Twenty-eight-year-old Norton W. Barker (1875-1954)
of Michigan City, Indiana was at the Iroquois
Theater Mr. Bluebeard matinee with unknown
others. He escaped from the auditorium with a young
girl, an unnamed stranger, who sat next to him. They
climbed into the box seating alcove on the north
side of the first floor and from there fled out a
fire escape exit into Couch Place alley.
Presumably the pair took this method because there
were crowds in front of exits leading to the front
lobby and direct first-floor fire escape exits.
Norton was married to Marjory Clark Barker and they
had two toddlers, Wallace and Marjory. Norton
worked for the Haskell & Barker Car Company in
Michigan city, manufacturer of railway cars.
Norton's uncle, the wealthy John H. Barker Jr., was
company president and principal owner.† It
employed over 3,000 workers. Michigan city, in
1903 a community of around 15,000 residents, was a
three-hour train ride east.
In 1878 at age three, Norton's father, Wallace Barker, had
drowned in a boating accident on Lake
Michigan with a group of his fellow Hyde Park Qui Vive
yacht club members. Wallace's hardware
company, W. C. Barker, had failed two years earlier.
Norton grew up in Chicago
where his mother, Jessie Norton Barker, chose to
remain after her husband's death. He attended
Phillips Andover Academy prep school near Boston. At her
passing in 1899 Norton moved to Michigan City where
he met his wife.
In the years after the fire
Norton and Marjory's
marriage ended in divorce and in 1925 he remarried,
to Florence E. Wilbur. By 1918, age forty, he
described himself as retired. For twenty
months 1921-1923, newspapers carried dozens of
stories of his daughter's failed effort to force
Bryn Mawr to reinstate her after expulsion.
Discrepancies and addendum
* Barker and his
girlfriend were not the only ones to take this
arduous path from the theater. One young man
in the 12-member
Sanborn party occupying that box seat would
later describe a man climbing into the box, leaving
his wife and children in their seats. The
group shamed him into returning to his family,
saying that he had been looking for an exit.
† At his death in 1910 the bulk of John H. Barker's thirty million dollar estate was left to his fourteen year old daughter. Norton
Barker received a "gift" from his uncle's estate
(a portion of ten million dollars), adding to his
1896 inheritance of $50,000 from his grandmother, Cordelia Collamer Barker.