Howard Williams was a
seventeen-year-old Cornell University student, home for the
Christmas holidays. He had purchased tickets for
another show but, at the last minute, changed his mind
and went to Mr. Bluebeard at the Iroquois
Theater. He and his
girlfriend (name not yet found) sat in the balcony.
Williams had attended the
Lewis Institute in 1902 and was expected to graduate
from Cornel in 1906 with a BA. He was on the
basketball and track teams.
His body was found at Rolston's mortuary. His friend and fellow
Cornell student, twenty-year-old Edward Johnson Blair (1883-1973),*
Blair's father, George Peters
Blair (1854-1938), and John Henry Hopkins, minister
at the Church of the Epiphany† attended by the
Blair and Williams families, spent the morning after
the fire searching morgues. I don't know if
Howard's father or half brother was also
involved in the search.
In the years after the Iroquois Theater fire,
Howard's mother compiled a scrapbook of his
childhood artwork, offering a glimpse at her son as a boy.
In his book about
his wife and memoirs,
The Life of Marie Moulton Graves
Hopkins, Beloved Wife of John Henry Hopkins
And The Story of Their Life and Work Together, Hopkins
wrote that he would never forget the experience.
Five other other members of his
parishioners were also Iroquois Theater victims,
and her three children, and
Gertrude Fitzpatrick (though one source placed the Holst family services at a Presbyterian church).
In addition to mutual
membership in the Church of the Epiphany and Cornell
Williams and Edward Blair (Cornell class of 1905,
M.E.) both attended Lewis
Institute for their undergraduate education before
going on to Cornell.
The Lewis Institute, founded in
1895, offered liberal arts, science, and engineering
courses. In 1940 it and the Armour Institute of
Technology were merged to form today's Illinois
Institute of Technology.
Howard's funeral was held at
the family home at 213 South Leavitt St. in Chicago
on Saturday, on Jan 2 1904, at 8:00 a.m.
Howard John Williams (b.1886) was the youngest of two children
born to John Howard Williams (1836-1914) and Inez
Fulmer Williams (1863-1928). Howard's younger
sister, Margaret Williams (1893-), was six years old
at the time of the fire. John Williams was a
principal of the Washington Ice Company in Chicago
Inez was John's second wife, married in 1885. With
his first wife, Miriam Lucy Kingsbury (1840-1882), he had a son, named Charles K.
Williams (1877-1933) and a daughter, Cherry Ellen Williams
(1866-1945). John was born in Maine, Inez in
Wisconsin and all his children in Illinois.
In the eleven years after the
Iroquois fire, Howard's mother, Inez Fulmer Williams,
would lose three of her six siblings, as well as her
John Williams' company, the Washington Ice Company,
had been prosperous enough that they owned their
home on South Leavett and in 1900 retained a
teenaged live-in house servant, Ruth Jeffrey
(1886-). He was one of three principals when
the company was incorporated in December of 1877,
capitalized with $250,000. His partners were Walhams and M. S. Thompson.
Washington Ice Company
Ice companies harvested ice
from rivers and lakes, hauling it by steamboats for
storage in ice houses. Chicago's demand for ice gave
rise to twenty-two ice companies, employing 7,000
workers in 1900. John William's Washington Ice
Company was the largest of those. It is
interesting to read newspaper stories from the
1870s-1900s and see ice described as a crop to be
harvested, its availabilities and prices subject to
climate changes, much as corn or bean crops are
Warm winters in the mid-1890s
reduced the supply of ice. Companies had to
travel as far north as Green Bay, Wisconsin, then
haul it south to Chicago, thereby increasing their
costs. When they raised prices to
accommodate increased costs, they were demonized.
Chicago, rate increases were 40% – from $.15 cents a week
to $.25 a week (inflation-adjustment: $4.30-$7.30). In Manhattan, prices doubled. In both
cities, price increases brought accusations from a
trust-averse populace that ice companies
were colluding. John Williams was one of the
Chicago ice company representatives who spoke up and tried to
explain the economics behind the price increases.
In 1898, rumors of a Chicago
ice trust became fact. Thirty "natural" ice
companies‡ merged under the Knickerbocker name.
Knickerbocker II was capitalized with $5 million and
$2 million in 2,300 acres of real estate and ice
privileges, 122 ice houses in three states, 1.5
million tons of inventoried ice, 1,200 horses, 800
wagons, 200 railroad cars, 35 miles of railroad
switch tracks, etc.
John Williams became secretary
of the new entity, receiving
stocks and bonds in the new
book, Challenging Chicago: Coping with Everyday
Life,§ author Perry Duis offers an
interesting discussion of the collision that took
place in the 1920s between ice companies, technology
and ramped up consumer expectations.
Discrepancies and addendum
* Not to be confused with
Clyde Blair, also a university student and an
athlete, who survived the Iroquois Theater
† Closed in
2011 after the congregation shrank to six people.
‡ As opposed to
chemically-made "artificial ice," that had begun
demonstrating it was more than a pricey novelty.
§ (found a used copy on
Ebay for under $5.
auditorium days after fire
Landing at Iroquois
Theater that became a deathtrap
extinguishers a joke
Other discussions you
might find interesting