On December 30,
1903, fifty-year-old Helen Trask took her fourteen-year-old daughter Odessa and eleven-year-old
neighbor child, Alicia Moloney, for a holiday excursion in Chicago
that included an afternoon matinee of Mr.
Bluebeard at Chicago's newest luxury playhouse, the Iroquois Theater.
All three perished.
Odessa and Alicia died at the theater. Alica's
body, like Helen's, was found on the first floor,
below their second floor seats. Whether they
jumped from the balcony or were pushed will never be known.
It was reported that Odessa Trask made it down one flight of stairs
outside the auditorium but then got turned around
and was found beneath the flight of stairs she'd
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 a physician 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). It was discovered that
$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 Witz
trial particularly painful.
The victims 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 who more than thirty years
earlier had been pastor of the Methodist
church in Earlville 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 but the name of the cemetery is
not known and is not listed in Find-A-Grave.
There are over thirty cemeteries within ten miles of
Earlville. Her parents, Ward and Julia Bates
are also not listed online. 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 blocks
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 his 1876-1908
products are found in today's collector community.
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
Illinois his career progressed rapidly as he served
as Ottawa's city attorney 1879 - 1881,
states 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 body was
located at the Cook County morgue where it was
identified by her twenty three year old brother,
Frederick G. Mohoney. Her funeral
was conducted by fathers Michel A.
Quirk and Kelly at the
Patrick's Catholic Church at the corner of Pine and West
Jefferson street in Ottawa, followed by
burial at St. Columba's Cemetery.
Discrepancies and addendum
about the location of their bodies comes from the
Ottawa newspaper. The location of Helen's and
Alicia's body is probably accurate. The
carrying by firemen of Helen's body across Randolph
street to a saloon for medical attention, and the
subsequent theft and trial, would have served to
connect a name to the discovery location of the
body. Information about the location of
Odessa's body is less certain. I've found no
descriptions of firemen examining bodies for
identification while still at the theater (too dark,
too chaotic, too many bodies, too many rescue
workers); once bodies were removed from the theater
rescuers rarely knew the morgue destination, least
of all body identification hours or days later.
Newspapers cited no more than a half dozen bodies
being recognized once brought outside the theater,
viewed under arc lights or in lights at Thompsons
Dinner. While the rescuers who found Odessa's body behind
the stairs may well have remembered the discovery,
and something of her appearance, there were many
female victims in her age range and it is unlikely
their recollections were ever connected to her name, even less likely to have been
communicated to her relatives.
† The year after the fire
the Moloneys built a new home next door to their old one. Perhaps
a way to ease painful memories of gatherings that
Hungarian immigrant Simon
Lumberyard owner died at Iroquois Theater
Margaret Idall Dotts
husband worked at CBOT
Other discussions you
might find interesting