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.
Bluebeard matinee. Though sitting on the main floor
where the number of fatalities was proportionately
much less than on the second and third floors, all
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,
The Fox family Emilie Fox married the son of George Sidney Fox, a
Philadelphia industrialist who owned the Union
Traction company and built a fortune financing
street car 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
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 build 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 “Meadow Farm.”
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.
Thirty-six-year-old Emilie Lydia Hoyt Fox (b. 1867) Body found at Horan’s. Emilie was the first in the
family to be identified by Graeme Stewart, her
father's business associate.
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 dramatically when
people are in mourning. The cause of Fredrick's
death is not known, however, and it appears
did not assist in locating the bodies of Emilie and
their children so hemay 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 precarious condition.
Emilie's brother, Phelps Buttolph Hoyt would serve
as treasurer of the
Iroquois Memorial Association
founded a month after the fire.
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)
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
part of the city. Or not. So far I've
found fourteen students who were not included on
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 far 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
father since it was George who identified the
remains of Jeanette Higginson.
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.
Jeanette Barker Higginson (b. 1868)
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. She lost weight and studied the
German language and history.
R. Gerow (b.1870)
Mabel was Jeanette Higginson’s hired travel
companion, a nurse from Vineland, New Jersey where
her parents operated a farm. Mabel graduated from
the New Jersey Training School for Nurses in Camden.It is not known if or why Jeanette Higginson
had need of a companion with nursing skills and it
is not known if she ever worked as a nurse. Mabel
worked as a tutor prior to being employed by
Jeanette Higginson. Her burial place is not yet
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
included her in his remarks.
Some period newspapers referenced a victim
identified as Mrs. Geron from Winnetka. Other
newspapers referred to her as Mabel Gerow, which I
believe is the correct spelling. Mabel was a single
woman hired to accompany Jeanette Higginson on her
travels to Europe and Winnetka.
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, however, 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
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
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.
If you have additional
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