Because most daily newspapers
had already been put to bed by the time the
Iroquois fire broke out and reports were sent out on
API, only thirteen reported the fire on the day it
happened, most of those on the west coast, i.e.,
Oregon, Hawaii, California.* Chicago-based
reporters pumped out stories to their editors
throughout the night and the next day, December 31,
1903, nearly every daily newspaper in the country,
and across the world, carried stories. In the
U.S., most papers gave it above-the-fold exposure,
many with a banner headline.
A story out of Chicago from
API that appeared in many newspapers, contained a
report of two improbable incidents (pictured above,
topmost). One was
the "tiny tongue of flame" story about a heroic stagehand
named John E. Farrell and the other "I'll kill the
first one" story about stage manager
James Cummings. Neither story ever
appeared in a Chicago newspaper, possibly because
Chicago reporters were able to background check and
figured out they were hooey.
Farrell's heroism. Did
the man even exist?
The name Farrell never
appeared in a Chicago newspaper in conjunction with
the fire, not even as a witness in the fire
department's inquest, the coroner's inquest or grand
jury trial, though dozens of Iroquois and Mr.
Bluebeard employees were questioned. The
man who tried to put out the fire with his hands was
William McMullen. He did not have an
assistant, as some papers embroidered Farrell to be,
and was on the bridge by himself. He didn't
need to climb a ladder because his bridge was
already twelve feet above the floor. The man
who threw attempted to fight the fire with an
extinguisher was Iroquois fireman
William Sallers and he used
Kilfyre powder canisters, not grenade type
extinguishers, of which there were none in the
|The worst journalism by far
came from a couple Indianapolis newspapers where photos
represented as scenes at the Iroquois were of
altogether different theaters.
He was at the hardware store
when the fire broke out. During hours of
testimony from stagehands, his presence on the stage
during the fire was never mentioned. To
appreciate that, remember that Cummings wasn't just
another stage worker. He was The Boss.
His level of authority over all things on the stage
was reiterated by dozens of stage workers during
trials. They might not have recognized the
mayor of Chicago if he'd appeared on that stage but
they'd have recognized James Cummings. Assuming for
a moment that he heard of the fire, ran down the
street like the devil to get back to the theater,
pushed his way past hundreds of terrified people
exploding out every exit, got to the stage, saw
girls ready to jump into the orchestra pit (which a
couple actually did, and were helped out by a a
fellow in the audience named Lincoln Day), and
bellered at them to stop, he would would have been
recognized by the crew, even in dense smoke and
pandemonium. They would have described it in
court and newspapers would have reported it.
They didn't because he didn't.
Discrepancies and addendum
exceptions were the Belvidere Daily Republican and
the The Fort Wayne Sentinel. Belvidere,
Illinois is about an hour northwest of Chicago and
Fort Wayne about four hours southeast.
Belevidere flagged it's story as the situation as of
5:15 p.m., Fort Wayne 4:30.