In 1903 Joseph McClelland (b.1872) and Rena E. Knopp (b.1884) celebrated their wedding engagement
with a trip into the city for some wedding shopping and an afternoon matinee
at Chicago’s elegant new
playhouse, the Iroquois Theater on Randolph St. Both were from
Harvard, Illinois, a small town in McHenry County, Illinois, about 1-1/2
hours northwest of the Chicago loop. They had tickets to return home
to Harvard that evening and relatives went to the station to meet their
incoming train. Joseph and Rena did not arrive, however, and family
members instead learned of a horrific theater fire in Chicago.
A group of the
couple’s relatives traveled to Chicago to find their
bodies. Joseph’s brother (or uncle), George
McClelland, and Rena’s father, Robert Knopp,
searched the morgues for two days before finding
them at separate morgues.
Rena’s body was identified
by her shoes, in which were printed the name of a
Harvard shoe merchant. Rena’s fur and engagement
ring had been claimed by would-be thieves but when
her mother was able to give authorities a name
stitched into the pocket of the fur, police
retrieved the fur. The ring was never found.
Rena taught at a rural
school in the Harvard area. She was the daughter of
Robert C. Knopp (1860-1916) and Augusta C. Benneweis
Knopp (1865-1947). Her father, a farmer, was from
Germany and her mother from Illinois. The family
line was carried on by Rena’s brothers, Menzo
Frederick Knopp (b. 1892), who married Vera
Katherine Gher (1890-1978) and had a couple of
children, and Lester J. Knopp of Chicago. Rena’s
mother, Augusta, remarried in 1920 to William C.
Wittmun a widower with three sons.
Joseph was a bit older than
Rena, maybe because he'd been too busy to marry
earlier. Joseph McClelland /
McClellan came to America c1893 from County Armagh
in Ireland. After earning his high school diploma
in 1900 he began teaching school, then became a
school principal. He boarded with the Ruggles
family then. After that he became the assistant postmaster, then
teamed up with a Mr. Mitchem in a business selling
insurance, real estate and making loans.
Rena and Joseph had a double
funeral at the Trinity Lutheran Church and were
buried together in the Mount Auburn Cemetery in
Harvard, Illinois. They were each buried in
their family plots with a joint monument stone made
by Trigg Marbleworks of Rockford to honor the
couple's special relationship and tragic end.