On December 30,
1903, two pairs of sisters went to an
afternoon matinee of Klaw & Erlangers
extravaganza production of the Mr.
Bluebeard fairytale at Chicago's
newest playhouse, the Iroquois Theater.
All four lost their lives in the brief
fire that claimed over six hundred
victims, becoming the worst theater fire
in America's history.
Orlena Moak Lake
and her sister, Mary Moak Mead, both in
their sixties, were two of nine children
born to Reuben Moak and Mary Taylor Moak
of Oaks Hollow/Sharon, New York.
Their nieces, Anna and Lena Moak of
Watertown, Wisconsin, were the only
children of another of those nine
children, the late Edwin Moak.
Surviving of the nine Moak offspring was
a brother in Wisconsin, another in
Minnesota and, in Chicago, widowed
sister, Clarissa Moak Hurd, as well as
Orlena's husband, Alfred Lake. In
Wisconsin was Anna and Lena's widowed
mother, Ella Cushman Moak.
Mary "Polly" Moak
hotel and mercantile, located five miles east of Sharon, NY,
was located in Moak’s Hollow. Reuben was a local
man, born in Sharon in 1799. His wife, Mary Moak,
the former Mary Taylor, nicknamed “Polly” (b.1807), gave birth to their nine children in and
around Sharon, Summit and Norwich, New York, an area
southeast of Syracuse.
Polly and her
Polly passed at age
ninety-three, outliving three of her children. One
son had settled in Minneapolis but most were in
Watertown, Wisconsin and Leavenworth, Kansas. The
nine Moak children produced only nine grandchildren
but Polly probably felt good about her children. One
daughter had married a judge, another a
postmaster and a third a dry goods store owner.
Based upon their mother's long life, her surviving
children had every reason to expect another decade
of life. Three of them saw their expectation
come true; two did not.
In Chicago, 1903
In 1903 three of Polly’s girls and one of her
granddaughters lived at Orlena and Alfred's home in Chicago, at 278 Belden
St, where another of her granddaughters was visiting
over the Christmas holidays. In 1900 Orlena
and Alfred's home was occupied by ten people: a
servant, six boarders, Mary Mead and themselves; it
is not known how many boarders there were in 1903,
but with Anna and Clarissa living there the number
of boarders may have lessened accordingly. The
six Belden Street family occupants were:
Fatality Orlena A. Moak
Lake (b.1841), Polly's youngest daughter, age
sixty-two. Orlena sometimes went by “Lana”
husband, Alfred Lake (1838 –). Alfred was an English
immigrant who worked as a bookkeeper.
Survivor Clarissa "Clara” Moak Hurd (1832 – 1911),
nicknamed Clara, was the oldest of Polly's girls. Clara was the widow of Theodore Hurd
(1824 – 1899), a respected judge in
Fatality Polly's middle
daughter, sixty-six year old Mary E. Moak Mead (b.1836). Mary
was the widow of Charles Mead (1835 – 1895), a dry
Fatality Anna Moak (b.1875),
the twenty-eight-year-old daughter of
Polly's youngest son, Edwin Moak (1846 –), and Ella
Cushman Moak (1845-1914). Anna worked as a legal
stenographer while living in Watertown, Wisconsin and may have
worked in that capacity after moving to Chicago.
Fatality Orlena J. Moak (b. 1872),
Anna's sister, nicknamed Lena, age thirty-one. Named after her aunt Orlena, Lena was a
first grade teacher in Watertown, Wisconsin, where
she lived with her widowed mother, Ella Cushman Moak, and
Ella's widowed stepfather, Thomas Martin.
She was visiting from Watertown, Wisconsin over
the 1903 holiday.
The known and unknown
Despite much effort I
have not been able to find a familial connection, if
there was one, to another Mead Iroquois fatality
with the last name Mead – eleven year old Lucille Mead. I was
also unable to find a connection,
between Orlena's husband, Alfred Lake, and an Iroquois survivor
named Ada B.
Orlena’s husband, Alfred
Lake, spoke to a reporter after the fire, reportedly
saying, “Yesterday a happy group of five; today a
broken-hearted and lone old man. Mother, daughter
and nieces at one blow.”
Alfred’s reference to a group of five presumably
included Clara, suggesting that she was in the
theater party but survived.
I’ve invested much time
trying and failing to determine which of the four
victims was a mother. I found no evidence that
any of the women had children. Clarissa Moak
Hurd had a grown daughter, Clara May Hurd, but
Clarissa lived until 1911. Anna and Lena's
mother, Ella Cushman Moak, lived until 1914.
Mary Mead’s body was identified by Clarence G. Mead
1874 – 1963, nephew of her late husband. She and Orlena’s funeral was held on Sunday morning, Jan 8,
1904. They were buried in Graceland
Cemetery in Chicago. A separate funeral was held in Watertown for
Anna and Lena, where they were interred in the Oak
In the years after the
In 1909 a $750
settlement was awarded from Fuller Construction,
builder of the Iroquois Theater, for Orlena Moak
It was one of only thirty-five Fuller settlements.
Clara Hurd moved to
Leavenworth, Kansas to live with her daughter.