30, 1903 through Saturday, January 2, 1904
Wednesday 12/30/1903 -
Mr. Gurley, an old family friend, sees
forty-five-year-old Carrie Leavenworth
to the entrance of Chicago's newest
playhouse, the Iroquois Theater, where
she has a ticket at the back of the
ground floor to see an afternoon matinee
of Mr. Bluebeard. Carrie
assures him she'll be able to return to
her mother-in-law Caroline Leavenworth's home when
the play is over, around 4:00 pm.
She is excited to see the play her son
Frank Leavenworth Jr has spoken of so
Wednesday 12/30/1903 - In Decatur, Illinois Frank
Leavenworth and his teenage son, Frank
Jr., hear about the fire at the
Iroquois. Frank Jr. had
recommended Mr. Bluebeard matinee
to his mother and knew she planned to
attend. They send a telegram to
Caroline, Frank Sr's mother, to learn if
Carrie is safe.†
Wednesday 12/30/1903 - with no answer from Chicago,
Frank sends a
second telegram to his mother.
Wednesday 12/30/1903 - Frank receives a telegram
"Come on first train; Carrie seriously, probably
fatally, injured. Mother."
1:00 am Thursday 12/31/1903 - Frank Sr and Frank Jr leave
for Chicago. Joining their search are
six men from Decatur and Chicago: George
W. Mueller, Frank's boss and friend; Mr.
Gurley, an old family friend; Alamando
B. Russ, a Chicago undertaker; Mr.
Graham; Edward M. Platt; and Mr. Vandeveer.
The group makes the Palmer House hotel
its base of operations.
11:00 am Friday 1/1/1904
Mr. Gurley and Mr. Graham split off from
the main group and search funeral homes
in outlying areas of Chicago. They find
Carrie's body among
the seven of twenty-four Iroquois victims at
Horan's Funeral Home, 169 East 18th St., that had not yet been
identified. Carrie was tagged as corpse #18.
Gurley and Graham head back to the
Palmer House to find Frank Sr. The party goes
to Horan's where Frank Sr makes the
Other than a bruise on
one cheek and "slight scorching" on her
lips, Carrie appears as if asleep, her
body showing no evidence of fire or
trampling injuries and her clothing
undamaged. It was reported in a Decatur
newspaper that Carrie's was one of only
twelve victims seated on the ground
Afternoon Friday 1/1/1904
At 58 Dearborn,
the collection point for belongings of
Iroquois victims, Frank claims Carrie's
earrings, a stick pin, and a flat ring. At the
coroner's office he completes documents
to take possession of corpse #18.
4:05 pm Saturday 1/2/1904
- Frank, his son and his friends bring
Carrie's body home to Decatur on the
2:00 pm Sunday 1/3/1904
- Carrie Leavenworth's funeral is
conducted by Rev. William
J. Davidson of the First Methodist
Church (1902-1907) and she is later
Cemetery in Decatur, IL.
Pallbearers are Charles M. Luling,
George W. Mueller, Will Leiby, Clarence
J. McConnell, Albert Gillie and James V.
Simeral from the TPA club. (Frank
is laid by Carrie's side when he dies in
Four more searchers were on
During the hours when Carrie's body could not be
found, some of her friends from Post K organized to
join the search and traveled to Chicago. These
included Elizabeth Kneiper Bunn, who had been a
member of the Leavenworth household at times and was
familiar with Carrie's clothing (and who would in
1905 marry Carrie's son, Bertram H. Leavenworth);
William E. Carter, president of the Post K of TPA in
Decatur; and Harry L. Holiday. By the time the group
reached Chicago, Carrie's body had been found and
they went to the home of Frank's mother on Rhodes
Frank and fire
A 1977 newspaper
story highlighted Frank's many brushes with
Frank and his
parents survived the great Chicago fire
of 1871, first bunkering down in their
rented rooms at the Great Northern
Hotel, then escaping to the river with a
handful of their household belongings,
In 1901 Frank's
Mueller, Platt & Wheeland,
a fire in
their newly occupied building in Decatur, IL.
In 1914 the
entire block at Water and Wood streets
in Decatur was destroyed, including
Frank's grocery (founded in
1906 to offer wholesale prices on canned
goods to the retail consumer).
Carrie Leavenworth was popular in
Decatur, recognized for her frequent piano
performances. She was a member of the Woman's Club, the Ladies
Auxiliary and Decatur's local Post K of the
Travelers Protective Association fraternal
organization (T.P.A.), in which Frank was also
involved. The organization, which still exists, was
created in 1882 by and for traveling salesman.
Post K in Decatur seems to have been very active in
the early 1900s.
In the years after the fire
Seemingly Frank wasn't a man
to let the past get in the way of the future. He spend most of November,
1903 running classified ads in an attempt to sell the family horse and carriage
and by 1905 would own his second automobile.
Fourteen months after
Carrie's death he replaced her with Ora Smith Shy (1875-1960). Ora was the
sister of a Decatur pastor's wife and recently divorced from Simon Shy of
Louisiana, Missouri. Like Carrie, Ora would became close to her
mother-in-law, Caroline Leavenworth, and to Frank's friend, George W. Mueller.
She seems to have been like-minded with Frank in her views about moving forward.
She buried two more husbands after Frank Leavenworth.
Carrie's sons married – Bertram to Lizzie Kneiper Bunn
(of the would-be TPA rescue party) and Frank Leavenworth Jr. to Louise
Williams. Frank and Louise had one child, a son
named Frank Fletcher Gurdon Jr., who served as a pilot
in World War II and became a geothermal engineer in
Iroquois victim Carrie Fletcher Leavenworth
(b. 1858), in 1903 a resident of Decatur, Illinois,
a city about three hours southwest of Chicago.
Carrie was the daughter of New York natives, a tin
smith, Darius G. Fletcher (1833-1883), and Mary A.
Fletcher. The family moved around a bit during her
childhood, residing in Canada, Racine, Wisconsin and
Chicago before settling in Decatur, IL. Carrie
married in 1879.
Carrie's husband, Loyal Frank Leavenworth
(1858-1917), who went by his middle name, in 1903
a traveling salesman for
grocery wholesaler, Mueller, Platt & Wheeland.
Carrie's oldest son,
Bertram Harold Leavenworth (1879-1937), shared his
mother's love of music, playing the cornet.
traveling salesman for Franklyn McVeigh and Company,
a food distributor, Bert was thought to be in Chicago the
day of the fire but it was eventually learned he did not attend the theater with
Carrie's youngest son, Frank Fletcher Leavenworth
Jr. (1886-1949), was in 1903 employed as a part
time usher at the Opera House theater in Decatur
and also worked at a dry goods store.
Carrie's mother-in-law, Caroline Todd Leavenworth
(1833-1920) – who was also nicknamed Carrie, lived
at 3642 Rhodes Avenue in Chicago.
Discrepancies and addendum
A Decatur newspaper, like
some others in the first days after the fire,
speculated that exploding gas tanks may
have contributed to the Iroquois Theater fire.
In 1977 a Decatur paper published a human interest story about
Frank - mistakenly identifying the wife who died
at the Iroquois as Ora, his second wife, rather than Carrie
Fletcher, his first.
* In 1880 U.S. Census
Carrie's name was spelled as Karie and their family
name as Lavenworth. In some other records it was
One report said Carrie's son, Frank Jr., purchased
the tickets for his mother after having seen the
Mr. Bluebeard twice before during a recent visit
to Chicago. Another report said her theater
companion, Mr. Gurley, had four tickets for a
theater party that did not materialize so gave one
ticket to Carrie, then decided
to attend to a business matter. Perhaps the
truth is a mishmash of both stories. Maybe son
Frank, a teenage usher at Decator's Opera House,
recommended the show to his mother and family friend
Gurley bought four tickets, expecting to find two
others for the party, and when he could not,
thinking it would look unseemly to attend the
theater with a married woman, unchaperoned, found a
pressing business matter to take care of.
† Despite Mr. Gurley's
significant role, I've failed to learn his last
name. Three brothers were in the restaurant
business in Chicago. As a wholesale grocer
Frank Leavenworth may have had a business
association with restaurant owners but that's
Many sources reported the
rarity of ground floor victims but only
the Decatur paper put a specific number
to it. With dozens of first
responders swarming through the theater, it is
highly unlikely anyone made a count. It is
more probable that a policeman or fireman estimated
that "no more than a dozen" died on the ground floor
and by the time it was published, that estimate was
reported as fact. In general, no counting or
record keeping took place until after bodies arrived
at funeral homes. The chaotic and undocumented
circumstances of victim retrieval at what would
today be called a "crime scene" negated evidence
tying a specific victim to a specific place in the
theater and cause of death, making the prosecutor's
job more difficult. Of six hundred bodies,
there was an evidentiary chain for only a handful.
Josephine Bowman and
family of Decatur Iroquois Theater victims
Carrie Leavenworth of
Iroquois victim Andy
Sheridan was a railroad engineer
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