Odessa and Alicia died at the theater. Alica's
body, like Helen's, was found on the first floor,
below their second-floor balcony seats. The
proximity of their bodies in the auditorium suggests
they jumped from the balcony. The odds are
slim that two members in the same theater party fell
accidentally from the same point in the balcony.
It seems probable that Helen, as the adult, led the
perilous escape effort, but perhaps not. Helen
may have followed an agile young Alicia when she
climbed onto the ledge. Their relatives,
knowing the personalities of each, probably had a
fair guess as to which went first. They fell
roughly twenty feet, a survivable distance on open
ground. Landing on seats, however, may have
resulted in fatal fractures to skulls or spines.
Newspapers did not report whether they were burned
or suffocated. They may have jumped during
their last seconds of life after the fireball sealed
their fate. When jumping, they may have
expected to survive. The auditorium had
probably gone dark by the time they were willing to
take such a risk, but in the light from the flames,
they may have been able to discern a hope-inspiring
difference between their balcony and the first
floor: aisles not jammed with people. The
first floor emptied well before the fireball.
Helen's body showed signs of trampling that could
have happened in the balcony before jumping or after
she landed on the first floor. Or what an
undertaker concluded was trampling injury could have
been incurred from the fall if she landed partially
atop another person, such as Alicia or the
unfortunate Boyer Alexander.
A newspaper reported that Odessa Trask made it down
one flight of stairs outside the auditorium then got
turned around; she died beneath the flight of stairs
she'd just descended.* I suspect she became trapped
by the accordion
Helen C. Bates Trask (b.1853),
though bruised and trampled, was thought to be alive
when firemen carried her from the theater to a
nearby saloon near the
Iroquois theater at Randolph and Dearborn.
When physicians there
failed to revive her,
the body was removed to
Carroll's funeral home and later identified
by her oldest daughter, Julia E. Trask (1878-1934).
$200 was stolen from Helen Trask's body while she
was at the saloon.
Odessa Crane Trask (b.1892) was found at Perrigos Funeral Home and identified by her
father. Odessa was the youngest of three
daughters born to Helen and Riverus Trask.
There isn't the usual newspaper trail for the family
members of a prominent retailer in a small town,
leading me to suspect the Trasks may have been extraordinarily private
people. If so, that would have made the publicity surrounding the
body theft and Witz
trial particularly painful.
The victim's bodies were transported back to Ottawa
on the Rock Island railway the day after the fire. The double
funerals for Helen and Odessa were conducted at
their home by reverends John B.
McGuffin, retired Methodist pastor living in
Sheridan, Illinois, and
Lucius O. Baird (1864-)
of the Congregational church in Ottawa.
McGuffin was an old friend of the
Bates family. Thirty or so
years earlier, he had been the pastor of the
Earlville Methodist church Helen attended
as a girl. She was the child
of Massachusetts natives, Ward and Julia Mason Bates,
with a distant ancestor who fought in the American
in Earlville, Illinois,
where Helen grew up, cemetery name unknown. 'Seems likely
Helen, Odessa, Ward and Julia are in a common plot,
Trask and Moloney families were from Ottawa, Illinois,
a small town with a population of around 10,000 then,
about eighty miles southwest of Chicago – two hours by
train in 1903. The Trasks lived at 228 Clay in Ottawa, a couple
away from the Moloney home on 307 Benton St.†
Efforts to verify the relationship between the Trask
and Moloney families were not fruitful. Helen
was about the same age as Anna Mohoney, and their
children went to school together.
Married in 1876, Helen and
sixty-one-year-old Riverus H. Trask
had celebrated their twenty-sixth anniversary
the August before the fire. Riverus served in
army during the
War from 1862-1865 as part of
Company S in the New York 114 infantry regiment.
In the 1880s, he operated a combination jewelry and
optometry store that by 1900 focused on jewelry.
(It may have been co-owned with a brother.) As well
as several of his relatives, Riverus manufactured
silver tableware, and today's collector's value his
youngest of five children born to Maurice
T. Moloney (1849 - 1917) and Anne
Jane Graham Moloney (1855-1939), married in 1883. Maurice
was an Irish immigrant educated in the United States
who initially studied to become a priest then
changed to law, earning a law degree from the
University of Virginia. After moving to
his career progressed rapidly. He
as Ottawa's city attorney 1879-1881,
state attorney for LaSalle county 1884-1888 and
Illinois attorney general 1893-1897. He also served as the
mayor of Ottawa 1899-1902. Maurice kept a law
office in Chicago in addition to his offices in
Ottawa and was a co-owner of the Ottawa gas plant.
Alicia's father and brothers found her body at the
Cook County morgue in the early morning hours the
day after the fire. Her twenty-three-year-old
brother, Frederick G. Mohoney made the official
identification. Fathers Michel A. Quirk and Kelly at
Patrick's Catholic Church on
the corner of Pine and West Jefferson in Ottawa
conducted her funeral, followed by burial at St.
Discrepancies and addendum
* Information about the location of their bodies
comes from the Ottawa newspaper. The location of
Helen's and Alicia's body is probably accurate
because the handful of fatalities on the first floor
received more individual attention, particularly
since they included the decapitated body of the
Alexander boy. Firefighters carrying Helen's body
across Randolph street to a saloon for medical
attention, and the subsequent theft and trial, would
have served to further connect a name to the
discovery location of her body. Information about
the site of Odessa's body is less certain. I've
found no descriptions of firemen examining bodies
for identification while still at the theater. It
was too dark and chaotic, with too many victim
bodies and first responders. Body carriers rarely
knew the morgue destination. They laid bodies on the
sidewalk or in the care of physicians and went back
into the theater to retrieve another body. A
separate crew loaded bodies into transport wagons.
The reason Chicago was able to dispatch so many
bodies within a few hours is that first responders
didn't take time to chat as they went about their
gruesome task. Temperatures were freezing, there
were often large numbers of curious onlookers and
many of the bodies were in ghastly condition.
Workers became protective of the dignity of the
victims and shoed away gawkers. Any accidental
victim identification depended upon a police officer
or fireman telling the driver of a body transport
wagon, who then passed the information along to the
receiving undertaker and he on to the family.
Newspapers cited fewer than five victims recognized
once brought outside the theater. While those who
found Odessa's body might have remembered their
discovery because there were few bodies in that
area, it is unlikely a victim's identity became
attached to that recollection.
† A year after the fire the Moloney's built a new
home next door to their old one. Perhaps a way to
ease painful memories of gatherings that included