George N. Dusenberry (1852-1940), superintendent of
ushers at the Iroquois, reported that 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
at the end of the second act. 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.
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 these gates.
Theater management removed the gates soon after the
fire but not before newspaper photographers captured
the image for eternity.
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 superintendent.
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 office.
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.
Nellie still lived at home and in the city described
herself 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. From 1897 to 1903 he 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 supplied accurate information to the U.S.
Census enumerator in 1900, and to publishers of city
directories, he could have worked at the Dearborn
Theater only on a part-time basis. His supervisory
responsibility and experience was unlikely to
prepare him to direct a staff of a dozen. Harry
Powers interviewed George first, followed by Will J.
Davis. The co-managers 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 set needed. 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. The
hiring process, like everything else at the
Iroquois, assumed 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, divorced and
moved in with her father in Maywood, Illinois.
George died in 1940.
Discrepancies and addendum
Were George's parents thirty-nine year old George M. Dusenberry and
thirty-one-year-old Nellie Mathews Dusenberry,
living in NYC in 1880? Too young, unless he wasn't
born in 1852. He and Louisa might have named their
only child after his mother, though.