30, 1903 cousins Ada Markham Simpson of Colorado and
Caroline Brown Woods of Chicago attended an
afternoon matinee of a Christmas pantomime, Mr.
Bluebeard, at Chicago's newest luxury playhouse,
the Iroquois Theater. Both died in a stage
fire that spread to the auditorium and killed over
600 people, the worst theater fire in America's
Their mothers, Eliza Wilson
Markham (1834-1905), and Cassandra Wilson Brown
(1826-May,1862), were sisters, two of eleven
children born to James J. Wilson (1799-1855) and
Elizabeth Williams Wilson (c1799-1856). (Their
fathers were Austin S. Markham and James C. Brown.) Ada lived in Colorado and was visiting the Woods
family in Chicago over the holidays.
known about where Ada and Caroline were seated but
it is likely they were in the second or third floor
Forty-four year old Ada G. Markham Simpson (b.1859)*
was married in 1876 to retailer, Charles
Bem Simpson (1852-1933) and lived in Brush,
Colorado, a small town northeast of Denver. At
death Ada had two grown children by ex husband,
James Litch – George and Ella Litch – and at least
four grandchildren. Ada was born in Illinois,
grew up in Kansas and spent a majority of her adult
years in Colorado.
the weeks prior to the fire Ada had been traveling
with her daughter and granddaughter, twenty-four-year-old Ella Litch McKinney and three-year-old
Helen McKinney. According to a newspaper
obituary, when the trio reached West Point, IL Ada
took a train back northeast to Chicago to spend time
with her cousin Caroline.
Ada's body was found at
Rolston's Funeral home and identified from her
clothing by James G. Skinner, a school teacher of
unknown relationship to Ada. Her funeral was
held at the Presbyterian church, conducted by
reverend James L. Cameron (1869-).
Ada was buried in the Brush
Memorial Cemetery in Brush, Colorado.
During his marriage to Ada,
Charles Simpson operated grocery stores, a billiard
parlor and a farm implement store. In the
years after the fire he went into real estate and
insurance, in addition to farming and banking.
He served as the mayor of Brush and on the town
council. He remarried and had a daughter with
his second wife.
year old Caroline Emma Brown Woods (b.1853)
was married in 1873 to Isaac Leman Woods (1851-1927)
and lived at 537 65th St. in Chicago. At death
Caroline and Isaac had three grown daughters –
Pearl, Fay and Irene – and two grandchildren.
Pearl was married to Samuel S. Finley who identified
Caroline was buried in Chicago's Oak Woods cemetery.
Isaac joined her there two decades later.
Caroline's parents were
natives of Ohio. In the 1860s the family moved
to Warren county in Illinois, where Caroline met
Isaac, a native of Iowa. In the early days of
their marriage the pair settled for a time in
Jackson County on the Iowa-Illinois state line.
Isaac farmed, raised live stock and operated a farm
implement store. In the mid 1880s Isaac served
as an Iowa state representative. After moving
to Chicago around 1895, Isaac was president of a
commissioned live stock brokerage.
A decade after the fire,
Isaac Woods remarried, to Eleanor Bryson