James Strong and his wife Florence celebrated their
first wedding anniversary in October. On December
30, 1903 they took James’s mother, Elizabeth Knight
Strong (b. 1850) and Elizabeth's niece, Vera Goolsby,
daughter of her sister Savanah Strong Goolsby, to the
afternoon matinee of Mr. Bluebeard at Chicago’s new
James M. Strong (1877-1941) was a clerk at the Board
of Trade. His wife, Florence, was the former
Canadian native, Florence May Burgess (b. 1879). The
couple lived at
10 Oakland Crescent.
Vera Goolsby (b. 1887) was a native of Americus,
Georgia and only child of railroad engineer, John B. Goolsby, and Savannah “Vannie” E. Goolsby. Vera was
living in Chicago while attending school. She
was buried in the Oak Grove Cemetery in Americus,
The Strong party was seated in the third-floor balcony.
When they left the auditorium the stairs immediately
outside the balcony were impassible. The Strong
family was among a group of around twenty-five people who
fled to a
flight of utility stairs at the end of the east
promenade, thinking it would lead to the front exit.
It did but since the door was designed for use by
theater maintenance and administrative staff, the
door leading to the promenade was kept locked.
Washroom attendants likely had keys but one of those
had stepped into the third floor balcony to watch
the play, was trapped there and died. The door at
the bottom of the stairs was locked, so James smashed the
glass and climbed through the transom, hoping to
find a pass key. He was joined by Iroquois lamp
but before the men could force open the door, the
fireball hurled into the auditorium. The
auditorium filled with smoke and flames and the
utility stairwell with smoke, suffocating Elizabeth Strong,
Florence Strong and Vera Goolsby. Overcome by
smoke, James was taken to Michael Reese Hospital.
The bodies of James' relatives were retrieved by
McMullen and fireman
See detailed description of
the utility stairwell events.