party of four women ranging in age from seventeen to
sixty-three went to the Mr. Bluebeard matinee,
including a mother and daughter. The oldest
and youngest perished; the twenty-eight year old and
thirty year old survived.
They were unable to find four
seats together so Belle and Nellie were seated on
the first floor and Wilma and her aunt Winnie were
seated in the first balcony on the second floor.
Belle Christopher and Wilma Porter Barry died;
Nellie Barry and Winnie Coleman escaped.
Nellie made it out the front door of the Iroquois
but Belle was trampled. Wilma and Winnie headed for
a fire escape. Of the three fire escape exits
on the second floor, the doors could only be forced
open on the western most exit. Wilma was knocked off the fire escape
platform and suffered a fatal head wound when she
fell. She was taken to St. Lukes Hospital but did
not survive. Winnie began climbing down the fire
escape and was knocked to the ground by a body
falling from above. She was knocked unconscious
briefly and woke up in a nearby saloon but did not
suffer serious injury.
Sixty-three year old Norwegian, Belle
Christopher (b. 1839), was a nurse, visiting from
Decorah, Iowa where she lived with her sister Mary’s
family at 408 Mechanic Street. Mary and
Belle's brother, Martin M. Christopher, lived next
door with his family at 410 Mechanic Ave.
Martin died the year after Belle. One
newspaper described the family as wealthy but I’ve
not been able to verify that. In another couple
decades Belle & Mary’s home was owned by Iowa
congressman, Fred Bierman – who was the son of
another of the Christopher sisters, Martha. That
home is still standing but Martin’s home at 410
Mechanic is gone.
Belle immigrated to America in 1854. She, Mary,
Martin and Martha were four of eight children born
to Jens Christopher (1810-1897) and Gjertru Jertra
Belle died from her Iroquois injuries but there were
conflicting reports as to whether she died at the
theater or at St. Lukes hospital. Perhaps she died
during transport. Her body was shipped back to Decorah
for burial, accompanied by Winnie Coleman on her
return home. Some reports said that Belle's remains
were identified by Nellie, others said it was by a
Mrs. C. Lott. Though I’ve failed to find Mrs. C.
Lott in Chicago, an eight year old niece named
Catherine Lott lived with Winnie Landers Coleman and
William F. Coleman in Decorah. A young child surely
wasn’t taken through the morgues to identify Belle’s
body but the presence of a niece named Lott in the
Decorah household may suggest a family member in
Chicago named Lott who helped search the morgues for
Belle while Nellie searched for her daughter, Wilma.
Nine months after the Iroquois fire, Belle’s brother
Martin also died.
Seventeen year old Wilma Porter Barry lived
with her mother, Nellie Landers Porter Barry (b.
1866) and stepfather, Edward P. Barry (1842-1908).
She had a seven year old younger sister, Marion
(b.1896), a two year old brother, Edward P. Barry
Jr., and two grown step siblings, Frederick Ernest
Barry (1865-1936) and Ada E. Barry (1869-1931).
Frederick was the one who identified Wilma’s body.
It was common in 1903 for children to assume the
last name of their stepfather, without a legal
adoption procedure. Thus, though Wilma’s last
name was legally Porter, the burial permit was
issued for Wilma Porter Barry. I’ve failed to learn
the first name of Wilma’s father, Porter, Nellie's
first husband. Edward Barry was Nellie’s second
husband and she was his third or fourth wife. Oddly,
according to the 1900 census, Nellie’s children with
Porter, Wilma and Marion, were living with Edward
Barry and his wife that preceded Nellie, a woman
named Charlotte. There are obviously some missing
pieces in the Barry and Porter puzzle.
Chicago, Edward managed a life insurance office but
in 1870 he lived in Tawas, Michigan and worked as a
minister while married to the mother of Fred and Ada,
the former Charlotte Fitzgerald Barry (Charlotte #1;
in 1900 he was married to Charlotte #2).
Winnie V. Landers Coleman (1873-1959),
Nellie’s sister, lived in Decorah, Iowa and may have
traveled to Chicago with Belle Christopher. Winnie
and Nellie were two of ten children born to Sarah
Wilson Mulholland Landers (1830-1901) and Frederick
Beckner Landers (1829-1997). Just prior to her
death, Sarah lived with Winnie and her husband,
dentist William Coleman, at 505 Broadway St. in
Life went on
Edward Barry died five years after the Iroquois fire
and the following year Nellie married Henry
Marshall, her third husband. Nellie was Henry’s
1910 Winnie Coleman had married a seed merchant,
Burton H. Adams and had a two year old daughter.