Forty year old Wisconsin
Alfred John Oakey (b.1863), was a dentist, his
practice located in offices at the Merrick building
on the corner of 63rd and Stewart.
On Wednesday, December 30, 1903 his wife, forty-three-year-old Canadian native,
Emma Francis Hughes (1860-1939), and their two sons,
six-year-old Theodore Hughes Oakey (1897-1964) and
five-year-old Alfred John Oakey Jr. (1898-1981),
remained at home while Alfred took his daughters, thirteen-year-old Frances Lucile (b.1890) and eleven-year-old Marion
(b.1892), to an afternoon matinee of Mr. Bluebeard at
Chicago's new luxury playhouse, the Iroquois Theater.* All three
Dr. Oakey's body was found at
Jordan's funeral home. The receiving location of his
daughters' bodies was not reported. The bodies of all three Oakeys
were identified by Dr. Don L. Phillips, a dentist
with offices two doors from Alfred's.
newspaper reported that Oakey family's bodies were found still in their seats. This
gruesome bit of yellow journalism was attached to a
few victims, always by
out-of- town newspapers. Chicago reporters knew
better. Yes, a handful of victims were found
still seated, and another handful were found with
their feet and dresses caught in their seats from
having tried to climb over rows of seating. (See
fireman Roche's testimony about balcony on second
floor.) There were
fewer than two dozen found in seats, not hundreds, and
minimal probability that if
identified, the information was communicated to morgue attendants or the
disaster book included a moving story of an rescue
worker disobeying his supervisor to carry the body of a child all
the way out to the street because she reminded him
of his daughter. That moment of personal
involvement was singled out because it was rare.
The other 600+ bodies were handled with less
emotion. Getting live bodies to safety was Job
One. Getting dead bodies out of the still
smoldering theater so fire fighting could continue
was Job Two. Identification came later, by
thousands of family members and friends looking at
hundreds of bodies, and by police and morgue
attendants using clues found on the bodies.
Over 600 bodies were carried outside by
streams of hundreds of first responders, including
fire fighters, police and volunteers, from roughly
eleven locations in and around the theater.
Carriers and their supervisors (the only ones in a
position to see bodies in their seats) laid bodies
where told by triage workers on the street, then went
back inside to get another body, oftentimes not
knowing whether the victim left on the sidewalk
still breathed, with no knowledge of which hospital
or morgue received the body.
That is how 1903 Chicago handled
over eight hundred dead and injured with a level of
effectiveness that would be impressive if it
happened yesterday in 40-degree weather in the
bright of day, with motorized military vehicles to
transport the bodies, and cell phones to facilitate
The likelihood of a first responder
who knew Dr. Oakey being in the third floor balcony
and recognizing his corpse was slight.
Slighter still that that responder related his
observation to a triage worker, who in turn related
it to the wagon driver, who related it to the morgue
workers at Jordan's Funeral Home, who remembered the
story while moving around one hundred and
thirty-five corpses and interacting with hundreds of
family members who came to view the bodies, then
blurted it out to a grieving loved one.
Did a relative outside the
immediate family read a newspaper story about rows
of corpses and mention it in a conversation with a
reporter? Saw that in one story, perhaps this is
Funeral and burial
Following a private funeral
service at the family's home in Chicago the Saturday
morning after the fire, January 4, 1904, the Oakeys
were transported by rail to Madison, Wisconsin and buried at the
Forest Hill Cemetery. Five brothers were
among Alfred's mourners.
The Oakey family lived in
a six-room flat at 515 65th St., at the corner of
Ellis Ave. Frances, who at school went by
her middle name, "Lucile,"
attended the Lewis-Champlin school with three other
Iroquois Theater victims – the two
Rimes boys and
I was not able to learn the name of Marion's school.
In the interesting trivia
category: Two years prior
to the fire Dr. Oakey enjoyed a
7,000 mile railway trip to San Francisco with fellow
Methodists, including a visit to Playland swimming
pools and amusement park in San Francisco.
years after the fire
Emma and the boys
disappeared from the Chicago city directory the year
after the fire so may have moved in with another
family member for a time. A
$1,000 life insurance policy helped them
to eventually move to San
Bernardino, California to live with Emma's
mother and brother. Both Oakey boys
married and had families but not without sacrifice.
Theodore quit school in the eighth grade to help
support the family and put Alfred through
engineering college. Alfred Jr. named his
first-born daughter Marian Lucy after his two lost
sisters and his son Alfred John Oakey III.
Alfred Oakey III died during World War II. He
never met his son, Alfred Oakey IV, born five months
later....who seventeen years later died on his
Big thanks to Ron in Madison, Wisconsin for a
gravestone photo taken at the Forest Hill Cemetery.
At his website he provides info about