In 1864, at twenty-six, John
H. Holland (b.1838) had left a wife and two sons at
home when he volunteered to fight as an infantryman
in the Union Army. As a soldier in Company A,
Pittsfield, MA volunteers, in the 61st
Massachusetts infantry, he saw action at Hatchers
Run, Petersburg and the surrender of Richmond.
After the war, John founded a successful retail
paint and wallpaper store in Des Moines, Iowa,
buried two wives and fathered three more children.
On December 30, 1903, he was sixty-five years old
and a widow of three months following the death of
his second wife, Mary. Perhaps in hopes of enjoying
some respite from mourning, he joined his two
daughters - Anna Bell Holland Whitcomb (1866-1938)
and Mabel Holland Ray Sims (1871-1932) - and
stepdaughter at an afternoon matinee of Mr.
the Iroquois Theater.
It was a lavish production with hundreds of
performers, elaborate lighting and plenty of
comedians. The singing and laughter came to an end
soon after the start of Act II when a stage fire
swept into the auditorium. In twenty minutes over
six hundred people were dead or dying – including
John and his thirty-six-year-old stepdaughter,
Lillian M. Pelton (b. 1867).
John Holland had
married Mary Koenig Pelton (1842-1903) in 1889
following the death of his first wife, Cincinnati native, Evelyn H. Seever Holland (1838-1884)
– his wife for twenty-five years and mother of his five children.
Mary, died in September
1903, three months before the Iroquois fire.
Before her marriage to Holland, Mary had divorced bricklayer Louis William Pelton (1842-1909).*
Daughter Lillian, who died at the Iroquois with
John, was named after Louis's sister, Lillian Pelton McFadden.
survivors were his children:
- Charles A.
Holland, artist (see below)
- John E.
Holland (1861-), Boston
- Iroquois survivor
Anna Bell Holland Whitcomb,
Chicago resident (1867-)
- Iroquois survivor
Sims (1871-1932), divorced† from Raphael
William Sims, with one child, Evaline, named after
- Ruth Holland
The Holland family home in
Des Moines was at 1068 24th St. near the
intersection with Cottage Grove. (During the
Holland's 10-day 10-day visit in Chicago,
D. H. Sleeper, a relative of
Mary's, stayed there to keep an
eye on things. Was possibly
John's Holland & New wallpaper and paint store in
Des Moines was at 608-610 Locust St.
The company claimed to be the largest such retailer
west of Chicago. In addition
to selling goods the company performed contract
painting and decorating
services. Product offerings including paint,
wallpaper, picture framing, mirrors,
sign painting and window
glass. As a young
man, John's first job in the decorating industry was as
a fresco and sign painting artist. After the
civil war, he had joined his father's business
for a few years then relocated to
Des Moines in 1878.
A W. F. Wilson identified
John's and Lillian's bodies, relationship unknown.
Two diamond rings and diamond earrings were missing
from Lillian's body.
If recovered, newspapers did not report it.
A double funeral was held in
Des Moines, Iowa the Monday after the fire. Services
may have been held at the Methodist church where
John and his late wife had been members. Burial was
at the Woodland Cemetery in De Moines.
marriage and divorce
Lillian was married to a St. Louis native, Leonidis
"Lee" H. Cordry (1866-1944), vice president and
manager of the Des Moines Dairy company for whom she
worked as a clerk. City directories
the Iliad hotel in Des Moines. He later
separated during the second half of 1900, Lee
returning to Saint Louis and Lillian taking a
clerking job. By 1901 they were divorced and
Lee had remarried. Lillian
continued to go by Cordry but retook her maiden name
in city directories and Pelton was used in her
estate settlement papers. The Cordry name was
given to newspapers in the first few days after the
fire, probably by relatives searching for her body,
so she appeared twice in some of the early lists, as
both Lillian Cordry and Lillian Pelton.
and her mother had spent the summer of 1902 in Colorado,
then Lillian spent the winter in
St. Louis. By 1903 she lived with her
mother and stepfather on 24th St. in Des Moines.
her death, Lillian's assets were
estimated at $248 for a share and a third of
the stock in her stepfather's paint dealership,
valued at $223, and a single share in Nissly's
restaurant in Des Moines worth $25. (Joe Nissly's restaurant was in the midst of union
disputes around the time Lillian's estate was settled.
He probably repurchased the share from the
estate, as Holland family members purchased Lillian's
share in John's decorating business.) $19.60 was
deducted from Lillian's estate to pay her
outstanding account at Younker Bros. for her last
purchase there – a $5 hat, dress fabric and sewing
notions. Also deducted was an undertaking fee of
$225.50 for Charles O'Donnell (owner of Western
Granite) and Henry Gray. See undertaking
accompanying picture of the invoice submitted to
administrator of Lillian's estate, attorney E. D.
Samson attempted but failed to find her father and
her estate was closed in early 1905. Her only known
surviving relatives were two cousins,
thirty-two-year-old F. P. White of Chicago, residing
at 615 Monadnock Bldg in Chicago and
forty-three-year-old C. H. White, living at 180
Claremont Ave in Jersey City, NJ.
Lillian's father, Louis
Pelton, appeared in Des Moines soon after the
closing of her estate. He and his family had been
living in Wisconsin. He later moved to Chicago.
Pelton brought with him $1,000 in cash he thought
was part of Lillian's estate that was determined not
to have belonged to Lillian.
son Charles was an artist
teacher with studios in Chicago, NYC, and San
Francisco, CA. He was involved in an
exhibit at the Panama Worlds Fair
and later in life may have
owned an antique store in Chicago.
Discrepancies and addendum
In 1880 Lillian lived with her father and aunt
Lillian McFadden's family in Chicago. Louis
described himself then as widowed. If so, he
married another woman after the end of his marriage
to Mary and yet again around 1882.
* After he and Mary's divorce Louis Pelton remarried
a women who had several children from a prior
marriage. They then had a couple children of
their own. At the time of her death, Lillian
had nine step- and half-siblings.
† Maybelle (sometimes called
Mabel) reported her marital status as widowed but
some genealogy reports show her husband as
remarrying and not dying until 1925. Maybelle
was society-minded, reporting her vacation plans to newspapers,
and may have chosen to claim widowhood to avoid the
stigma attached to divorce in 1900.
Burnside lost her life at the Iroquois Theater
Bergch mother and son Iroquois Theater
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