Arthur Curry Brown
(c1861-1937) was a viola musician in the
orchestra on December 30, 1903. He escaped and
survived to join his labor union in lobbying Chicago
alderman for better safety standards for orchestra
As a member of the Federation
of Musicians Arthur was tapped to describe
conditions at the Iroquois that affected musicians
in the orchestra pit. The Federation hoped to
be granted a hearing by
city council members working to draft a new theater
ordinance. The gist of Arthur's
testimony appears in accompanying clipping.
What comes to mind first in
reading his description of the orchestra pit at the
Iroquois is that for all the self-congratulation
done when the theater opened, some elementary design
mistakes were made. The floor height of the
orchestra pit was too low for the music to be heard and the rake of
the third floor balcony was as much as 40% steeper
than the balconies in other theaters in the city. Not
like this was their first rodeo. Owner-manager
Will J. Davis had overseen new construction or
heavy remodeling of three prior theaters and
Benjamin Marshall had designed three or more
prior theaters for Klaw & Erlanger.
That said, Brown and the
musician union's thrusting themselves forward less
than a week after the fire, as in a similar move by
the electrician's union that blamed the disaster on
non-union electricians at the Iroquois, stands out
in the newspaper coverage as extraordinarily tone
deaf. Hello, there are six hundred dead, could
you maybe let their families bury their loved ones
before feathering your nest, grinding your axe,
furthering your cause, etc.?
Despite efforts from the
musician's union, in weeks of wrestling over a
new theater ordinance, the city council did not
address access requirements for orchestra pits.
Arthur was the son of George
and Kitty Brown and had been born in Salem, Indiana.
He had a brother named George English Brown.
In the years after the fire
In 1910 Arthur was vice
president of the musicians trade union. By the
1920 Arthur, like many musicians, during the
transition to film, was out of work,
feeling the effects of the cinema that every
year further reduced traffic at live theaters thus
the demand for musicians. By 1930 he worked as
a salesman in the apparel industry.
Arthur spent his last years
at the Illinois Masonic Home in Sullivan, Illinois
(today's Mason Point) and was buried in Chicago's
Mt. Greenwood cemetery.