During the 1903 Christmas vacation, on
December 30, three sisters from Geneva,
Illinois, age nine to fourteen, attended an
afternoon matinee enactment of the Mr.
It was lavish production by theater
syndicate kingpins, Klaw and Erlanger,
performed at Chicago's newest luxury
playhouse, the Iroquois Theater.
All three perished in a fire that in 15-20
minutes took over 600 lives.
James and Helen Long's daughters, their only
children, were Helen, Marian, and Kathryn,
age fourteen, eleven, and nine.
Locating the girls' bodies
James Long spent all
night looking for the bodies of his daughters.
Kathryn was found at Horan's funeral home and
identified by Dr. Alfred Wheelock Young.† Helen was
found at Rolston's and Marian's at Horan's funeral
homes, both identified by Edward P. Luthardt,
husband of Helen's cousin Mary.
An F. H. Blackman was also cited as among those
searching for the Long children. A doctor from
Geneva, IL, he may have been the family physician.
Mother went on an
Geneva, Illinois was
an hour's train ride from Chicago so the family
might have come into the city for the day, or might
have planned to be there for several days. Since an
office tenant of the Auditorium hotel, Dr. Alfred W.
Young, participated in the search for the girl's
bodies, the family may have been staying at the
Auditorium while visiting relatives in Chicago over
the holidays. Both parents had relatives living in
Chicago. Helen's sister, Martha T. Welch taught at
the Brown School on Warren Avenue and Mary Luthardt,
grown daughter of James' brother, Robert, lived with
her family in Chicago.
Helen Long saw to her girls seating at the theater
then left to do a bit of shopping, with instructions
to meet outside the theater in a few hours. As word
of the fire swept stores throughout Chicago, Helen
rushed to the theater but was unable to enter the
structure. Initially, the crowd surging from the
theater was impenetrable; soon the entrances were
guarded by police who kept frantic relatives from
Funeral and burial
The Long girls funeral
was held mid afternoon at Graceland cemetery chapel
on Tuesday, January 5, 1904 and burial was in the
family plot at the Oak Hill Cemetery in Geneva, IL.
In the years that followed they were joined there by
their parents, aunts, and uncles.
Long and Welch
families roots deep in Kane County
Married in 1889, the
Longs lived at 403 S. Fourth St. in Geneva, near the
intersection with Fulton St. Geneva is a small town
about forty miles west of Chicago. Ancestors of both
the Long and Welch families were among the early
residents of the community and were prominent in its
The James and Helen Long family
Daughter - Helen Long 1889-1903
Daughter - Marian Patra Long 1891-1903
Daughter - Kathryn Long 1894-1903
Father - James Carr Long 1843-1933
Mother - Helen Medora Welch Long 1854-1927
James had served for three months in the 69th Illinois
Infantry during the American Civil War, guarding Confederacy prisoners at Camp
Douglas in Chicago. He was the second-generation owner of a family grocery and
dry goods store in Geneva, his father having relocated to the city from Maine in
1855. James' sister, Elizabeth Long, was also a principal in the business, and
for a time, the store was named E. H. Long in an attempt to attract women
shoppers. The primary Long store, located at 301 W. State in Geneva, IL, at the
northwest corner of State and Third, is presently occupied by Perlman Fine
Jewelry but has passed through many owners over the years, including Filbert
Drug store and Erday's clothing.
A Kentucky native, the girl's mother, Helen Welch Long, was a Suffragette
sympathizer and active in women's clubs in Geneva, speaking and writing about
issues she cared about, including road construction, interurban cars, and pure
food. Helen was the daughter of an author and university professor, Rodney
Welch, and Abby F. Stevens Welch. At her death in 1927, a portion of Helen's
estate went to purchase furnishings for the Children's Room at the Geneva, IL
library where she had served on the board. As a school board member, Helen
promoted kindergarten as a necessary part of a public school education and
training for girls that put more emphasis on practical skills to prepare them
for earning a living and/or helping their husbands do the same. With her
progressive views, it would have been interesting to see what paths chosen by
Helen's daughters had they lived.
In the years after the fire
In October, 1905 James was called as a possible juror in the first damage suit
for the fire. The exact courtroom dialogue that ensued is unknown. Though many
newspapers were quick to cover the story that a father of Iroquois victims had
been called for jury duty, nearly every paper gave a different account of the
questions and answers. The only certainty is that after it was learned during
venire that he lost family members in the disaster, he was excused .
In 1908 James retired and sold his interests in the Geneva dry goods store.
The girl's deaths were noted in James' obituary but not in Helen's.
Fourteen years after
the Iroquois Theater fire, in May, 1917, Susan F.
Long, eighty-one-year-old sister to James Long and
aunt to his three lost daughters, died from burns
suffered during a kitchen fire. Susan's apron caught
fire while baking, and she was severely burned from
knee to hip, one hand burned to the bone.
Discrepancies and addendum
* In the Everette disaster book, two of the
children's names are misreported as Ryan, Helen and
† An Osteopath, Young had offices in the Auditorium
building but called Geneva, Illinois home, and was
familiar with the Long family. His sister, Harriett,
was married to Harry Warner of Geneva, and his
mother, the former Eliza Woodward, had grown up in