When Chicago city custodian
Dewitt C. Creigier (see right) found a diamond pin on the floor
at the Iroquois with a stone as large as a pea, it’s value estimated
at $500 ($13,000 today), Chicago police chief
O'Neill directed Frank Solon (see right),
assistant superintendent of street
cleaning, to take a crew to the Iroquois
to retrieve all personal belongings.*
This would have been a job
for rakes and shovels, not brooms. The floors
at the Iroquois were covered with ashes and soot,
turned to mud by water from fire hoses, then frozen
in the unheated structure by winter temperatures
that hovered around five degrees. Retrieving
objects would have required chopping at the layer of
iced soot that covered the Iroquois floors.
Solon's crew scraped and gathered three wagons full
and hauled it to 56-58 Dearborn street where
Creigier oversaw the retrieval process.
They first picked out the
clothing then sifted through the muck from the
floor, using sluicing screens such as those used in
panning for gold.
Morgues had labeled bodies
(toe tags?), removed and placed valuables in
envelopes marked to correspond with body numbers.
The envelopes were turned over to the coroner’s
The combined tally of
belongings removed from bodies at morgues and
scraped from the floors at the Iroquois was 4,530
items with an estimated value of $50,000. Of those,
1,617 were delivered to or claimed by owners and 764
held at the police station awaiting identification.
(The final disposition of those 764 items was not
Among the belongings was a
large array of jewelry, including fifty diamond
rings, brooches, earrings, watch robs, hatpins,
watches and stick pins. Noted were an 18-stone
diamond ring, 12-stone diamond ring, 3-karat diamond
brooch, 1-karat diamond, ring set with garnets,
amethysts and emeralds, pearl brooch, 4 unset gems
(2 diamonds and 2 amethysts) and a Grand Army badge.
outerwear, comprised the bulk of the items,
including 259 coats for women and girls, 93 for men
and boys. The garments reflected a Chicago
winter in the Edwardian years, including 33 coats of
sealskin and others of astrakhan, otter, mink, lamb
and bear, with 240 pairs of rubbers, 63 umbrellas,
38 fur boas, 36 fur muffs and 20 fur collars.
Garments also reflected
styles of the era with 429 hats (263 womens, 100
girls, 66 men and boys), 86 side combs, a gold
lizard pen and only 30 pairs of shoes in a time when
shoes were tied and buttoned thus remained on the
foot. There were 195 purses containing $884.33 in
cash and 50 opera glasses.
Items were displayed in a
store front where the public could see it and submit
claims. 2,149 damaged and low value items not
claimed after a month were given to the Salvation
The last item claimed was a
small purse by
Adolph Gartz who lost his two young daughters
and five domestic employees at the Iroquois.
Unclaimed property of
Creigier kept $280 in
unclaimed burned currency and coins for a year then
turned it over to city comptroller Lawrence E.
McGann, who gave it to the police pension fund.
In September, 1904, nine
months after the fire, a large pile of
unclaimed garments were burned in the furnaces at
City Hall. As a short news story made note
(see above), some of those garments had provided the
clues with which people were identified. I
don't know why the garments were not turned over to
the family members with the bodies. Held as
evidence? Unwanted by family members?
Dewitt C. Creigier
In modern times the job of a
custodian involves structural maintenance but in
1903 Chicago the city custodian took custody of
articles and funds retrieved from thieves or
confiscated in police raids. The son of a
former Chicago mayor, Creigier's annual salary as
the city's custodian was $1,400. Earlier in
his career he'd worked as an electrician and
inventor, patenting a burglar alarm system for
trains. Inventing was a family thing.
His father had invented a combination fire
hydrant/water fountain/horse trough and his brother
Nathaniel a police communication system. Dewitt and
his wife, Carrie Briggs Creigier, were active in
Chicago's Columbia Yacht Club and owned a boat named
the schooner named Glad Tidings.
Frank W. Solon (1861-1915)
As assistant head of street cleaning Frank Solon
helped direct roughly 600 workers operating 400 teams of
horses in downtown Chicago.
Overseeing the Iroquois
clean up was the second time
Frank Solon was called upon to become involved
in the Iroquois Theater disaster. In the hours
immediately after the fire, subsequent to a
directive from acting Chicago mayor
Lawrence E. McGann,
William Brennan, acting commissioner of public works, sent
word to police chief O'Neill and
fire marshall Musham that the public works
department was at their service. Musham responded
quickly: "We need men and lanterns." Brennan sent
Frank Solon to
Bullard and Gormley department store to purchase
lanterns. Doherty assembled 150 men working in
the street department in the First ward at the city
yard at the foot of Randolph street with seventy
Solon's wife was named
Annie and they had one child.
Cleaning belongings from
floor at Iroquois Theater
Immediately after the fire
Iroquois ushers were directed to begin
collecting belongings from the theater, to prevent
theft by pickpockets and petty criminals who soon
found their way inside the theater. The grisly task
was soon assigned to the police department.
In the years after the fire
A survivor of the fire,
Charles W. Allen, was a long time friend of the Creigier family.
Six years after the fire Dewitt Creigier's mother was returning from a
lengthy European tour with the Allen family when she was arrested by New
York Customs service for smuggling jewels. Ella Allen, Charles's wife,
was the one found with jewels concealed on her person so paid the fine.
Charles Allen and the Creigier family remained friendly and in fact Dewitt
met with Charles the afternoon of Charles accidental death.
Discrepancies and addendum
McGann immigrated to America
as a three-year-old with his mother a year after his
father's death. They settled in Massachusetts
initially and moved westward to Chicago in 1864.
He left the cobbler's trade behind to become a city
clerk in 1879. By 1885 he was superintendent of
streets. He served one term in the U.S. House of
Representatives then returned to Chicago to work as
superintendent of the Chicago General Railway. Mayor
Harrison appointed him commissioner of public works
in 1897 and 1899, and City Comptroller in 1901.
Harrison's successor, Mayor Dunne, though McGann was
a Democrat, reappointed him. On December 30,
1903, in mayor Harrison's absence, he was acting
mayor. McGann's directive to subordinates and
department heads: "You are instructed to direct
the fire marshal, chief of police, and commissioner
of public works to proceed in this emergency without
any restriction whatever with regard to expense in
caring for the people. Do anything needful, spend
anything you want, in this cause, and look to the
council for support. We will be your authority."
Brennan was appointed deputy
commissioner of public works by Chicago mayor
Harrison in 1902 after serving as an alderman for
three years. He resigned in 1904 to pursue
business interests. He was married to Minnie
Brennan and they had four daughters.