electrical inspectors were involved with the
Iroquois Theater. In December, 1903 the
department was operating without a chief electrical
Sixty-three-year-old William Curran,
a native of Canada, resigned
building department in February, 1906,
two years after the Iroquois Theater fire.
In his inspection of the theater minutes
before the show started, he gave the
facility an A-OK. Curran was one of
fifteen building inspectors. Annual
salary: $1,200 ($31,000 today). He
testified before the coroner's jury in mid
January, 1904 that he squeezed in unofficial
theater inspections at night and on weekends
when other business structures in his
district were closed and inaccessible.
Though Curran testified that he understood
his job description required him to spot
check if aisles were too full of standing
patrons in theaters, Iroquois usher
George Dusenberry testified that during
Curran's December 30, 1903 visit, minutes
before the fire broke out, he did not remark
upon the filled aisles to Dusenberry.
Curran also testified that he was not
responsible for the condition of exits and
that the position of chief inspector,
previously occupied by his immediate
supervisor, had not been refilled after the
William H. Barry in February, 1904.
William and Catherine Monahan Curran had
four children. He was the son of
William and Annie Cleary Curran.
electrician Harry Hay Hornsby, a
thirty-two-year-old St. Louis native,
was filling in for Chicago City Electrician,
Edward B. Ellicott (who was on temporary
assignment as chief electrical engineer for
the St. Louis at World's Fair).
Hornsby testified at the coroner's inquest
that the Chicago Edison Company had applied
for a permit to install 2,400 incandescent
lamps* at the Iroquois Theater and
inspections were made throughout the
installation. In keeping with past practice,
a "verbal permit" was granted to turn on
electrical current to the building prior to
completion of the lamp installation.
During building construction an inspection
had been made of extension boxes, but not of
lamps plugged into them. Hornsby reported
that his department usually issued a permit
subsequent to inspection of fixture and
placement of spot and flood lamps, but that
there was no record of permit application or
inspection of the 625 incandescent lamps and
twenty-five flood lamps used by the Mr.
Bluebeard company at the Iroquois.
Hornsby predicted that when his assistant,
Victor Hornsby (see below) testified Tousley
would report the Bluebeard managers told him those lamps would
not be used at the Iroquois. Instead
Tousley testified that it was not his job to
scout the stage in search of new or changed
lamps, that it was the theater's job to
apply for a permit prior to installation.
years after the Iroquois Theater fire Harry
married Pauline Kimbell (1886-). In
1920 he operated his own electrical shop, by
1930 worked as a salesman for someone else's
electrical shop and in the last decade of his life
Harry and Pauline ran a boarding house.
Victor H. Tousley
assistant electrical inspector
inspector, Victor Tousley Jr. (1876-1972),
was assistant to Harry
H. Hornsby. At trial the deputy
coroner, Lawrence Buckley, made much of Klaw
& Erlanger not having gotten permission from
the electrical department, via an
application submitted to Hornsby and
inspection passed by Tousley before the
Mr. Bluebeard company plugged in
light fixtures that traveled with the
company, such as the combination
flood/spotlight that started the fire.
Deputy coroner Buckley disregarded
testimony about fifty lamps plugged into extensions
and implied that Mr. Bluebeard stage
workers altered structural wiring, leaving
me to wonder if Buckley knew the difference.
Nothing more was reported about illegal
wiring so someone must have introduced
Buckley to extensions. Down, Larry.
No smoking gun, just a plug.
Tousley was the son of
Wisconsin parents, Wilber and Genoa Tousley.
His father, Wilber, a former publisher, died
just twenty days before the Iroquois Theater
fire. Victor's younger brother, John,
was also an electrician. In 1921 Victor may have
taken advantage of his father's contacts
when he co-published a book about
electricity that was marketed and
distributed by Sears Roebuck. In
the accompanying photo, taken during
Victor's Iroquois trial testimony, he looks
looks to be about twelve years old but he
was actually twenty-seven. By 1921 he
was head of the electrical sub section of
the Chicago building department.
Victor married Nila Commellson. They
had one child, named Gilbert Tousley.
In 1903 Iroquois inquests, the term "incandescent
lamp" was used to mean what we today call a light
bulb so 625 incandescent lamps referred to 625 light
bulbs, not 625 light fixtures or lamps. The
terms "flood lamp" and "calcium lamp" were used
interchangeably although the lamp that started the
Iroquois fire, and used most commonly in theaters
1890-1920 was actually a carbon arc lamp, a
subsequent generation to the calcium lights of
If you have additional
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