Over six hundred members of
the Iroquois Theater audience would lose their lives
that afternoon but like most who were seated on the
first floor, all
in the Phillipson party escaped, losing nothing but their coats. Lillian,
the youngest, became separated from the family and until found was
thought to be a victim.
According to one newspaper
Lillian made it to the Union Hotel (probably referring
to the Grand Union Hotel in the former Music Hall building
on Randolph street) then somehow found her family.
Other stories connected the Phillipson family to the
distant Continental Hotel. There were many
discrepancies in reports about the family's Iroquois
experience but the appearance of Lillian's name on
missing lists suggests her name was given to
authorities as a missing audience member.
Some newspapers reported only three daughters were
in the party, some reported Francis's name as
Florence, some had Flora at the Continental hotel
sobbing for her children as others looked for them
in area stores, some reported three of the girls separated
from their mother and others that only Lillian was
separated from the family. A few newspapers
outside Chicago reported that an eight year old in
the party, named Adole, sometimes Adele, was
trampled to death and taken to a drug store where
her mother found her, became hysterical but was
prevented by bystanders from touching the child and
was persuaded to leave the drugstore, the truth of
her daughter's death kept from her for two hours.
Flora might have gone to a drugstore looking for
Lillian but it is improbable that the mother could
have been persuaded to leave the side of child
without knowing if she were dead or alive. It is
more likely Flora determined the dead child was not
Lillian and later learned Lillian was safe.
Perhaps Flora and three of her girls went to a
hotel, probably the Grand Union, at which were a
number of "stringer" journalists who picked up a few
dollars for stories based on eavesdropped snippets
of Flora's conversation with others in the hotel
I've failed to learn much
anything about Flora's childhood and would like to know more. She was the daughter of immigrants, Joseph and Theresa Marks,
and had at least two siblings, Isaac and David.
A story about Joseph stated she was from
Philadelphia but in the 1900 U.S. Census it was
reported that she was born in New York. (It
must be noted, however, that the same census report
has Joseph emigrating in 1875 but his
naturalization filing reported 1867, which is also
the date reported by his father in the 1900 U.S.
Census, thus the more likely date. Flora might
have had a fuzzy recollection of when Joseph
emigrated and Joseph might have been mistaken about
the state of Flora's birth but neither would have
been responsible for both errors, suggesting that the oldest daughter, Francis, then sixteen,
may have supplied the information to the census enumerator.)
Team Flora and Joseph
Married in 1882 to Joseph Phillipson (1861-1906),
Flora's family in 1903 lived in a large nine-room
apartment at 4325-27 Grand Blvd in the Humboldt Park
neighborhood in northwest Chicago. Joseph continued
doing business on the near west side, however, where
employees who spoke Polish were preferred and his
customers were as familiar to him as his own family.
The series of Phillipson dry goods stores from 1882
to 1906 were located in this Maxwell street area,
called "the ghetto," where his parents, Phillip and
Rachel Phillipson, settled after immigrating from
Poland c.1867. It was there that Joseph and his
brother, Samuel Phillipson (1866-1936), had worked
as teenagers, learning the dry goods peddling business from the ground
up by helping their father peddle merchandise door
to door, carrying packs on their backs. And it was there that Flora, yet a
bride, helped Joseph work the peddling wagon and in
1882 urged him to set up his first store, a 14 x 20
structure at 491 S. Jefferson St. that sold notions
at retail and wholesaled to other peddlers. Reportedly
Joseph credited Flora as critical to his success.
In the early years and again during the 1893
depression she served as saleswoman, janitor,
bookkeeper and secretary.
The first new construction on
a Phillipson store was in 1897 at the southwest
corner of Jefferson and Dussold, a $35,000
four-story building designed by Cowles & Ohrenstein. It attached to an existing building,
producing an 85'x125' store.
Three years prior to the
Iroquois fire Joseph had leased a building on
Chicago's Jefferson and O'Brien streets. It had been
the city's only Yiddish playhouse and the manager of
the theater was angry but Joseph prevailed and
annexed the structure to their six-story dry goods
store facing Jefferson. The store was described as
the first big department store in the "ghetto."†
husbands kept such low profiles in the
media that learning about them is
difficult - and for a man with as many
employees and business associates as
Joseph Phillipson, such aversion to
publicity is unusual.
So much so that I went looking for an
explanation and may have found a clue in
a description of Flora's second husband.
About Samuel Zwetow it was said that he
abided by the Talmud and avoided
aggrandizement. Perhaps Flora was
drawn to that characteristic in Sam as
she had been to it in Joe thirty-eight
Aggrandizement do thou avoid!
A name made great's a name destroyed.
Aboth I.13 (1894 Isadore Myers
translation of the Talmud)
In the years after the fire
after the Iroquois fire Joseph took out a ten-year
loan to build a new $150,000 store on the northeast
corner of Halsted and Twelfth. It was described as
a sign that merchants were ready to bring big State
street type department stores to distant
neighborhoods. He lived to see it in operation
for only a few months. In a brief obituary
notice it was stated that a fuller obituary would
follow but I've failed to find it. He was in
Hot Springs at the time, presumably in Arkansas,
perhaps trying to treat at ailment.
years and three days after the Iroquois Theater fire
Flora purchased a box seat at the Coliseum Theater
to attend a benefit for the Jewish Old People's Home
on Albany and Ogden avenues. She'd been active in Jewish society from the early
days of her marriage, serving as vice president of
the Hebrew Ladies Aid Society in 1890, but the Jewish Old People's
home was special. Joseph had been one of the
organizations founders, and an officer. He'd been gone for ten
months and Flora, ever the helpmate, was helping him
still, donating $5,000 to the home.
Joe Phillipson an exceptional human
An estimated 20,000 people
had joined the February, 1906 funeral entourage for
Joseph Phillipson. They were the
shopkeepers, employees and families he'd helped get
started over the prior two decades, resulting in
fifty shopkeepers stores within an eight-block
radius of the Phillipson store, including five
millinery shops and multiple shoe and boot stores, generating an
estimated $2 million in annual sales. Many had
begun as employees at the Phillipson store,
recognized by Joseph as having good business sense.
Known as the Phillipson Brigade, they became his loyal customer base when he later
opened a wholesale branch.
Flora sells Joseph's baby
At Joseph's death Flora had four daughters to
continue raising and marry, aged
thirteen to twenty-two. She held out for three
years, running the store herself, then in March, 1909 sold the
stock and fixtures of the Joseph Phillipson
Department store and the warehouse on Jefferson and
O'Brien, former site of the Yiddish theater, for $339,757 ($9 million today)
plus a twenty-year $19,000 annual lease on the
property. It was heralded as the largest deal
of its kind in the ghetto district. The
buyers: Henry Isaacs, owner of Fairbanks department
stores in Alaska and Joseph Weissenbach, son-in-law
of Leon Klein, owner of Joseph's primary competitor,
the L. Klein department store a block away at Halsted
and Fourteenth streets. The new owners changed
the name to "The Twelfth Street Store."
The decision to sell the
store must have been difficult.
Flora surely considered continuing to run the store
herself. As a woman living in Illinois, unlike
some other states, she could own property and
control her earnings, but it would have been hard
work regardless of gender. Joseph's store was
a much larger entity in 1906 than it had been when
she worked there in 1893. Many more employees,
much more inventory.
Then there were the brothers, Joseph's brothers,
Samuel and Louis Phillipson (1874-1941), and Flora's brothers,
Isaac and David. Samuel had been a silent
partner in Joseph's company (a silence ended after
his brother's death when he seemed to want shared
credit for his role in the venture's success) and
Louis was in management. Both men may have had
ideas about a future role. Isaac L. Marks (1859-1916), had operated a dry goods
store in Brooklyn before he and his wife, Minnie
Smith Marks, relocated to Chicago in 1908. Did
Isaac and David come to Chicago in expectation of
having a role in Joseph's store? In September
after the sale, Isaac and a third
Marks child, David J. Marks, formed the
Marquette Motor Vehicle company to manufacture
automobiles and engines at 3626 S. Halstead (no
connection to the Marquette-Buick), capitalized with
$20,000 that may have come from Flora. They
exhibited at the 1910 & 1911 Chicago Auto show and
one of their delivery wagon trucks ran a reliability
race that year. Three years later they were
out of business. Samuel Phillipson started over
with a wholesale company and and a retail department
store, Samuel Phillipson & Bro. He prospered for two
but the business failed during the 1929 Depression.
The name of the retail store suggests Louis was
involved but Samuel made a point of identifying
himself as the sole owner. Am thinking Samuel
may have been a bit less orthodox than Joseph.
It would be interesting to know what factors motivated Flora
to sell Joseph's store. Perhaps Joseph had
built an empire that could only be run properly by
Joseph. Maybe she didn't want to juggle two brothers and two brothers-in-law. Or maybe Flora
had just had her fill of
dry goods and operating a business. She
watched her husband die at an early age, maybe
decided to do a bit more living before her time
Flora and her
girls moved to the
Chicago Beach Hotel in the
Kenwood neighborhood, a luxury hotel built for the
1893 Columbian Exposition. In 1919, thirteen years after Joseph's death,
at age forty-nine, Flora
remarried, to widower Samuel R. Zwetow, a wholesale
jeweler and insurance broker from Denver - of
a similar age and, like Joseph, a Russian immigrant.
(Zwetow is sometimes Americanized to Sweet.) In 1921 they
left Denver and returned to Chicago. Both died in 1929 and
were buried next to their respective first spouses,
Flora in Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago next to Joseph
and Samuel in Denver's Congregation Emanuel Cemetery
next to Annie Rubinsky.
bore two children with Samuel L. Dinkelspiel
(1891-1961), son of a Louisville cloth and hides
wholesaling family. Samuel became a producer of
antique reproduction furniture and lighting,
including his Legacy Lighting line, examples of
which turn up today at auctions and flea markets.
In 1917 he announced that his Crest Company would no
longer manufacture furniture and would concentrate
on floor lamps. Table lamps were added
later. The company then was located at the
corner of Lake and Wabash, having recently moved
from 414 South Michigan Avenue.
married grocer Harry Futchenfeld /
Feilchenfeld in 1909 (later shortened to Field) with
whom she had two children, including a daughter
named after Flora.
married jeweler Maurice A. Barnett two and a half years after the fire.
One of their two children was named Joseph, after
likely named after her grandmother, Theresa Marks, married
stockbroker Alexander Kieferstein (later
shortened to Kiefer) in 1919, with whom she had two
Phillipson was sometimes spelled with just one L and
the spelling of Flora's maiden name was sometimes
given as Marx. Frances' name was sometimes spelled
as Francis. Joseph Phillipson employed a manager
named Marks that was perhaps a relative of Flora's.
The Phillipson's had lost four children prior to the
fire, including Ruth who died in infancy in 1899 and
Mark who died at age three in 1889.
Joseph Phillipson's mother,
Sarah Rachel, died in 1899 and his father, Philip
Feivel Phillipson (c1830-1903), followed in 1903, six months before the Iroquois
fire. Philip was from Kalwaria Zebrzydowska in
southern Poland. Joseph and Samuel's youngest
brother, Louis, also worked in Joseph's store.
description of Chicago's ghetto is filled with
insensitive generalizations of a type that were once
common but helps provide a picture of the
scene in the ghetto when Joseph and Flora Phillipson
building their business. For a historical
perspective of Chicago's Jewish community, see the
American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE)'s
Virtual Library discussion. It is not
known what motivated Philip and Rachel Phillipson's
emigration but a
Library of Congress site provides an overview of
the situation in their native country twenty years
later. Just found a copy on Ebay of the 1996
The Jews of Chicago: from shtetl to suburb by
Irving Cutler for $9 including shipping.
You can read an excerpt here.
‡ Maurice Barnett was in
1930 convicted of insurance fraud after
masterminding a 1929 conspiracy with two partners to
stage a fake holdup. He was sentenced to the state
penitentiary for one to five years. Multiple appeals
over thirty-two months kept him out of jail until
November, 1933 when the governor denied his petition
for parole and he was sent to the prison in Joliet.
He was out of jail by Feb, 1936, in time to post
bail for his son in a marital dispute. Maurice and
Francis later moved to Los Angeles.
|What was a dry
With clothing and
textiles as the mainstays, and women as the
primary customers, dry goods stores also
specialized in what we today call house
wares, i.e., dining utensils, cookware, bed
linens and sundries (toiletries, newspapers
and other low priced items). Think
Kohls. Dry goods stores at the turn of
the twentieth century also offered
"everything else" that was either not
offered in such specialty stores as
hardware, grocery, furniture, jewelry,
millinery shops or bookstores, or that was
priced to appeal to shoppers more
constrained by time or budget. A
diamond engagement ring was apt to come from
a jewelry store but a $2 rhinestone brooch
could be picked up during a shopping trip
for a new mackintosh and a replacement sugar
bowl. Hardware stores offered dozens
of hammers for all types of carpentry; dry
goods stores offered a handful of tools for
simple household repairs. In rural
areas with few specialty stores, dry goods
stores made up for it, offering whatever
merchandise the community was willing to
buy. To shopkeepers, the emergence of
mail-order catalog houses such as Sears,
Montgomery Ward must have seemed as
cataclysmic as internet sales have been in
modern times. This 1899
Wrecking House dry goods catalog is one
This 1893-94 Carson Pirie Scott catalog
is an example of a retailer with a
foundation in "bricks and mortar"
trying to get in on the shop-from-home market.
Some of the inventory clusters seem peculiar
– like over two
dozen models of accordions and over three
dozen smoking pipes.