that time George was a clerk
for the railroad. He and Louisa were both recorded
as having been born in 1852. He and his parents were
from New York. Louisa was from Indiana and her parents from
Massachusetts and Maryland. George and Louisa
married around 1883.
In 1901 Nellie still lived at home and in the city
directory her profession was listed as an artist.
George had left the railroad office and was now working
for a candy confectioner. (Ruekheim?) The family
then lived at 132 S. Sacramento.
In 1903 George was in charge of ushers at the
Iroquois Theater. In the four-year period from 1897
to 1903 Dusenberry had four altogether different
jobs in four altogether different industries and
lived at four different addresses. Iroquois
business manager Thomas J. Noonan testified that Dusenberry came to the Iroquois from the Dearborn
Theater where he had worked for several years, which
is why Noonan did not think it necessary to explain
the job to him. Had anyone in Iroquois
management spoken with Dusenberry's past employers
they would almost certainly have learned the man had
little supervisory or management experience.
Assuming Dusenberry told the truth to the census
recorder, and in published city directories, the
only way he could have worked at the Dearborn
Theater was on
a part time basis, and the amount of supervisory
responsibility he had as a part time worker was
unlikely to have prepared him to be in charge of a
staff of several dozen workers.
Prior to being hired to work at the
Iroquois, George was interviewed first by Harry Powers and
then by Will J. Davis. Powers and Davis conferred and
decided to hire him.
Powers testified that in his
interview with George he summarized the job
responsibilities Dusenberry would have – which was
appropriate because Powers had more concentrated
hands-on theater management experience than Davis
thus certainly a firmer understanding of the skill
Armed with a list of requirements, little
wonder that George's interview with Davis went well
– like being given the answers minutes before the
test. In all, the hiring process, like everything else at
the Iroquois, seems to have been based on the
assumption that nothing could go wrong.
In the years after the fire
In 1910 George was still working as a theater
usher superintendent, his first long-term stretch in one industry.
He and Louisa remained in Chicago, living at 2324
Washington Blvd. By 1912
George was back at the
Iroquois, by then named the Colonial Theater.
His wife Louisa died in
1918 and he relocated to Wheaton, Illinois west of
Chicago. Nellie became a beautician and
after a divorce moved in with her father in Maywood,
Illinois. George died in 1940.