and Nina Chapman were Iowa girls,
enjoying the bustling city of Chicago. They wrote to
friends describing their pleasure at having gotten
tickets to see the Mr. Bluebird Christmas
pageant on December 30, 1903 at Chicago's newest
theater, the Iroquois. Eighteen-year-old Bessie G. Chapman was born in 1885 and twenty-three-year-old Nina M. Chapman in 1880. Their
brother, twenty-one-year-old Wesley "Mason"* Chapman
(1882-1954) was an engineering student in his senior
year at the University of Illinois and working in
the university wood shop when he heard about the
Bessie, Nina and Mason were all born in Anamosa,
Iowa, then with a population of about 3,000.
Their mother, Louisa A. Pearson Chapman (1836-1888) was
deceased. Their father, John Harlow Chapman
(1848-1918), in 1903 managed a corncob pipe manufacturing plant at
the Iowa State Penitentiary in Anamosa, known today
corncob operation was part of a contract with the
American Cooperage company of Anamosa.
In 1900, three of the Chapman
young people lived in Cedar Rapids with their
aunt, Sarah Chapman Isham (1842-1909). Sarah
was their father's sister and widow of the late Nathan
Isham (1838-1863). Cedar Rapids, with a
population of around 25,000 in 1900, must have
seemed huge compared with Anamosa, but for the
Chapmans was soon overshadowed by Chicago with its
1.7 million people.
Over the next three years,
Mason, Nina and Bessie all moved away from their aunt's house.
went to work as a stenographer at the Denning Fence
company, lodging with the Orestes Day Barnum**
family at 1259 Third Ave in Estherville, Iowa. Mr.
Barnum was a lumber merchant who sold Denning fence
products. He had daughters around the ages of
Nina and Bessie Chapman. His daughter, Mary
Lola Barnum (1886-1915) was said to be especially
attached to the Chapman girls.
to Chicago, probably in September, 1903, to attend a
business college. She may have found lodging with
the family of her uncle, Wesley Pearson (1847- ),
who lived at 211 Lincoln Avenue in Chicago.
was in Chicago studying engineering at
the University of Illinois.
Another brother, Edward
Pearson Chapman, lived in New York. In the
first days after the fire, Edward
sent multiple telegrams to Cedar Rapids, pleading for
information about his sisters, while responding telegrams sent to him
undelivered for some reason.
Searching the morgues
Leroy "Roy" Barnum went
to Chicago with Mason Chapman to help look for the
Chapman girls. He would later report that
Bessie wore a brown skirt with black fringe and a
lapel pin and Nina wore a green muffler embroidered
with the letter C. According to a list
compiled later, Harlow C. Richardson identified the
bodies. Harlow was a twenty-four year old
cousin, the son of John Chapman's sister, Lucinda
Funerals and burial
Funeral services were held
the Saturday after the fire in their hometown,
Anamosa, Iowa, conducted by Reverend J. Percival
Haggett of Cedar Rapids. The sisters were
buried in the Chapman family plot at Riverside
cemetery in Anamosa, Iowa.
In the years after the fire
Mason married Mary Schonbeck, moved to Texas, then
Queens, NY, and had two sons, one of whom would
become an inventor and environmental engineer.
Mason's father, John Chapman, also moved to New
York, where he worked as a clerk. John
returned to Iowa at the end of his life.
Cousin Harlow Richardson moved to Minneapolis and
became a bank manager. Aunt Sarah Isham lived
in California at the end of her life. The
Barnum family moved to Cedar Rapids in 1906 then on
to Minneapolis, Minnesota two years later.
Mary spent the last seven years of her life
suffering from a spinal nerve condition.
Discrepancies and addendum
Would like to find photos of
Bessie or Nina Chapman.
said the girls' seats were in the parquet on the
first floor, others that they were seated in the 2nd
floor balcony. Some reports said Bessie was living
in Chicago attending business college; other reports
said both girls were visiting an uncle in
Chicago. Most reports said that one of the girls
survived long enough to be taken to the Sherman
house; other reports said that both girls were found
crushed beneath other bodies on the stairs.
* Mason was the last name of
Wesley's grandmother, as well as the first name of an
uncle on his father's side, an Ohio dentist, Dr. Mason Chapman.
** Faulty character recognition
has resulted in Orestes D. Barnum being mistaken in
some genealogy information as L.L. Barnum but only
Orestes has a daughter named Mary of the right age,
and a son named Roy, living in Cedar Rapids in the
applicable time frame. Three days of diligent
searching in genealogy info and newspapers make me
feel 95% certain that Nina lived with Orestes, Agness, Mary and James Barnum at the time of her
death. Their other three children, Leroy,
Hattie and Maggie were grown and had moved out so
there was room for another. He sometimes went
by O.D. Barnum, which probably explains the
inaccurate deciphering. If the top right
quarter of the O and D. are illegible, two L's