John Franklin Houseman (1870-1922), most commonly
known as Frank Houseman, attended the Mr. BlueBeard
matinee at the Iroquois Theater
on Dec 30, 1903, with his friend
Charles Dexter, a
ballplayer from Boston. Both survived and helped
rescue other theatergoers. They came late to
the performance so had few seating choices.
Rather than standing room they chose to pay for box
seats on the north side of the second floor.
It gave them an unobstructed view of the start of
the fire, including William McMullen's effort to
clap out the first flames. There was a
separate unlighted stairway between first and second-floor box seats. The pair descended to the
first floor and Houseman helped open one of the
three fire escape exit doors. He then helped a
few jumpers get out of the way before subsequent
jumpers landed on them.
Chicago newspapers in 1903 reported that Houseman
played one game for the Baltimore Orioles and
retired to operate a bar but that was inaccurate.
Houseman also played second baseman for the Chicago Colts
in 1894 and the St. Louis Browns in 1897.
After retiring from baseball, he managed a bar in
Chicago on Root and Emerald. Two years before
the Iroquois Theater fire an angry customer stabbed
Houseman. Despite predictions, he survived.
In addition to a wholesale
liquor business, Houseman owned the bar he became most associated
with -- the Majestic Bar in the storefront
immediately east of the twenty-story Majestic Building
on Monroe St. in Chicago (today named the Hampton
Majestic Building). Completed in 1906, it contained
offices and the 2,500-seat Majestic Theatre that is
today the Bank of America Theatre. Houseman claimed to have spent $50,000 decorating
the Majestic. The location and Houseman’s colorful
personality turned it into a popular nightspot for
Chicago’s theater people.
The Majestic, designed by
architects Edmund R. Krause and George and Cornelius
Rapp, was the tallest building in Chicago
when erected. It was the first theater
built after the Iroquois fire.
Frank Houseman was from the Netherlands and is
buried in the Mount Washington Cemetery in