Twenty-four-year-old Agnes Hamilton Chapin (b. 1878)
taught French at the Kershaw school at 64th and
Union in Chicago. Agnes attended the theater with
one of her students,
seventeen year old Tyrone Essig. She may also
have been accompanied by her sister,
Anna, with whom she lived, or other teachers.
Anna taught at the Sherwood school and one of the
other teachers who died at the Iroquois, Edith Dickie,
taught at Sherwood so perhaps the three teachers
made up a party to the matinee.
Agnes was one of eleven children born to Seth Smith
Chapin (1820-1910), an Episcopal minister. Seth was
from Connecticut but raised his family in Clinton
Michigan where he lived most of his life, excepting
a couple years in Chicago around 1903.
In 1876 when his first wife died, who had born eight
of his children, he married a woman twenty six years
younger and fathered three more, including Agnes.
Agnes was named after her maternal grandmother,
Agnes Catherine Hamilton Stephenson (1813-1879),
pictured above, who emigrated to America from
1903 he and his second wife, the former Mary A.
Stephenson, lived in Chicago where
at least four of his children had located. As an eighty-three
year old, Seth worked as a helper and substitute for the rectors
of the Grace and St. Paul's churches, pitching in
with early services, burials and baptisms
Under the same roof was Agnes’s older half sister,
Anna Rebecca Chapin (1863-1956), also an elementary
school teacher (at the Sherwood school where her
annual salary was $700), and Anna and Agnes's
twenty-seven year old brother William
S. Chapin (1876-), a clerk in the Barbour thread
company. It was William who identified Agnes's body.
Agnes’s 1903 address at 4458 Berkely, was her third
residence in three years. The prevalence of
renting amongst the family members leads me to
wonder if there was a familial philosophy opposing property ownership. The only one of
Seth's children who owned their home was Edward C.
Chapin, the son who became an attorney in Lansing,
Michigan. Even a son who owned his
own dry goods store rented rooms in a boarding
house for he and his wife.
Agnes was buried in the family plot in Mt. Rest
Cemetery in Clinton County, Michigan. Her tombstone
recorded her death as 1904, telling us that she died
at the hospital after the fire. The tombstones of
most other Iroquois victims who died in the first
week after the fire, thus technically in 1904, were
Seven years after the fire, Seth and his wife moved
back to St. Johns in Michigan. Anna and
William remained in Chicago, for a time. Anna
continued teaching for a decade or two, spent a few
months traveling in Europe and by age sixty-five moved back
to Michigan where she lived with her brother's
family. William married and by 1920 was living in
Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, and working in real
original Kershaw school was located on Union Avenue
between 64th and 65th streets and was in 1900 one of
Chicago's largest schools. It was named after Joshua
D. Kershaw (1846-1900), an executive of the Chicago
& Eastern Illinois Railroad and a member of the
Englewood school board. Today's Kershaw Elementary
school, constructed in 1960, is located at 6450 S.
Interesting tidbit: At about the same time Agnes was
beginning her career as a school teacher, her
nephew, Roy Dikeman Chapin (1880-1936), was breaking
automobile races. He would go on to
co-found the Hudson Motor Car company and serve as
Secretary of Commerce for president Herbert Hoover.
His son, Roy Chapin Jr., born twelve years after Agnes's
death, became CEO of American
In an odd coincidence, three days after the Iroquois
Theater fire there was another fire in Chicago, at
the Louvre Hotel on Lake Avenue.
Three people died in that fire, including Florence
Chapin and her twelve year old son, Bissell Chapin,
neither related to Agnes Chapin.