On December 30, 1903 Herman
Fellman hosted a theater party for his family,
perhaps to celebrate his daughter's thirteenth
birthday. The party:
Herman (or Hermann) Fellman
(or Fellmann) (b.1866) – audience fatality
Sidonie (or Sedonie or
Sidonia) Anger Ruhlman (or Ruhleman
or Ruehlman) Fellman
(1869-1923) – survivor
(1890-1964) – thirteen-year-old survivor
– seventy-year-old fatality, her body never
She lived in Detroit with another of her sons,
Adolph Fellman (1870-1922) and his wife, Emma
Jerendt Fellman (1877-1904).
Anger Ruhlman (or Ruhleman or Ruehlman) (b.1840) –
audience fatality, from Detroit
The location was Chicago's
newest playhouse, the Iroquois Theater, and the
presentation was a pantomime of an old fairytale,
Mr. Bluebeard. Producers
Klaw & Erlanger had imported costumes and
scenery from the Drury Lane Theater in London, then
added songs and features for their American
audiences. The audience was filled with
teachers, children and families enjoying spectacular
lighting and special effects, including aerial
When a fire broke out on
stage, Herman quickly got his wife and daughter to
safety, then went back after his mother and
mother-in-law. By then the doorways and
complicated stairways were jammed with terrified
theater goers. Herman, Bertha and Clara did
not make it out of the inferno.
Herman Fellman was a carpenter
and contractor from Detroit who had relocated to
Chicago to better his business prospects.
In 1888 at age twenty-one he married Sidonie, a
fellow German immigrant. Herman had arrived in
America in 1872 and Sidonie in 1884. They
had two children – a son that died in
infancy and a daughter,
Gertrude Fellman (1890-1964).
In 1903 Herman sent $10 each
to his mother and mother-in-law who lived in
Detroit, Clara Ruhleman, with invitations for the
women to come to visit
he and his wife in Chicago over the Christmas
holidays. They set out for Chicago by train on
Dec 24, 1903, arriving that evening in time to spend
Christmas Eve. It would later be reported that
Bertha Fellman, his mother, had a sense of
foreboding about the trip. There were dozens
of such reports after the fire. As a mother
and worrier, if I labeled as foreboding all the
times a horrible possibility has run through my mind
about my loved ones, my clairvoyance accuracy,
fortunately, is zero. For Bertha Fellman in
1903 her anxiety about their trip to Chicago turned
out to be accurate. More about Bertha below.
Anger Ruhleman's body was found at Rolston's
mortuary and identified by her son, Arthur Anger,
who came from Lansing, Michigan to make the
After the fire
Sidonie testified about
their experiences at the Iroquois Theater before the
grand jury February 15, 1904. Two years later in Detroit, she married Alois Hastreiter
and two years after that married Otto Herman Jarrendt
Daughter Gertrude grew up, married Fred Michael Stucker and
they had a daughter named Doris. Gertrude's
family lived with her mother and stepfather in
Chicago in 1920 and by 1930 had relocated to
Adolph Fellman lost his wife
in 1904 and their five year old daughter in 1905.
He remarried a woman named Ottilie Werner
(1871-1946) and they had a son named Walter Fellman
Puzzle of Bertha Fellman's
The only Fellman for whom a
burial permit was issued was Herman.
That's because they never found his mother
Bertha's body. Three weeks after the fire the
family filed a petition in probate court to have
Bertha declared dead so the estate could be
closed. Sidonie Fellman testified that Bertha
had been with them in the theater. Adolph, his
wife, Emma, and Sidonie would have viewed the few
remaining unidentified bodies, probably more than
once and probably very carefully because there were
so few. Within one week after the fire only
four bodies remained unclaimed, only two of which
were females. That would have included the one
buried beneath the Iroquois Theater memorial marker
in Montrose Cemetery.
Nothing was reported to
suggest that body parts from the scene had to be
matched up to complete assembled corpses or that
officials suspect entire body(s) had been consumed.
With the exception of a report of one severed hand
found in the ice in Couch Place alley the day after
the fire, and the head of one boy on the first
floor, next to his body, references to
body parts were in conjunction with removing bodies
from the balconies. Some had been burned badly
enough that when first responders attempted to
separate bodies from piles on the stairway landing
and in front of the exits in the balconies, limbs
sometimes separated from the body but there were no
references to headless torsos or a quantity of
disconnected parts assembled to make bodies as would
be the case in the
Eastern disaster a dozen years later.
There is a chance that the
answer to the puzzle about Bertha Fellman's body
lies in an event ten years later. In 1913 a
career criminal called Spencer confessed to having
stolen a body and buried it under a bogus name,
Nellie Skarupa. It was the body of a woman
fifty or so years younger than Bertha Fellman's but
badly damaged by the fire. Did Bertha go in
the ground as Nellie?
Possibly connected to
Spencer and the Fellmans was a curious incident that
took place in the few days in the first week in
January between when Adolph and his wife located
Herman's and Clare's body and their return to
man appeared at the Fellman home in Detroit,
claiming to represent a Chicago undertaker.
He claimed to be there to retrieve the caskets soon
to arrive with the bodies of Herman and Clara.
A relative became suspicious and took him to an
undertaker the family was familiar with to discuss the arrival of the caskets.
The undertaker found the man's behavior odd and
treated him coldly. The man disappeared and
did not return.
He was described as short and with a mustache.
By 1913 con man Spencer did not have a mustache but
he might have had one in 1903. If him, whatever
might he have had in mind when approaching the Fellmans?
His cons were sometimes long on arrangements and
short on gain, not helped by an opium
Discrepancies and addendum
* Several online sites repeat what I believe
must be an
error: that Herman Fellman changed his name from
Sidonic Fellman to Herman Fellman. Inaccurate data
entry or a character recognition error seems more
probable than that a man named Sidonic married a
woman named Sidonie.
Everette disaster book stated inaccurately that
Clara lived in Chicago. She lived in Detroit.
Cemetery traffic at 1st
Lorado Taft sculpted
La Porte Indiana women
Iroquois Theater victims
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