A native of England, fifty-five-year-old Eliza
Phelps (or Berry) Johnson (1848-1917), wife
of James G. Johnson (1842-1922), was one of the few
dozen who escaped from
the Iroquois Theater fire by crawling from the third
floor gallery fire exit over to Northwestern University
on a plank stretched sixty feet above Couch Place
alley. Of that small group she was one of the
few who lived, though she may have regretted it for
Eliza’s burns and condition were severe
enough that as she lay at St. Luke's hospital
recovering, family and physicians concealed from her
three of her four children and two of her
four grandchildren did not survive the fire. Eliza did not
know that her sons in law searched for three days
before finding the bodies of her daughters and two young grandsons, at four different
funeral homes. She did not know that a train
had carried the five bodies to Lowell, Indiana where
they were picked up by five hearses and that over
six hundred guests attended a funeral service conducted by
Rev. D.D. Hoagland of the Methodist Church.
days end December 30, 1903 thirty-four-year-old
William H. Johnson (1869-1912), Eliza and James'
oldest, and only son, was their only surviving
child. Both Eliza and James would live to see
him die as well. In the years after the fire
James continued to work as a house painter. At Eliza's death in 1917
he wrote a
touching eulogy about his wife:
Iroquois Theater fatalities:
Lillian "Lillie" Johnson Frady
(b.1873/1874), a native of New Jersey, and her ten-year-old-son,
Leon Edgar Frady
(b.1893). Their bodies were found at
Sheldon's and Carroll's funeral homes.
Lillian and Leon were the wife and son of Edgar
C. Frady (1870-1923). Lillian was the
youngest daughter of Eliza Johnson (above).
Four years prior to the theater fire Lillian and
Edgar, married in 1893, had lost a son, Floyd
Frady. The Frady's lived
at 4356 Forestville Ave in Chicago.
Jennie E. Johnson Rife (b.1873)
was the wife of William Rife, chief plumber at the Palmer House
hotel in Chicago.
She was Eliza Johnson's middle daughter and had
a fifteen-month-old child at home. The Rife's lived at 516 E. 46th St.
/ Ella B.
Johnson Spindler (b.1871) and her
nine year old son,
Burdett Spindler (b. 1894)
third wife and son of John H. Spindler
(1861-1921).* They were visiting from Valparaiso,
Indiana, staying with the Frady's. Etta
was Eliza Johnson's oldest daughter.
Like her sister Lillie, Etta had also lost a
son; she and John's first-born, Raymond, had
died in infancy in 1891. No mention was
made of their third son, Cecil, being in the
theater party. At age five he may have
been left at home. Etta's body was found at Jordan's funeral home
and Burdett's at Carroll's. In the years
after the fire John Spindler remarried and had
three more children.
Following the deaths
of his wife and son, in 1905 Edgar Charles Frady
remarried, to Dorothy “Dolly” C. Thompson
(b.1872), sister of
John R. Thompson,
Chicago restaurateur who owned the diner next to the
Iroquois Theater. Thompson's restaurant became
a triage center in the first hours after the
fire and his children survived the fire.
Edgar and Dolly had two children, of which one
survived. The marriage was troubled, however, and in
1922, while vacationing in Miami, fifty-two-year-old Edgar
shot his fifty-year-old wife three times, then slashed
his throat. With her dying breaths, Dolly said
they had argued all night with Edgar accusing her of
infidelity, then scuffled over the gun. (Edgar had
himself been named in a lawsuit by a husband who
accused him of luring away the man’s wife with
promises of an automobile.)
Edgar’s throat slashing failed and he survived for
eleven months with multiple health problems. Some people
attributed his violence to a 1903 concussion. Edgar
founded several businesses, including Strohber piano
factory, a picture frame manufacturing company and a
grocery store. At death he was
president of the Chicago dealership for Cole Motor
Car of Indianapolis.
Need photos of Spindlers and
Discrepancies and addendum
Sometimes identified as Ella, other times as Etta,
but Etta was inscribed on her gravestone.
Ella Warley Lawrence
taught at the Farragut school
Stillman women at
Robinson died before family's prosperity
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