Perished: Party of
Winnetka, seated on main floor at the Iroquois
Confusion alert: this story includes two
Emilie Fox, two
females named Emily Higginson, four
named George, two
males named William, two
named "Church on the Hill"
A prosperous young Winnetka matron, and two
out-of-town Winnetka visitors, took four children
aged nine to fifteen to the Mr.
Though sitting on the main floor where the number of
fatalities was proportionately much less than on the
second and third floors, all seven died.*
In the party were thirty-six-year-old Emilie Fox,
thirty-five-year-old Jeanette Higginson,
thirty-three-year-old Mabel Gerow,† Emilie’s three
children - twelve-year-old William Fox,
fifteen-year-old George Fox, and nine-year-old
Emilie “Lydia” Fox - and Jeanette Higginson’s
nine-year-old-nephew, Roger Higginson.
The Fox family
Fox married the son of George Sidney Fox, a
Philadelphia industrialist who owned the Union
Traction company and built a fortune financing
streetcar companies. As the only daughter of William
Melancton Hoyt, Emilie was accustomed to a
comfortable lifestyle. Starting with a fruit stand
when he was eighteen years old, W. M. Hoyt had built
one of Chicago’s largest grocery wholesaling
companies. A half dozen servants cared for Emilie
and her three brothers at the family home at 341
Dearborn in Chicago, next door to the Potter Palmer
family (before the Palmer’s built a new mansion on
Lake Shore Drive in 1900).
A director in her father’s company, Graeme Stewart,
searched for Emilie and her children until he found
the remains of all four, in three different
mortuaries. Funeral services were conducted at the
Fox home by Reverend Henry G. Moore of the Christ
Episcopal Church, and burial was at Graceland
Cemetery in Chicago. In 1905, a new Christ Episcopal
Church, including a Tiffany stained glass window,
was built in Winnetka with funds provided by William
M. as a memorial to his daughter and grandchildren.
Called Church on the Hill, it is still in use today.
The Higginson family
From a Boston family with roots tracing back to
America’s colonial settlers, George Higginson Jr.
(1864-1936) left his father’s farm in the Berkshire
Hills of western Massachusetts to graduate from
Harvard in 1887. Over the next seventeen years, as
the nation electrified its homes, cities, and
factories, he made a small fortune as an expert in
power plant financing and brokering. By age
forty-six, he was the largest landowner in Winnetka,
IL, enjoying life as a gentleman farmer at his
From 1896 to 1903, however, sorrow and loss ran
concurrently with success for George. His first wife
and second child died in childbirth in 1897, his
mother two years later, and in September 1903, his
three-year-old namesake, George Higginson III.
Then in December came the Iroquois fire, where he
lost his sister, Jeanette Barker Higginson, and
nine-year-old son, Roger Higginson.
Both Higginson victims were transported to Lennox,
Massachusetts for burial in the family plot at
Church on the Hill Cemetery.
Emilie Lydia Hoyt Fox (b. 1867)
Her body found at Horan’s, Emilie was the first in
the family to be identified by Graeme Stewart, her
father’s business associate.
Emilie’s thirty-eight-year-old husband, Frederick
Morton Fox (1865-1904), died less than three months
after the fire, reportedly from grief. I was
doubtful that a person can die from grief but turned
up the information that the risk of death from heart
attack increases substantially when people are
undergoing trauma or are in mourning. The cause of
Fredrick’s death is not known, and it appears he did
not assist in locating the bodies of Emilie and
their children. He may have been ill prior to the
fire, unable to help with the search, then succumbed
to the illness two months later. I found no
indication that he was in the theater party and
suffered injuries at the Iroquois. Perhaps grief and
stress weakened the health of a man already in
Emilie’s brother, Phelps Buttolph Hoyt would serve
as treasurer of the Iroquois
Memorial Association founded
a month after the fire.
Fifteen-year-old George Sidney Fox (b. 1888)
Body found at Jordan’s. Eighteen months earlier, he
hit a golf ball that landed on Roger Higginson’s
head and knocked him unconscious.
Twelve-year-old William Hoyt Fox (b.1891) and
nine-year-old Emilie Lydia Fox (b.1894) were
both found at Rolston’s funeral home. The Fox
children were not cited in lists of Chicago students
who died at the Iroquois, possibly because as
Winetka residents they were not considered as
Chicago school students. So far I’ve found fourteen
student victims who were not included on those
Nine-year-old Roger Griswold Higginson (b.1894)
I wonder how life looked to young Roger in the
three years before his death. He was only two years
old when his mother died, so it is unlikely he
remembered her.‡ If the opinion of author Henry
James is any indication, the arrival of Roger’s
stepmother, Emily N. Wakem (1864-1941),§ made an
indelible impact on the household. After visiting
George and Emily in 1906, James (a distant Higginson
relative) referred to Emily as “a social and
domestic scourge.” How ever Roger viewed Emily, he
certainly linked her to the arrival of three babies,
born in 1899, 1900, and 1903. Even in a household
with a half dozen servants to help care for them,
babies would have drawn attention away from a boy
accustomed to being the only child. Then the oldest
of them died just three months before the theater
excursion. For Roger, the best part of going to the
theater may have been the opportunity to get away
from a grieving stepmother and two little sisters –
one-year-old Emily “Lee” Higginson (1903-1979) and
two-year-old Theresa Higginson (1901–1973).
News reports in 1903 said
Roger lived at 419 East Huron Street, but it is more
likely he lived on Prospect St. Another reporting
error relative to Roger spelled his last name as
Higgins rather than Higginson. His body was
presumably identified by his brother, George.
Roger was George Higginson’s first born son but was
not named after his father. That distinction was
instead given to the son born to George and his
second wife, Emily. George’s first wife, Roger’s
mother, Edith Griswold, had a brother named George,
a father named George and a husband named George.
Perhaps she was tired of the name George.
Thirty-five-year-old Jeanette Barker Higginson (b.
A mixed blessing sentiment about Emily Higginson
and the babies may have been shared by Roger’s
unmarried aunt Jeanette who had spent the past year
traveling in Europe with a hired companion, Mabel
Gerow. The women returned to the states in October
to spend a month with Jeanette’s father at The
Corners in Stockbridge, MA, then headed west to
visit George and his rapidly growing family, as well
as Jeanette and George’s brother Augustus Higginson
who lived a few doors away from George in Winnetka.
Jeanette’s body was identified by her brother,
George Higginson Jr. Upon hearing the news about his
daughter and grandson, Jeanette’s father, George
Higginson Sr., age seventy, and his brother, Henry
L. Higginson, immediately boarded a train for
Chicago. At the depot in Lennox, George spoke with a
reporter, expressing his shock. He said that
Jeanette had been the head of his household and
cared for him in his senior years. She suffered from
obesity, and her year in Europe was spent at a bath
resort in Germany where she lost sixty pounds and
studied the German language and history.
Thirty-three-year-old Mabel Redruth Gerow (b.1870)
Mabel was Jeanette Higginson’s hired travel
companion, a nurse from Vineland, New Jersey where
her parents operated a farm. It is not
known if Jeanette Higginson required a nurse but
Mabel was described as an educated and interesting
companion so may have brought more than nursing to
the relationship. Mabel worked as a
tutor and teacher as a younger woman, then
in 1898 graduated from a two-year program at the New Jersey Training School for Nurses in
She was buried at Siloam Cemetery in Vineland with
her parents and siblings.
Some reports in 1903/4 stated that a two-year-old
female named Janithe B. Higginson also died at the
Iroquois, her body identified by P.D. Sexton, but I
think the report was an error, probably due to
confusion with the name Jeanette B. Higginson. No
child of that age is buried in the Higginson family
plot in Massachusetts where Jeanette, Roger, George
and Edith Higginson are buried and in a 1904
interview George Higginson only cited the deaths of
his son and sister. Had a Higginson toddler died in
the fire he certainly would have referred to her in
† Some period newspapers referenced a victim
identified as Mrs. Geron from Winnetka, an incorrect
reference to Mabel Gerow.
Various period reports stated that a Higginson
governess died in the fire but I’ve found nothing to
substantiate that death and suspect Miss Gerow was
incorrectly guessed to have been a governess by the
newspapers. That said, George Higginson customarily
employed a half dozen servants, including several
twenty-something girls from Sweden or Scotland. One
of those servants might have served as a governess
and could have accompanied the party to the theater.
With three adults present, presumably, a fourth
would not have been needed to care for children aged
nine to fifteen.
‡ George Higginson Jr’s first wife, and mother of
Roger Higginson, was Edith Green Griswold Higginson
(1859-1897) who died while giving birth to her
second child. Edith and George married in 1891 in
New York and moved to Chicago the following year.
Edith was sister to author and noted landscaping
authority, Mrs. Mariana Griswold Schuyler Van
Rensselaer. Edith left behind an estate of personal
property valued at $88,637, inherited by George.
§ Some genealogy researchers spell Emily Higginson’s
maiden name as Wakeham rather than Wakem but Wakem
appeared on her marriage certificate, on her
tombstone, and in her newspaper obituary. It is
interesting to note that after the death of George
Higginson Jr in 1936, Emily moved to Lennox to live
with the Higginson family.
Emily and four of her eight Wakhem siblings were
born in Coquimbo, Chili, to English parents. When
Emily was a toddler, the family moved back to
England, and she was educated in Lancashire. Around
1880 the family immigrated to Nebraska and took up
farming. At age twenty-seven, Emily graduated from
nursing school in Pennsylvania and in 1898 married
thirty-four-year-old widower George Higginson Jr. I
am curious to know how a nurse from England, by way
of a Nebraska farm, met and attracted a wealthy
banker from Chicago. That unlikely union, together
with Henry James remark about her, suggest that
Emily Wakem Higginson was an unusual character.
13 year old Linda Bolte
Iroquois Theater victim
Iroquois deaths and
Richard Crane's young
Other discussions you might find interesting