Leon Gerald Reeves
(1882-1927) was a self-promoting fellow who used the Iroquois Theater tragedy as an
opportunity to portray himself as a hero and,
presumably, to make a quick buck selling a story to
a newspaper. The Sun put the story, with all
its inaccuracies, on the AP wire and it was picked
up by a half dozen newspapers where it can be found
today, muddying history.
Alone or with assistance from an actual reporter,
sold a story to The Sun, an NYC newspaper, in which
he claimed to be an employee in the advertising
department at the Iroquois and described his actions
at the fire as if he were a super hero who ran
from one area of the theater to another, saving
people left and right.
Because I did find him
working as a bill poster / flyposter in later years,
it seems plausible that he did bill posting for the
Iroquois Chicago, providing the gram of truth behind
his claim to be an employee. That said, his name was not
included in a list of Iroquois employees provided to
authorities by Iroquois business manager
Significant by its absence is
Leon's name in Chicago newspapers relative to the
fire or later legal proceedings. Were his
perception of his heroics at the Iroquois Theater accurate, could
have gone unnoticed by dozens of reporters at
the scene? When Chicago newspapers saw The
Sun's story on the AP wire, wouldn't they have
sought out such an extraordinary man for an
interview? Wouldn't he have been called as a
witness at one of the inquests?
years after the fire, a
seventeen-year-old girl ran into the Harrison St.
police department and reported she'd been attacked.
Nothing was reported as to the nature of the attack,
presumably because words like sex and rape would
have shocked 1908 readers.
She said Reeves had lured her into the balcony at the Trocodero Theater with promises of an acting career
then stuffed her mouth with a handkerchief to
suppress her screams. He was arrested and
refused to give police a statement. Nothing
more was reported about the incident.
Leon's next gambit was
claiming to have been "Harris Houdini's" manager
while promoting Handcuff King Miller. That was
followed by a stint of bill posting for Barnum and
While working as a
lifeguard at the Wilson Avenue beach on Lake
1914-1917 he rescued a half dozen female
swimmers and boaters.
In 1925 he sold 189 $3 seats
to a stag show featuring a five strippers and a pianist (Vera Long) at the National Theatrical Club (4th
floor in K.P. Building at 180 W. Washington) when
the police busted in and arrested all. Was the
first and only mention in Chicago papers of such a
club. Also the only story about the raid.
He was the youngest
of thirteen children born to Indiana natives,
Margaret Bennett Reeves and George W. Reeves.
He lived with his mother until her death seven years
before his own. On his WWI draft card he was
described as stout of build and of average height, with
Mad Miller first turned up on vaudeville
stages in 1908, in Illinois. Like Houdini, he was dubbed the
handcuff King. His association with Leon Reeves seems to have
begun and ended the following year.
Leonard J. Miller (1875-1941) performed as Mad Miller
until 1919, then retired to operate a grocery store and serve as postmaster
in Wolf Lake, a small town on the western edge of Michigan. In the
last year of his stage career he ventured outside the Midwest to California
The only evidence of the association between Miller and Reeves were
advertisements that heavily promoted Reeves, too. I found zero evidence to
support con man Reeve's claim of having been Houdini's manager.
Miller was one of many Houdini
Read an entertaining story about young men learning
the trade of advance men, bill posters,
lithographers and the like. A news blurb about
the advance railway car for one circus in 1924
reported the car served twenty-five bill posters and
advertising men. Early in his career, Iroquois
Will J. Davis worked as an advance agent for
Jack Haverly and, in that capacity, met and
married his wife,