grandfather took his young teenage granddaughter to an afternoon
matinee during the Christmas holiday. It was a fairytale
pageant with hundreds of performers in elaborate costumes and
aerial ballet dancers. The audience was filled with
children and teachers, whole families of parents, cousins, aunts and
uncles and grandparents, enjoying the fun of showing
off new Christmas apparel and looking forward to New Years
It was December 30,
1903 in Chicago, the pageant was Mr. Bluebeard
and the playhouse, Chicago's newest, was the Iroquois Theater.
The grandfather was fifty-nine-year-old William Martin Ford (c1842-1910) and his
granddaughter was Marjory Ford Ludlow (1890-1978). Both
William and Marjorie would
escape from the fire that took over six hundred lives that day.
Marjorie's survival was attributed to her grandfather carrying
her unconscious body from the theater.*
Upon learning of her
escape, Marjorie's stepfather,
Richard Mason Fletcher Jr. (1869-1912), immediately volunteered his services in the rescue
effort. From the experience he concluded an emergency
hospital was needed in the Loop and a year later opened the Chicago Emergency Hospital at
309 Fifth street in a former hotel, a six-story, 45-room brick structure staffed by
six physicians, including Fletcher. (More about the
Marjorie Ludlow was the only
child of Anna Lititia Ford (1870-1946) and the late
Andrew Watson Ludlow (1860-1899) of East Orange, NJ.
Her mother remarried ten months before the Iroquois
Theater fire, to Richard Fletcher (the hospital
founder described above), a second generation
physician and graduate of the University of
Anna Ford Ludlow Fletcher
had grown up in Rochester, NY. Her parents were
English immigrant, William Martin Ford, the
grandfather who saved
Marjorie at the Iroquois, and Letitia Stout Ford
In the years after the fire
When the emergency
hospital was two years old, in
February, 1907, Richard Fletcher proposed to the Chicago city council
that the city take over ownership of the hospital. He
attention to the 6,000 patients treated since it's inception as
evidence of the need for such an albeit unprofitable facility in
the Loop, and offered to turn it over to the city for the
original cost. He was willing to remain or retire at the city's
Nothing was published
as to the council's response to Fletcher but a shortage of funds
was evidenced by a benefit given nine months later to raise
operating monies for the facility. Volunteer performers
from a half dozen Chicago theaters assembled for a matinee at
the Illinois Theater. There was a good turnout but nothing
was reported as to the funds raised and six months later
Fletcher filed for bankruptcy with $22,523 in
liabilities and $250 in assets.
Fletcher's ghost: Thanks for trying, dude. RIP.
The Fletchers left
Chicago soon after Richard's bankruptcy and relocated in
Huntsville, Alabama where Richard took over his late
father's medical practice. Like his father, he also
worked as a county health officer. According
to the 1910 U.S. Census Anna and Marjorie lived in
Huntsville then too but may have been traveling.
After Richard's death in
1912, Anna and Marjorie reportedly moved briefly to
Washington DC, traveled in the tropics then returned to Chicago.†
In 1913 Marjorie married
London native Charles Timson,
manager of U.S. operations for William Cooper &
Nephews. The pair would have three
spent most of their lives in Deerfield, Illinois, a
village about 25 miles northwest of Chicago, on a
luxurious 50-acre estate.
In 1955 the Timson's
donated the first thirty acres of land near
Ashville, North Carolina to the Episcopal church for
development of the
retirement community, named after the Timson's
hometown in Illinois. Another hundred acres have
been added over the years but Timson Hall still
stands. Charles and Marjorie spent their last years
there and are buried in a nearby cemetery.
Grandpa William Ford
died in Birmingham, Alabama in 1910. His wife Letitia
maintained a residence in Chicago until her death
two years later so it seems likely he was in
visiting the Fletchers. A year prior to his
death, in December, 1909, his company filed for bankruptcy in
Chicago, despite optimism twelve months prior.
Discrepancies and addendum
newspapers inaccurately reported William's age as
seventy and his middle initial as C rather than M. Nothing
was reported as to where the pair were seated in the
Iroquois so the difficulty of their escape is not
known. I failed to learn anything about
Marjorie's body size but even a small teenaged girl
would have weighed around a hundred pounds. Her mother, as an adult, was 5'5".
Either the story of their escape from the Iroquois was exaggerated, grandpa was very
fit or his adrenalin surge was extraordinary.
birth years were reported for William in official documents,
sometimes 1842 and on his death
The Illinois Theater
Fire Memorial Association considered funding Fletcher's facility
but some of the association's early financial leaders had lost
enthusiasm for building a hospital. Interest
was later rekindled and the association established a
hospital on Market st.
*** Richard's father,
Richard Matthew Fletcher Sr, was a noted Huntsville, Alabama
physician, civil war surgeon and interesting
character. (See his obituary and notation at
April 6, 1913 it was announced that Marjorie Ford
engaged, wedding date not yet known. Turned
out to be two months later, on June 4, 1913.
The engagement notice
included the tidbit that she had spent the better
part of her life in Paris. That may have come as news to her high school friends and
newspapers who covered her pre-deb social
activities in Chicago 1906-1909. I looked for
evidence of a European tour 1910-1913 in
immigration records but found no record of Marjorie traveling outside the country
prior to 1913.
Her mother applied for a passport in 1900 and
Marjorie traveled after marriage but if she left the
country prior to 1913, I didn't find evidence of it.
Not wanting to jump to conclusions, I checked
social notices for news of pre-1913 travels and
found a May, 1912 newspaper blurb reporting that
Anna and Marjorie had just returned to Chicago after a
two-year world tour and would soon be headed for
their summer home in Marblehead. No mention of Huntsville, Alabama where lived
husband Richard Fletcher and where Anna's father was
visiting and dying in December 1910, in the middle
of that two-year tour. No evidence either of the family in Marblehead. Even for an eighteen year
old, two years is not "the better part of a life" but Anna and Marjorie
may have gotten away with a very spotty story.
Majorie certainly snared a better husband than did
the heroine in James Cameron's Titanic when
her mother set about selling her for a slice of Security pie.
In fairness, Anna's father and
husband had both bankrupted 1907-1909, her
husband and their provider died in 1912 and she was only forty-two
years old. Her mother Letitia was still
living, thus apt to go through much of whatever
remained of William Ford's estate after the
Anna and Marjorie may have analyzed the situation and
concluded their best alternative to taking in
laundry was to find a prosperous husband for
Note to Huntsville
historians: the gravestone of Richard
Matthew Fletcher Sr. is inscribed with an incorrect death year.
As the obituaries in 1905 newspapers reflect, he
died in 1905, not 1906. Most probably the
stone was redone some time after his death, perhaps at the death of his wife
in 1910, and the engraver or relative who
provided info to the engraver, erred. Were it
the engraver, it would likely have been corrected so
was probably one of the many Fletcher children.
Daughter Octavia who in 1964 wrote a biography about
her father, citing the wrong year of death is a good
prospect. Ordinarily a grave inscription or
daughter's recollection should be reliable but it is
unlikely his obituary was printed a year prematurely
in two newspapers.