family was well known in Galesburg, Illinois, a
city in 1903 of around 20,000 people, 200 miles
southwest of Chicago.Francis
A. Freer (1843-1909)
was the postmaster there and his wife of
thirty-three years, Elizabeth
"Jennie" Christy Freer (b.1849), was involved in the Presbyterian church.
Their five children, three boys and two girls,
graduated from Galesburg high school and colleges.
In 1903 the Freers
spent the Christmas holiday in Chicago* with
the youngest daughter and her husband, twenty-six
year old Alda Mary Freer Henry (b.1878)
and Guy A. Henry (1878-1967).** Married since mid 1902,
the Henry's lived at 1198 Wilton
Avenue in Chicago. Guy
worked as a clerk for the Chicago branch of American
everyone returned to their homes except
Mary's mother, fifty-three-year-old Elizabeth Jennie Christy Freer
(b.1850), who extended her visit with her daughter
for a few more days.
On Wednesday, December 30,
Mary and Jennie went to an afternoon matinee of Mr.
Bluebeard at Chicago's newest luxury playhouse, the
It is not known where they
were sitting in the theater but both women lost
their lives in the fire. Guy Henry called or cabled
the news to Frank Freer that the women had not returned
from the theater. Frank contacted his son,
twenty-three-year-old Morton Freer (1880-1948) who
lived in Rock Island, and they took trains into
Chicago to begin searching for Jennie's and Mary's
bodies. Joining the search effort were five
men, Mr. Frohlich, John Platt,
Major McClelland, Henry Hill and James Howe.
Their relationship to the family is not known.
Mary's body was found first,
Jennie's not until two days after the fire, at
Rolston's funeral home, identified by Francis.
He had looked through the bodies at Rolston's on
Thursday but did not recognize her then. Though
not severely burned, Jennie's face was blackened by
soot and blue from suffocation. On the second
visit identification was made by her blouse, which
had been a gift from him. All her jewelry was
recovered, having been retrieved and catalogued by
the police department.
Funeral and burial
Jennie's and Mary's bodies were sent
back to Galesburg by rail
in a private coach donated by Hale D. Judson,
superintendent of the Illinois lines of Burlington
Northern Railway.A group of
friends and Odd Fellows club members from the
Veritas Lodge met the train upon
In Galesburg the Kimber &
West funeral home performed embalming and burial
services. A double funeral was
held on Monday after the fire
at the First Presbyterian Church with services
conducted by pastor Dr. William Spence - who had
officiated at Mary and Guy's wedding. Burial
was at the Hope Cemetery in Galesburg.
at Jennie and Mary's funeral were many members of
G.A.R. Post 45, of which Frank
was a member. Many flags in Galesburg were
flown at half mast and as the funeral cortege passed
down Main St. other churches in the city added their
bells to those of the Presbyterian.
in happier times
Mary Freer Henry graduated from the music
Knox College in
1900. Her sister, Lizzie Freer Walker and two
of her brothers, Charles Freer and Howard Freer,
were also Knox graduates. The third brother,
Morton, graduated from another Galesburg university,
Lombard College. Morton also fought in the
Spanish-American War and received a commendation.
Born in Stark County,
Illinois, Jennie Christy Freer
was the daughter of Alexander and
Irena Sheets Christy.
While fellow students at Hedding College in
Abingdon, she and Frank Freer met and became
engaged, marrying upon their graduation in 1871.
Frank was the class valedictorian.
served in the Union army in Company D of the 137th
Illinois Infantry, fighting with Forest near Memphis
in August, 1864. After a stint at teaching, and
another studying for the bar, Frank turned to sales,
representing an agricultural equipment manufacturer
and a publisher of text books. They settled in
Galesburg in 1875.
the years after the fire
Guy Henry remarried six
years after Mary's death. He became an
optometrist, moved to New York,
then settled in Miami, Florida. Mary's
siblings all married and most had children.
Morton C. Freer moved to Minneapolis and followed in
his father's footsteps, becoming a salesman.
Howard A. Freer moved to Chicago and became a chef.
Charles F. Freer worked in the telegraph and
Discrepancies and addendum
* One newspaper report
contradicted the story about the Freer family
spending the holiday in Chicago, instead reporting
that Jennie traveled by herself to the city
specifically to join Mary at the Bluebeard
matinee. Another report, from a distant
newspaper, reported that Lizzie Freer Walker was at
the Iroquois with her mother and sister but escaped.
The story, reportedly based on a letter received by
family friends in West Virginia, was not repeated
went by her middle name, Mary, possibly as a way to
distinguish her from her namesake aunt, Alda Christy.
Margaret and Clara
Davis experience with
fire began on USS Blackhawk
Mr Bluebeard at Drury
Dixon brother and sister
escaped Iroquois Theater fire
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