Foltz, Middleton and Wells theater
Thirteen year old Kathleen
Middleton (b.1890) from St. Louis, Missouri had
spent four days visiting the Foltz family in
day before she was due to return home, her
host, Mary Reedy Foltz, took Kathleen,
two of Mary's daughters, Helen
and Alice, and Donald Wells, a boy who also lived at
the Brewster Apartments, to the Mr. Bluebeard Christmas
pageant at Chicago's new Iroquois Theater.
All five perished.
one of five children born to John Alexander Middleton
(1856-1945), a Canadian native,
and Jean Buchanan Murray Middleton (1861-1955).
John was a general freight agent
"Frisco" system (St. Louis
San Francisco Railway) who had worked his way up
from his job in 1883 as a ticket clerk.
In addition to her parents, Kathleen was mourned by two
brothers and two sisters.†
Kathleen attended the Mary
Institute in St. Louis (a private secular school
founded by Unitarian clergyman, William Elliot,
named to memorialize his daughter, who died at age
Wabash Railroad train on which Kathleen rode to
Chicago collided with another train on route,
killing the engineer and one passenger. She chose to travel on to
Kathleen's body was
identified by a Frank C. Reilly, relationship
unknown. Her funeral was held
at the Bofinger Chapel at Christ Episcopal Church Cathedral and she was
buried at the new Wesleyan cemetery in Bel-Nor, St.
Louis. It was reported that her badly injured
remains were never viewed by her family.
One period source reported
that the Middleton and Foltz families were related
but I've not yet been able to verify that or learn
Mary Reedy Foltz (b.1862) was
the daughter of Patrick and Ann
Kilkenny Reedy. As a young woman, Mary worked
for her uncle, James W. Reedy, at his elevator
manufacturing company in Chicago. She met her
future husband, Wisconsin native Charles Oliver
"Ollie" Foltz (1863-1941), when he came in to buy an elevator
for his dry goods store in Antioch, Illinois.
They married in 1887. Four years later,
Ollie's store was lost in the burning of Antioch's Rogers block.
In 1900 Mary and
Ollie operated a cafe in
Chicago's historic Brewster
Apartment building on Park and Diversey (today's North Pine Grove)
and lived in one of the apartments. By 1903
Ollie had headed west with a case of mining fever
while Mary remained behind to manage the restaurant
at the Brewsters.
Of Mary and Ollie's four children, three survived in
1903: fifteen-year-old Alice Foltz (b.1888) and thirteen-year-old Helen (b.1890),
both of whom died with their mother at the Iroquois, and
the youngest, Katherine Caroll Foltz (1893-1982).
Katherine Foltz did not attend the theater and went
on to live a full life (see right).
bodies of Mary, Helen and Alice Foltz
were identified by Mary's cousin,
John T. Reedy (1870-). John was an art
supplies salesman and lived with his well to do
aunt, Ellen Reedy.
family was buried at the Calvary Cemetery
in Evanston, IL
following services at Mt. Carmel church the Monday
following the Iroquois tragedy.
Mary's husband and surviving daughter in the years
after the fire
Foltz moved to Santa Cruz, AZ and
daughter Katherine lived with his
parents in Burlington, Wisconsin. As a young
woman Katherine Foltz
returned to Chicago and
became a nurse. While working
at Cook County hospital in 1918, she met her
future husband, army surgeon, Dr. Ralph Willy. They had
and lived for many years in South Dakota, eventually
returning to Chicago while Ralph furthered his
medical education. Mary would probably have been happy with the way Katherine's
life turned out.
Ollie lived in Los Angeles, owned a
and had remarried. His second wife,
an Irish immigrant, was a school
teacher named Honora "Nora" Dunne, with whom he
had two children, Charlie Foltz Jr.
and a daughter identified as Mary
Jane in the 1920 census and in later sources as Nancy Jane.
Two additional children did not
The marriage ended with an
annulment in 1921. Nora would remarry; Ollie
would continue having a problem with alcohol that
seems to have reoccurred several times in his life,
both before and after the Iroquois Theater fire.
By 1930 he lived in Montana Camp
(renamed Ruby and today a ghost town) near
Santa Cruz, AZ,
where he was
one of around 300 men prospecting lead and zinc.
His son, Charlie, lived with him there and worked in
a mill. Charlie Jr. left Ruby in 1938 and joined
the U.S. Marines, fighting at Iwa Jima during World
War II. After the war Charlie Jr. married, had two
children, built a sheet metal contracting business
and wrote poetry, all of which is far removed from
the Iroquois Theater fire but Ollie and Charlie
Foltz were interesting fellows:
Charlie J. Foltz Jr. in
Info needed about Middleton and Foltz members
How was Kathleen Middleton
related to the Foltz family? There were
Middletons in Mary Reedy Foltz's family in the
1600s. The Reedy girls names did not
appear in lists of student victims, possibly
indicating they attended the same private school
as Kathleen Middleton in St. Louis. Mary's
uncle, elevator manufacturer James W. Reedy,
could have provided private school educations
What was the relationship
between Kathleen Middleton and the man who
identified her body, Frank. C. Reilly?
Twelve year old Donald Covert Wells (b.1891) was not
related to the Foltz or Middleton families. His connection to the
others in the party was that he also lived in Brewster Apartments. He
was the only child of Solomon P. Wells Jr (1861-1941) and
Nellie Covert Wells (1867-1928). Also living with the Wells
family was his aunt, Nellie's younger sister, Mary
Little was published about Donald's death. One
reason for this may have been early reports that the
theater fire was caused by an exploding boiler.
Though that turned out to have been erroneous,
Solomon Wells was a manager in the Chicago office,
and his brother was president, of one of the world's
largest manufacturers of boilers, Babcock and
Wilcox. The heat plant at the Iroquois Theater was installed by the L. H.
Prentice Company in Chicago and may not have incorporated Babcock boilers at
all but the possibility of the fire being caused by a boiler problem might
have been sufficient to keep family members from granting interviews.
In general, however, the Wells seemed to have been a private family, their
names rarely appearing in society news, so discretion in the Iroquois
tragedy may have been in keeping with the family demeanor.
Solomon Wells was from a Rhode Island family and
Nellie from a Pennsylvania family, both setting in
the Parkersburg area of Wood County in West Virginia.
Solomon graduated from West Virginia University in 1883, they married in
1890 and Donald was born the following year. Possibly nicknamed Samuel,
Solomon Wells managed the Chicago branch office of Babcock and Wilcox, a
manufacturer of water tube boilers located in the Marquette building in
Chicago. (The company is
still in operation). Solomon's brother, Edward Hubbard Wells, was
president of B&W.
Donald was one of 1,300 students at the Alcott
School on Wrightwood and Orchard. Another Iroquois
victim in the Alcott student body was
The Wells family had a summer home near Janesville,
WI on Delavan Lake where power boating and sailing
were favorite pasttimes. The Well's
Donald's body was found at Gavin's funeral home and
identified by his father with help of a monogram on
the boy's handkerchief. The boy was buried at
Graceland cemetery in Chicago. Nellie and Solomon
were laid by his side in 1928 and 1941.
In the years after the fire
Four years after the Iroquois Theater fire, on
December 8, 1907, Nellie, Solomon and Mary came home
from an automobile ride to find their flat in
smoldering ruins. They lived on the seventh floor of
the Lessing Annex at the corner of Evanston and
Surf. The fire was attributed to faulty wiring.
First noticed by a street car conductor passing by,
the fire was contained to two rooms. Most furniture
and paintings were destroyed but the Wells canary
The Wells prospered financially but did not have more children.
In 1942 nieces of Solomon Wells tried to break his
will, objecting to his bequest to Nellie's sister,
Mary, charging undue influence while he was in his
dotage. At death his estate was estimated at
$400,000, of which Mary received over $200,000, the
rest divided between his sisters and their children.
Discrepancies and addendum
* Miss-reported in some lists
† Some of Kathleen's family
eventually relocated to Elkhart, Indiana; her
parents, in fact, are buried in the same cemetery in
Elkhart – Grace Lawn – as another of the Iroquois
Tyrone Essig, as well as Iroquois Theater
Will J. Davis. (Another albeit distant
connection between this theater party and Elkhart
was that the cafe managed by Mary Reedy Foltz was
located in the Brewster Apartments in Chicago that
were designed by Elkhartan, Enock Hill Turnock.)
As a result of an inaccuracy in Graceland cemetery
records, some oneline genealogy compilations cite
1904 rather than 1903 as the year of Donald's death.