In the early 1870s Winthrop and Ellen Spring
moved west to Le Mars, Iowa, a city on the western border of
Iowa with a population then of around 4,000.
Most of their children were born in Manteno, Illinois
near Kankakee, but were raised in
Le Mars. It was there that Winthrop and his brother, George H.
Spring (1826-1901), built the Spring Bros. store on Main
Street, selling McCormick farm implements, furniture and
Leaving Le Mars
In 1896 the
twenty-five-year-old family business was barely
scraping by and the brothers decided to liquidate
while assets still covered liabilities. Then in
lost his year-long struggle with diabetes-related
illness. Both events likely figured in Winthop
and Ellen's decision between 1900 and 1901 to leave
the small town of Le Mars and return to Chicago.
They had married there nearly four decades earlier
and Winthrop's business career began there.
The relocation probably helped close the chapter on
nearly fifty years
of struggling with retail business begun with their
father's shoe store in the 1850s. Also,
with Winthrop in his mid seventies and a decade older
than Ellen, and perhaps humbled by the deaths of two of
his brothers,* he may have wanted to see his wife
and daughter settled closer to his sons. There
may have been
financial reasons for the move as well. When
Spring Bros failed it was reported
that supplier accounts were paid up and liquidated
assets were expected to pay off a $4,600 obligation
to the First National Bank in La Mars. In Chicago Winthrop and Ellen moved in with their
middle son, Winthrop Jr., suggesting that honoring
business obligations at the Le Mars store may have depleted Winthrop's
All three boys – Charles (1864-1919),
Winthrop Jr. (1871-1923), nicknamed "Wint," and Samuel (1875-1952) –
had families. Charles and
Winthrop Jr. lived in Chicago and Samuel in New
Haven, Connecticut. Winthrop and
Ellen's only daughter, Edwina, named after one of
Winthrop's sisters, lived with her parents and made the move with
them to Chicago.
Matinee excursion to the
On Wednesday afternoon December 30,
1903 four Spring family members perished while
matinee of Klaw and Erlanger's production of the
Mr. Bluebeard fairy tale at Chicago's newest
playhouse, the Iroquois Theater. The victims: Winthrop, Ellen,
Edwina and Winthrop Jr's wife, Florence. It is
not known if Winthrop Jr. also attended the theater
and escaped. As a traveling salesman he may
have been on the road.
Winthrop and Ellen's youngest
son, Samuel, married to Adah
Bowman and living in Connecticut, identified the bodies of his parents
and sister. It is not known if he and his wife
were in Chicago for the holidays or if he traveled
to Chicago upon hearing his family was feared lost
in the disaster. Their son, Ernest, was only
six months old so it seems most likely that Samuel
made the trip to Chicago after the fire.
It seems odd that Charles and Winthrop Jr.
did not make the identifications of their parents,
sister and wife but both were
traveling salesmen and may have been on the road,
trying to get back to Chicago. Robert Gilmore, of unknown
relationship to the family, identified
It is not
known where the Spring party was seated at the
theater, or details of their funeral arrangements. All
that was reported was that there were three hearses
in the funeral procession, so either one hearse carried two
caskets or there were two bodies in one casket.
Winthrop was probably tall, as had been his
grandfather and as were his sons. All four of
the Spring family Iroquois victims were
buried at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago.
Relatives were associated
with the Presbyterian and Congregational faiths.
One of Winthrop's brothers, Charles, was
Presbyterian and another, George, was a deacon
in the Congregational church in Le Mars.†
At the time of their
deaths Winthrop Sr, Ellen and Edwina lived at 420
Foster Avenue with
their son, Winthrop Jr., his wife, Florence, and
Wint's preschool daughter,
Marjorie. Charles and his wife, Carrie Cavanaugh
Spring, lived at 657 Pine Grove.
Winthrop N. Spring Sr
(b. 1828) was one of the oldest Iroquois Theater
victims. He was the grandson of reverend
Samuel Spring (1746-1819), chaplain in Benedict
Arnold's army during the American Revolution, graduate of Princeton University
and chum of Aaron Burr. Born in Massachusetts to Charles and Dorothy Norton
Spring, Winthrop married Ellen in 1862. By
1903 he was done with retail once and for all, enjoying his
Newton Spring (b.
1839) was born in Vermont to George and Orella Snow
Newton. She bore five children, of which four
were living as of 1900.
Edwina Spring (b.
1868) was born in Illinois where the family lived
before moving west to Iowa. She graduated from
the Froebel Kindergarten Association of Chicago and
in 1891 opened a kindergarten class for Le Mars
children age three and up in the former normal
school building at the corner of Washington and
Third Street. The cost: $3/mo per child.
By 1893 she took a job as principal of a
kindergarten somewhere in north Chicago but by 1900 was back
living in Le Mars and teaching, presumably
Florence May Scovell Spring
(b. 1876) was born in Ontario to George and
Charlotte Scovell. She and Winthrop Spring Jr.
(1871-1923) married in 1898. At Florence's
death they had one child, a three year old daughter
named Marjorie Spring (1900-1972).
years after the fire
Samuel Spring and his family settled in New York
where he became a noted professor in the forestry
department at Cornell University and a correspondent
of president Franklin Roosevelt.
Winthrop Spring Jr. remarried four years after the
fire, to Lulu Brown, with whom he had two children – Evelyn Edwina and Winthrop
Spring III. By the 1920s Winthrop's family joined Samuel in Connecticut where Wint worked as a sales
manager at the Stratford Connecticut Brass Foundry
and was a principal in the Berbecker &
Rowland Mfg. Co. in Waterville, CT.
Charles and Carrie divorced and both remarried.
He and his second wife relocated to Cincinnati.
He worked for a business liquidation company, an
occupation that would have reminded him
often of his family's struggling
she should have been able to put paid to tragedy
when she lost her mother at the Iroquois but for
Marjorie Spring (1901-1959), Florence and Winthrop's
daughter, life kept dumping to the very end.
She became a nurse and in 1932, while working in
Manila, married Herald "Blondy" Booker. A
decade later, working as a civilian for the Adjutant
General's Corps during
World War II, Blondy was captured by the Japanese
and imprisoned at Cabanatuan. In October, 1944
he was one of over 1,800 POW's being transported to
slave labor camps aboard the unmarked
Arisan Maru Hell Ship, when it was struck by
a U.S. torpedo and sank in the Bashi Channel of the
South China Sea. All but a handful died from
drowning when the Japanese on nearby destroyers
refused to rescue them from the water, using clubs
to prevent them from boarding the ships. Eight
months would pass before family members were
informed of the status of their loved ones.
Marjorie remarried three years later, to John
Hardwick, and spent her final years living in Grants
Pass, Oregon, about 135 miles south of Eugene.
In March, 1959 she died of a broken neck following
an automobile crash on Lower River Road near the old
Robertson Bridge over the Rogue River. She
rounded a corner to find children in the road,
getting off a school bus. To avoid hitting
them she swerved and her car went down a twenty-foot
embankment. She survived for a month in the
hospital before succumbing to her injuries.
Marjorie was fifty-eight at the time, employed as a
case worker for the Josephine County Welfare
Discrepancies and addendum
Charles A. Spring, also died in 1901.
Charles was a friend and valued manager for Cyrus
McCormick in Chicago, working as a superintendent
for many years at the McCormick Harvesting Company.
women's Temperance Union also met at the Le Mars
Congregational church in the 1890s. Winthrop's
and George's sister, Edwina Spring Mudge
(1832-1907), and George's wife, Maria Lane Spring
(1833-1910), were members of the organization.
‡ In the 1850s all three
brothers, Charles, Winthop and George, together with
Charles A. Spring (1800-1892) operated a shoe
and boot store at 188 Lake Street in Chicago named
"C. A. Spring & Sons."
Charles Sr. helped found the
McCormick Theological Seminary.