Nothing was reported in major newspapers about
Joseph D. Norris Jr surviving the Iroquois Theater
fire but LaPorte, Indiana historian, Fern Schultz,
cited his name in a 2011 news story. As chief history archivist for the community
Fern has access to stories about the disaster that appeared in
local newspapers and have not been scanned for
Forty-year-old Joseph D. Norris Jr. (1863-1918)
lived in LaPorte County, Indiana in 1903, his
hometown since childhood. All that is known about
his trip to the Iroquois is that he sat on the
He was one of four children born to Joseph D. Norris
and Catherine Mills Norris. Most of his life he
described himself as a surveyor. He did work in that
capacity in 1907, compiling and publishing an atlas
of La Porte County, but the occupation that turns up
most often in the scanty amount of information found
about him is that he was a steeple jack, doing
repair and painting on industrial smokestacks, water
tanks, flag poles and steeples.
A steeple jack with
a drinking problem.
1884 worked as a teacher. Played a $5
practical joke on a friend, a joke that looked too
much like blackmail. Was sentenced to a year in the
Michigan City penitentiary. Granted an appeal,
results not reported.
1888 patented a cutter bar for reapers and
1890 married Margaret Laughlin, a fellow
Indiana native. They did not have children.
1900 worked as a milk dealer
1902 living in Michigan City, north of
1904 injured while repairing a smokestack at
Republic Iron and Steel in East Chicago. Blown into
the air, reportedly 100 feet. Injuries described as
serious but survived. Maybe fell on his head.
Maybe the estimate of 100 feet was hooey. Keep
1906 accused of home burglary, stealing
$2,000 worth of jewelry in Hammond, Indiana, near
Gary. Confessed he'd sold the jewelry to a Chicago
saloon keeper for $29. Newspapers reported he was
from Liverpool and a sailor. Maybe living in
Liverpool, Indiana at the time. Suspect seaman angle
was interjected when he talked about using a bosun's
chair in his work.
1907 claiming to be 65 years old, appealed to
a Chicago police station to give him night's
lodging. Also claimed to have climbed the Eiffel
tower and worked the world over as a steeple jack
after leaving is Iowa home 45 years earlier, and to
have wasted a $100,000 fortune in earnings to
alcohol. If police recognized him as the fellow who
burgled jewelry a year earlier, it wasn't reported
but has to have been Joseph. How may steep jacks can
there have been in Chicago-NW Indiana named Joseph
D. Norris? Find myself remembering a 1970s TV
comedy, "Barney Miller."
1916 filed for bankruptcy.
c1917 moved to Gary.
1918 while supervising a construction crew at
the Aetna Powder Company, a munitions and dynamite
manufacturer in Gary, Indiana, he leaned against an
electric switch or wire (both reported by various
newspapers) and was electrocuted. Didn't say whether
he was hanging on the side of a smokestack at the