Polzin Jr (1870-1949) and Bertha Polzin Koehler
(1872-1938) were two of seven children born to
German immigrants, Albert Polzin Sr (1845-1925) and
Henrietta Rieck Polzin (1843-1931). Albert Jr
was born in Germany and immigrated to America in
1862 with his parents and Bertha was born in Illinois
after the family's emigration.
Albert Jr married Illinois native, Elizabeth
Dehnhardt (1861-1933) and they had three children, of
which two were still living in 1900: George Albert Polzin
(1883-c1950) and Henrietta, Polzin (1886-1903), who
was nicknamed "Etta."
Albert worked as a grocery clerk and they owned
their home at 41 Ashland in La Grange, Illinois, a
village southwest of Chicago with a 1903 population
of around 4,000. Today La Grange is considered
a Chicago suburb. Albert and Elizabeth's home
was probably located where the playground is today
at the Cossitt Elementary School.
married Fred Koehler (1852-1917) in 1887 and they
had one child: Marie Koehler (1888-1903). Fred immigrated to
America from Germany in 1852 and from at least 1893
to 1904 was a saloon
keeper. Despite reports to the contrary, in
1903 the Koehler's probably lived in Washington
Heights, a Chicago suburb. See Notes
On December 30, 1903 Albert's
wife and daughter, forty-two-year-old Elizabeth
Polzin and seventeen-year-old Etta Polzin, joined
his sister and her daughter, thirty-one-year-old Bertha Polzin Koehler and
fifteen-year-old Marie Koehler, for a matinee
performance of Klaw and Erlanger's Mr. Bluebeard
production at Chicago's newest playhouse, the
Iroquois Theater. Both mother's escaped the
fire; both daughters perished.
Marie's body was located at Buffum's funeral home
and Etta's at Perrigo's funeral home.
Reportedly the only evidence of injury to Etta were
reddened spots on each nostril, interpreted by
family as having resulted from breathing in fire. Nothing was
reported about the condition of Marie's body but
reports of Bertha searching morgues for a day and a
half suggest her daughter was sufficiently burned to
make recognition difficult.
It was reported that
Elizabeth Polzin was taken to Marshall Fields
department store and Bertha was later interviewed at the
Great Northern Hotel. Though Bertha was said
to have suffered severe burns to the head and face,
and Elizabeth was reported to have been burned,
neither woman was hospitalized and injury did not
prevent Bertha from spending many hours searching
for her daughter.
A joint funeral for Etta
and Marie was held
at the Koehler home mid afternoon
on Sunday after the fire. Both were interred at
Mount Greenwood cemetery.
In the years after the fire
Bertha Koehler, Albert and Elizabeth Polzin all
moved to Los Angeles in the 1920s and spent the
remainder of their lives there and were buried in
the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, CA.
1909 Marie Koehler's family received one of the
thirty-vie $750 settlements from Fuller
Construction, the company that built the Iroquois
In some newspaper reports
Bertha Koehler did not attend the theater and
was not even in the city but came fleeing from
her home in Chicago Heights upon hearing about
the fire. According to city directories
Fred Koehler lived in Washington Heights and
according to many reports Bertha suffered burn
injuries so it is more likely than not that she
was at the Iroquois at the time of the fire.
Some 1903 victim lists
included a thirty-five-year-old fatality named
"Maime" or "Mayme" and others a
seventeen-year-old named "Maime" or "Mayme."
A death certificate was not issued for anyone
named Maime or Mayme Koehler, Kohler or Kahler.
The only death certificate issued to a Koehler
was for Marie, misstranscribed as "Mannie."
It may be that Marie was nicknamed Maime, or
that her mother, Bertha was nicknamed Maime, but
the only Koehler fatality was Marie.
reported that the Polzin's lived in
Knox, IL, and some that they lived in Chicago on
Vincennes Ave. Fred and Bertha Koehler
lived on Vincennes in Washington Heights and according to the 1900 and 1910
U.S. Census, the Polzins lived in La Grange, IL.
The only evidence I found to indicate that the
Polzins lived in Knox was March, 1904 classified
advertisement in the Chicago Trib for a 280-acre
farm in Knox, on R. F. D. #2, offered by an "A.
Polzin" that could have been Albert.
One newspaper reported
that William Fitzgerald, a detective at the hotel where Bertha was
staying, the Great Northern, found and identified
Marie's body at Perrigo's funeral home based on
the gold fillings in her teeth. Other
newspapers reported that Etta's father, Albert Polzin Jr
identified both girls. Some newspapers
reported that Marie's body was found at
Perrigo's and Etta's at Buffums, others
reversing it with Etta at Perrigo and Marie at
Some newspapers reported
that Bertha lost two daughters but according to
the 1900 U.S. Census she had only born one child,
still living then – Marie. The 1910 census
reported she had born one child, no longer
living. It was reported that Bertha was
delirious with grief and exhaustion after
searching in vain to find her daughters.
Presumably her references to "our two
daughters," meaning the daughters of she and her
brother or she and her sister in law, were misunderstood by reporters to mean
two daughters of she and her husband.
One contemporary source
on the Mount Greenwood cemetery seems to have
a snafoo. No surprise given the
inconsistencies reported about the Koehler and
Polzin girls in 1903. Mount Greenwood Cemetery,
by Margaret M. Kapustiak and Paula K. Everett,
reports that Maria Koehler had a fifteen year old daughter
named Lola who was also a victim. Multiple
problems with that report. Maria's mother
was named Bertha, did not die at the Iroquois
and was thirty-one years old. The Maria
Koehler who did die at the Iroquois was herself fifteen
years old, as substantiated by her grave marker
(see accompanying photo), so did not have a
fifteen year old child. The error may lie
in part with a mix up with a sixteen year old
Lola Kuebler, buried in Oak Woods
The Koehler's 1903
residence is uncertain
but was probably at 9900 Vincennes Rd. in the
village of Washington Heights
(annexed to Chicago in 1893) at the southwest
corner with 99th street where Fred operated a
saloon and resided. Washington Heights (aka Blue Island Ridge and Beverly)
was about fourteen miles south of Chicago.
According to city directories they
lived there between
between 1893 and 1904. The double funeral was
held at this address, followed by burial in
a Chicago cemetery.
in newspapers and books also had
IL about two hundred miles southwest of
Chicago, said newspapers and Marshall
Everett's book. One possibility is
that Bertha and Fred were separated, with
Bertha and Marie living in Knoxville, and
another is that Marie was a student at the
St. Mary's catholic girls school in
Chicago Heights, IL about thirty miles
southwest of Chicago, said newspapers.
Perhaps reporters confused it with Washington Heights.
* Polzin was
sometimes spelled Paulzine, Paulzein, Polzine and
Dillea was Mr Bluebeard music director
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