Thompson's restaurant at 3 o'clock was an eating
house, decked here and there with late lunchers; at
3:15 it was a hospital, with the dead and dying
stretched on the marble eating tables; at 4 o'clock
it was a morgue, heaped with the dead; at 7:30 it
was again a restaurant, but with chairs turned on
top the tables that had been the slabs of death,
with the aisles cleared of the human debris, and the
scrub women at work mopping out the relics of human
flesh charred and as dust, and sweeping in pans the
pieces of skulls that had lain about the mosaic
floors, yet damp with the flowing length of women's
Inter Ocean newspaper December 31,
John R. Thompson
(1865-1927) was an
Illinois native who founded a successful chain of
Thompson restaurants and grocery stores. He
began in 1887 with a single store in Fithian, IL.
When sold in 1891 it provided capital for his first
restaurant at 397 State St. in Chicago. His
restaurants promoted low priced but clean and
nutritious food, fast. Interestingly, in
addition to restaurants and groceries, John Sr.
managed several theaters for his brother Harry W.
Ruth E. Thompson (1896-1990)
Plucky Ruth grew up to become a writer of children's
songs, poetry and short stories for pulp magazines.
She bore four children and endured two divorces. Her
second husband, Donald Mcgibeny, related to the Mcgibeny
Family Musicians, was also a writer, of silent films
and novels, as well as a radio commentator.
Writers sometimes confess that their imagination is
a mixed blessing that both fertilizes and curses.
A descendant reports that for the rest of her life
Ruth retained a vision of all the Iroquois
aerialists burning to death as they flew overhead.
Only one aerialist died, and none had been flying
for quite a while prior to the fire start, but
Ruth's recollection is a sobering reminder that
Iroquois fire survivors carried lasting memories of
the disaster. For children, memories of what
they actually saw and heard would over the years
have blended with what they envisioned while hearing
adult discussions and passages read from newspapers.
Especially a little girl with the imagination of a
John R. Thompson Jr
John Jr (pictured above as
the little boy on the horse) attended college,
married, had three children and assumed control of
the restaurant business. By 1921 there were
ninety-seven John R. Thompson restaurants around the
country. The groceries were sold off in 1924. John
Jr further expanded the company but became involved
in legal disputes over integration and charges of
tax evasion involving his father’s art collection.
George W. Holloway
Eighty-year-old Grandfather Holloway lived another
five years after the Iroquois Theater fire and may
have been ready when his time came. He'd
survived the American Civil War, the death of his
wife, Sophia McCulloch Lyon Holloway (1827-1901) and
the worst theater fire in U.S. history. Might
have reasoned that staying on would be pushing his
luck. In 1903 he'd been visiting his
daughter's family from his home in Georgetown,
Illinois, a tiny burg about three hours south of
It is not known who the aunts
were in the Thompson theater party. John and
Rose each had multiple sisters. In a later interview John referred to "Sister," suggesting at
least one in the party was one of his sisters, Anna,
Nellie or Maud, but with Grandpa Holloway in the
party, it's equally possible that John called his sister(s)-in-law "Sister" thus
referred to Rose's sisters, Abby
In the years after the fire
restaurant traffic suffered at the Randolph street
diner for a few weeks but eventually resumed.
incorporated in 1907 with thirty restaurants and two
groceries. That same year brought the final Iroquois
Theater trial, with the acquittal of Will J. Davis.
Had the trial been delayed and rescheduled to the
next term, instead of Judge Kimbrough the sitting
judge would have been Judge Thompson, John