On Wednesday, December 30,
1903 the Bolte family from New Trier township in Winnetka, Illinois traveled into
downtown Chicago for an afternoon theater matinee at the city's
newest luxury playhouse, the Iroquois Theater on Randolph St.
In the party were Charles and Jessie Bolte and their three
children, John, Guy and Linda, and the family's domestic
Eleanor "Elna" Frandsen. Their seats were in the
balcony on the second floor, surrounded by teachers, children
and families turned out to celebrate the last few
days before the end of the holiday and return to
school, a good place to appreciate the
music, special effects and aerial dancers. The Mr.
Bluebeard fairytale pantomime production by
Klaw & Erlanger had been imported from the
Drury Lane Theater in London.
When a fire broke out
on the stage, Charles picked up his wife, who had a lame leg, and
told the boys to take care of their sister. He carried
Jessie to the fire escape on the north side of the
auditorium leading out to Couch Place alley (doors
nos 29-31) where she was then helped by firemen.
John and Guy tried to steer Linda out of the theater
but she became frightened and ran the opposite
direction, probably to the exit through which they'd
entered the auditorium. Unable to find her, Guy and
the boys followed Jessie out the fire escape exit.
Her body was identified by her uncle, John H.
Willard, her mother's brother.*
Linda W. Bolte (b. 1890)
was the daughter of
Charles Guy Bolte (1856-1919) and Jessie Jane Willard Bolte (1856-1938),
each age forty-seven.
Her brothers, John Bolte (1884-1964) and Guy Bolte
(1888-1947) were nineteen and fifteen.
I've not yet learned what
school Linda Bolte attended in Winnetka. She would
have been one of 512 K-12 students in a new Trier
population of around 5,000.
G. Bolte was
a native of Canada who immigrated to the United
and became a naturalized citizen in 1880. He worked as a sales agent for a silk factory
in 1900.† Jessie Bolte, was the daughter of Alonzo J. Willard
(1817-1903), co-founder of the
Washington Ice Company.
In the years after the fire
Seven years after
the fire, Charles and Jessie lived with Jessie's
nephew, John W. Willard, and his family, at 217 Pine
St. Charles then co-owned a lighting company, Bolte & Weyer
purchased for $500, from
John J. Weyer.
story with Weyer's description of his lamp, its
introduction to the circus industry, and accusations
showing Bolte in an unfavorable light.
mother, Jessie Bolte, was on the Board of Education
in Chicago. Her fifteen minutes of
fame came in March, 1900 at a meeting
of the Department of Superintendence of
the National Educational Association.
She drew gasps and anger when she questioned
information presented by Temperance Union proponents,
labeling the presentation
as more political than factual, from
Jessie asserted that for every
1,000 people killed by the whiskey bottle,
by the frying pan (presumably by food
poisoning rather than clobbering).
Jessie Willard Bolte must have
been an interesting woman. Widowed in 1919, she
lived in New York City with her son, Guy, for a
time. In 1922 she visited Shanghai, China and
in 1925 Puerto Rico, both trips
seemingly taken by herself. She ended her life
in Fairhope, Alabama.
In Winnetka the Boltes lived at
211 Jackson. Their home was razed and a new
structure built in 1935.
Discrepancies and addendum
* The uncle who identified
Linda's body, John Willard (1857-1928), lived in Chicago with his wife, Ada Eldredge
Willard(1858-1936), and daughters, Margaret and
† In 1921, son Guy worked as the advertising manager for
the Cheney Brothers Silk Manufacturers company in
New York City and John worked as a manager in a