Josephine Pettit Henning (b. 1862), wife of James
Henning, died on February 8, 1904, forty days after
the Iroquois Theater fire. She suffered both
burn and inhalation injuries.
sons who died at the Iroquois:
- Five year old Charles
"Charlie" C. Henning (b. 1898)
- Eight year old
James Henning Jr. (b.1895)
- Twelve year old Edwin L.
- Thirteen year old William C. Henning (b.1890)
who would have turned fourteen in three days
Emily Henning was not told
of her son's deaths initially but one
newspaper reported that her death was hastened by the
knowledge of the loss of her sons, so
she was told
of her deaths before she died.
Days after the fire, it was
reported that Emily's injuries were not serious and
that she would survive. In
Leavenworth, KS, however, her mother, also named
Emily, but I will refer to her as Mrs. Pettit
so as to avoid confusion, was interviewed by a newspaper on January 8,
1904 and had a much different report on her
Some statements in the
interview are so inaccurate that I suspect they were
fabricated by the newspaper reporter to pad the
story so I'll only relate what has a
possibility of being true.
Mrs. Pettit traveled
from Kansas to Chicago to visit Emily in the
hospital and described what she heard and/or read
during her visit. Emily was bandaged and had
most probably been given morphine but recognized her
mother's voice and was able to speak.
According to Mrs. Pettit's
newspaper interview, Emily had been found inside the
auditorium by firemen, clutching the hand of her
youngest son, Charlie. The fireman thought both were
dead and carried them to Thompsons
diner where Emily regained consciousness. She spoke to a
priest, asking him to call her husband at Anson Hall.
Emily was badly burned, her
hair gone, burns covering her upper body, and deep
burns on one arm that physicians said might prove
Of James' search for the
bodies of his
sons, Mrs. Pettit reported that he and his brother,
Edwin Henning (1852-1918), found Charlie's body at Thompsons
(Four years earlier James and Edwin had been in a
Marshall, Michigan court in a dispute about
money so this may have been example of family coming
together in a time of tragedy.) William's body
was found at a morgue and identified by the chain
and clasp from his mother's chatelaine bag, as well
as $25. Edward was also
found at a morgue but his face was
gone. He was identified by a Sunday School paper in his
pocket. End of Mrs.
Pettit's first interview.
The search for Jimmy's body
as reported elsewhere, based on interviews with
While James was tending to
Emily in the hospital, and making arrangements for
the burial of his other three sons, he was trying
desperately to find Jimmy's body.
got a list from the coroner's office of other
Iroquois victims Jimmy's age and sent letters to their
families, asking if there was any chance they'd made
a mistake in identifying their boy's bodies.
One of the letter recipients
was the attorney for the Palmer family.
The entire Palmer family of
four had died at the Iroquois -- mother, father and two
sons. A group of friends and relatives looked
for their bodies and identified the body of a boy they thought
Howard Palmer. Some newspapers reported
that the body had already been buried and had to be
disinterred for examination; other newspapers said
the Palmer family bodies were awaiting shipment to
Philadelphia for burial. The boy thought to be
the Howard Palmer was examined by the child's
dentist and declared to be Jimmy Henning. The
Palmers attorney hired a detective, involved their
family dentist and the correct Howard Palmer was
found. By January 28, 1904 James Henning had
the bodies of all four of his sons and could
concentrate on Emily.
In Kansas, Mrs. Pettit gave
another interview, this one about her
grandson's body having been located. Mrs.
Pettit, however, said it was the Henning's youngest
whose body was found, five year
old Charlie. A few other newspapers did the
same but I noticed that Chicago papers, who had the
opportunity to speak directly with James, reported
multiple times that it was Jimmy's body that was
missing -- as had Mrs. Pettit in her prior
Mrs. Pettit also said her son-in-law had
helped authorities with numerous incorrectly
identified bodies, causing me to wonder if James
had a hand in straightening out the mix up with the
Corbin and Greenwald boys.
According to Mrs. Pettit,
James Henning's late father, David Henning, had bequeathed an allowance and college fund
for each of the four boys. David Henning was a
prosperous barrel maker, apple grower (nicknamed
"Apple King") and owned four municipal gas utility
plants in Michigan, Missouri and Kansas.
was said that David Henning introduced the idea of shipping
fruits in barrels rather than boxes. It
happened because one year his cooperage made too
many barrels so offered apple-filled barrels as a
promotion. It was so successful that he was
soon in the apple growing business. One of
James' nephews, David Henning Frazer, took over his
grandfather's business interests.
Life for James after the
Iroquois Theater fire
After the fire, James
Henning abandoned his business interests and
retired. For a time he was not heard from. Finally
he sent a letter to his brother, Edwin, saying that
he was ok but traveling and trying to cope
with his grief. For the next three years Edward
received occasional letters from James, sent from
around the world.
In March, 1907 he was
traveling on the
steamship Cedric from London to New York when he became loud and emotional
about the deaths of his family, and resisted leaving
a public area. The ship officials
put him in a strait jacket for the remainder of the
voyage. On landing in New York, James was taken to
Bellevue hospital and his brother, Edward, was
summoned from Chicago. He was then transferred
to a private sanitarium, Sanford Hall, in Flushing,