immigrant, Augusta Lettermann Kochems, and her
seventeen-year-old son, Jacob A. Kochems (b.1886),
lost their lives at the Iroquois Theater on December
30, 1903. They were the wife and son of saloon
keeper Frank Kochems (1857-1943). The family lived
at 262 Warren Avenue in Chicago.*
It is not known where the Kochems were sitting in
Augusta was the daughter of George and Caroline
Letterman; Frank's parents and siblings had settled
in Buffalo, NY. Augusta and Frank married in 1883 and
relocated in Chicago by at least 1887. Frank first worked at a
meat market but by 1888 worked as a bartender. His
saloon in 1903 was located at 233 Vanburen in
Chicago. A daughter, Clara, was born in 1884,
Jacob two years later.
Augusta's body was discovered
at the Cook County morgue and Jacob's at Rolston's
Funeral Home. Frank C. Kochems, identified his son's
body and Mark O. Jucknies, a printing press operator of unknown
relationship to the Kochems, identified Augusta's.
Jucknies also lived in the 11th ward so may have
been a neighbor or a patron at Frank's bar.**
The Kochems funeral was held on Sunday afternoon after the
fire but the coffins were stored in a vault and interment at Forest Home Cemetery in
Chicago wasn't for six months, perhaps waiting until
Frank could afford it. His grief was shared with his daughter,
Clare Kochems Altman, who lived in Chicago with her
husband of six months, Harrie P. Altman.
In the years after the fire
Frank had a $20,000 Aetna
life insurance policy on Jacob but none on Augusta. Frank remarried two
years after the Iroquois Theater fire, to a woman
named Ida R. Van Sciver Smith. They purchased a home
on Warren Avenue in Chicago and had several lodgers
but in 1930 Frank was once again a widow. In the
1940 U.S. Census he described himself as a
In the news in the
weeks before the fire saloon keeper Frank Kochems
was probably reading newspaper reports of an ordinance
proposed by the Women's Christian
Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.). Aimed at protecting
women from the evil effects of alcohol, the
ordinance sought to discourage patrons,
specifically women and families, from
back rooms, also called "wine rooms," in
saloons, by forcing the elimination of
side entrances. The idea was that
if forced to incur the shame of walking into
a saloon through the front entrance, women
and families would stay out of saloons
"To nail up the side
door of the dram shop will mean the saving
of thousands of girls who each year go to
their ruin through its portals," said
another W.C.T.U. officer. The 1903
campaign was the second waged against side
doors by the group.
police chief O'Neall had a different idea of
the problem, as well as the solution.
A week before the
Iroquois Theater fire, the city council
referred a proposed ordinance to the
judiciary committee for consideration.
It would have prohibited even a window in
the back of a saloon and dictated that
liquor could be sold in only one room. It was killed five months
later as being too drastic. Instead a
prohibition of "Family Entrance" signage on
the side door was under consideration.
Discrepancies and addendum
*In some victim lists and
official records the name was spelled Kerems, Ketchem,
Kochems or Kochenis.
** A Davenport, Iowa
newspaper, however, reported that Augusta's
son-in-law, Harrie P. Altman, a Chicago resident,
identified the bodies. Harrie's father, James S.
Altman, was a judge in Davenport and may have been
made assumptions based on telegrams. Another
source reported that both were identified by Frank.
Possibly Jucknies and Altman joined Frank in the