Hays Samuels (1868-1947) traveled to Chicago the day
before Christmas in 1903 to spend the holiday with
her aunt Lulu (Louise) Lindsay McCullough / McCulloch Kimball
(1867-1947), wife of Weston G. Taft-Kimball
(1869-1926). The women were the same age
because Lulu's mother bore ten children.
Mattie's mother was the oldest daughter and Lulu was
one of the youngest children.
Kimball worked with his stepfather,
George F. Kimball (1839-1906), in the family's
wholesale plate glass business, brokering a large
proportion of the glass used in Chicago construction
for over three decades.* George retired
after the death of his wife, sold the family home on
Michigan Avenue and moved into the Auditorium Hotel.
He was the son of Alvah and Ruth Woodbury Kimball of
Boston. (Weston was Lulu's second husband, her
first being William Lindsay.)
Mattie was the wife of
surgeon Dr. Fouche** Warren Samuels
(1864-1933) of Louisville, KY and the daughter of
journalist, poet and prolific song writer,
Col. William Shakespeare Hays (1837-1907), and
Rosa Belle McCulloch Hays (1847-1935).*** Her
father wrote over three hundred songs, claiming to
have written "Dixie," but the family could
never prove it.
On Wednesday, December 30, 1903 Mattie, Lulu and
Lulu's father-in-law, the widowed George Kimball,
went to the afternoon matinee of Klaw and Erlanger's
Mr. Bluebeard production at Chicago's newest
luxury playhouse, the Iroquois Theater. It was
later reported that sixty-four-year-old George
Kimball was in frail health. The second
anniversary of his wife's death (Lydia Taft Kimball)
was fast approaching and perhaps his daughter-in-law
thought to cheer him up.
The party of three* was seated
in the parquet section and, like most others in the
audience on the ground level, escaped without
serious injury. Unable to reach the door into
the lobby they went out a window about ten feet off
the ground on the north side of the structure into
Once back at Lulu's, Mattie
phoned her husband, Fouche, to assure him of her
safety. He shared her story with the
Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper. Mattie's
back was blistered from the heat but her clothing
and hair were not burned. They were forced to
walk over fallen victims as the made their escape,
most probably those of people who had jumped
from the second and third floor fire escapes to the
According to one newspaper
story Mattie lost "two necklaces, rings and pins"
valued at $1,000 during her escape from the theater.
Reportedly she notified the theater owners who four
days after the fire contacted her to say the items
had been found. The story reported that all
such items had been turned over to the theater
owners – an inaccuracy.
The police held on to all of it and donated the
items that remained unclaimed to the Salvation Army.
In the years after the fire
Mattie was active in the Red
Cross during WWI and WWII. In 1920 her husband
was sued for having left a sponge inside a patient
after surgery but he and Mattie were divorced by
then and he was on his third wife. In
Mattie's obituary there was no mention of the
divorce. In over twenty-five years of marriage
she'd earned the title of Widow #1 and whomever
provided information to the newspaper claimed it for
her via omission. In her obituary it was
reported that as a young girl she'd been considered
one of the most beautiful women in Louisville.
Discrepancies and addendum
George Kimball became the sales representative for
Pittsburgh Plate Glass in Chicago, eventually
selling the firm to PPG.
** French, pronounced "Fooshay."
and Mattie's mother, Rosa Belle McCulloch, were the
daughters of James and Rebecca Seay MuCulloch.
It is possible – but not
probable – that journalist/song writer Will.
S. Hayes was also in the theater party. I'll
break it down for you.
On Dec. 31, 1903, the day
after the Iroquois Theater fire, the Louisville,
KY newspaper Courier-Journal published a
detailed account of Mattie traveling to Chicago
to visit her aunt, naming the people in her
party at the theater and describing their
escape. Though Will was a resident of
Louisville and favorite son in Louisville, and
an employee for many decades at the
Courier-Journal, and was mentioned in the story
as being Mattie's father, there was no mention
of his having been at the Iroquois with her.
Reportedly she took a train back to Louisville
that same day, 12/31/1903.
On January 2, 1904
the Courier-Journal ran a story that Will had
suffered a paralyzing stroke. No mention
of the Iroquois, a theater or a fire.
On January 4-7 a dozen
newspapers, including the Courier ran a
story reporting that Will's condition after his
"slight stroke of paralysis" was much improved,
noting that he'd suffered from kidney disease
for several years. No mention of the
Iroquois, a theater or a fire.
The Evansville Journal reported that he suffered
the stroke "at his home."
At his death in 1907 an
obituary appeared in dozens of newspapers.
Most ran a short paragraph including a statement
that he died as a result of a stroke suffered at
the Iroquois. Newspapers that ran
lengthier obituaries made no mention of the
Iroquois or a theater fire. His hometown
newspaper, the Courier-Journal, devoted two full
page length columns to his passing, reprinting
eulogies in newspapers around the country,
including the Inter Ocean in Chicago. None
mentioned the Iroquois, a fire or a theater.
It seems likely that some
reporter found the three-year-old story about Mattie
and improvised. 1+1=27.