An organization of family
members of Iroquois Theater fire victims was founded
the afternoon of January 10, 1904, less than two
weeks after the fire, when an estimated
one hundred and twenty-five people met at the Monadnock Block building in the offices of the
Western Society of engineers. In attendance: a hundred
people who had lost close relatives in the fire.
They were invited to the
Arthur E. Hull, an insurance agent who had lost his
wife and three children in the fire. Attorneys
Thomas D. Knight and William J. Lacey led the
meeting. Knight was Hull's attorney. Hull was
elected chairman and realtor Edward T. Noble (1862-1911)
secretary. Noble had begun running classified ads in the
Personals column of the Chicago Tribune beginning a
week after the fire, January 6,
1904, presumably to attract would-be members, but
advertisement did not state how people were to
contact him, his connection to the fire or even that
forming an organization was his purpose,
word-of-mouth must have played a role in bring the
At the first meeting Hull and Knight
their goal as punishing the guilty and
claiming reparations for survivors, defining the
guilty as Iroquois owners, including Klaw &
Erlanger, and Chicago authorities. Elizabeth Haley,
sister of Margaret Haley of the Chicago Teachers
Federation spoke to remind the gathering that serious fire
hazards in Chicago schools were repeatedly ignored
by Chicago officials, including aldermen and mayor
Harrison, and that prevention of future fires was
also a worthy objective for the organization.
She was cheered by the audience.
Hull appointed an executive committee to meet in
three days to incorporate the organization.
John L. McKenna,
Henry M. Shabad,
James J. Reynolds,
Edward S. Frazier and
|The idea of an
Iroquois Memorial Hospital was discussed as
early as January 21, 1904. The association briefly
lobbied for it to be located in the Iroquois theater
building. By mid March officers were elected
for the Iroquois Memorial Emergency Hospital
corporation: Richard T. Crane Jr., Charles
Dickinson, Frederick W. Crosby, A. A.
Sprague Jr. and Dr. Emil G. Hirsch.
Over the next
thirteen days came a shift in the group's focus.
Two hundred relatives of Iroquois victims met on
January 23, 1904 to elect officers and accept a
constitutional charter for the organization. The
election reflected a disagreement over the
association's goals. Arthur Hull may have
brought the group together but his
retribution-oriented objectives were out of
alignment with the membership and he was not granted
the presidency. Elected:
A motion to open
association membership to anyone in the theater at
the time of the fire was rejected; membership was restricted to persons closely related
to fire fatalities. The purpose of the organization,
as stated in its charter, was
to erect a memorial to the victims and offer
financial assistance to families who lost income
providers in the fire. Contrary to the
goals expressed by Hull and his attorney at the
first meeting, the association's constitution
contained a clause prohibiting the association's participation in Iroquois fire lawsuits.
A month later one
partisan Chicago newspaper,
the Inter Ocean, claimed founder
Hull lost leadership of the group in a coup
led by Reynolds. Reynolds denied the
accusation and since other members did not speak out
to support Hull, it is equally
probable that a majority of members were at a
different stage in grieving than Hull. Anger and
vengeance was his #1 response; theirs was sadness
and a sense of vulnerability. Restricting
membership to those who shared the pain of losing a
direct family member reflects a wagon circling
attempt to protect the group from agenda-driven
people – such as newspapers, opportunistic attorneys
or retribution junkies.
On February 24, 1904, four
days after the
grand jury verdict of 2/10/1904 failed to
condemn the deep-pocketed Theater Syndicate or
Chicago's mayor, association co-founder Arthur E.
Hull resigned from the association, announcing that he was leaving Chicago.
He hung around for nearly a year, long enough to
remarry, to a wealthy heiress, then was off to
California to build a fortune.
Association president James J. Reynolds assured
the public that the group would continue its goal of
erecting a monument to Iroquois victims. The
Inter Ocean newspaper reported that a month earlier Reynolds, a democrat,
had wrested the organization from Hull, a
republican, during a disagreement over the group's
direction. The Inter Ocean speculated
that Hull's departure would split the
association into two separate groups. It
A committee was formed in
March, 1904 to raise funds and erect a memorial to
Iroquois Theater fire victims. Committee
members: Elbridge G. Keitch,
Byron L. Smith, John J. Mitchell, James B. Forgan,
Frederick W. Crosby, James H. Eckels, Dr. Emil G.
Hirsch, A. C. Bartlett, Charles Dickinson, John V.
Clarke, A. A. Sprague Jr., Honore Palmer, Stanley
McCormick, B. S. Cable and Richard T. Crane jr.
On June 12, 1904
the body of the one Iroquois victim who had never
been identified was buried in Montrose Cemetery
on N. Pulaski northwest of Chicago. An estimated
12,000 attended the service. The association
by then had raised $25,000 for its memorial and
planned to erect a stone listing all the dead.
Five years later the Iroquois Memorial Association
erected a marker to honor their loved ones.
"Sacred to the memory of
600 people who perished in the Iroquois Theater Fire
Dec. 30, 1903.
Erected by the Iroquois Memorial
In later years
A thousand people attended
the Iroquois Memorial Association's first annual
gathering. By 1933, thirty years later, the
number of attendees had dwindled to twenty, of which
fewer than half had attended the ill-fated Mr.
Bluebeard matinee on December 30, 1903.