McMillan, with an infant and a toddler to look
after, and living with three families and thirteen
people under one roof, a few hours at the theater
might have seemed like the best-ever Christmas treat.
Her theater companion, one of her housemates,
thirteen-year-old Alice Prescott, was just the right
age for the magical performance of lights, glamorous
costumes and aerial ballet. Klaw and
Erlanger's Mr. Bluebeard production did not
win the respect of theater critics but for young
people it was an exciting Christmas holiday pageant.
Adding to the appeal was the setting, Chicago's
newest luxury playhouse, the Iroquois theater on
known where the pair was sitting but Alice
Prescott's later testimony of being expelled out into
Couch Place alley suggests they were in the
northeast corner of whichever floor they were on,
and that they were in the doorway of a fire exit.
The explosive thrust she described came when a back
draft hurled a fire ball into the auditorium.
body was found at Rolston's Funeral Home and
was identified by her husband. The funeral was
held Saturday after the fire and interment was in Rosehill Cemetery.
There were three
families living in Joseph Bright's home at
2824 N. Hermitage in Chicago.
Joseph Bright and
his wife, Margaret Bridget Bright, and
Margaret's brother, George Evans.
McMillan (Joseph and Margaret's
daughter), her husband, Frank McMillan,
and their two daughters, infant Bertha
McMillan and toddler Margaret McMillan.
and his wife, Bertha Boge Prescott,
their teenage daughters, Alice and
Margaret Prescott, a niece and nephew,
Norma and Raymond Tilley, children of
Bertha's sister, Emma Boge Tilley.*
I failed to find a familial connection
between the Prescotts and the Brights but it seems likely there
Elizabeth Prescott (1887-1953)†
Prescott was the daughter of Harlan and Bertha Boge
Harlan was a veteran of the American Civil War,
serving for three and a half years.
In February, 1904, Alice
testified about her Iroquois experience, including
Bickford youngsters shortly before their
Frank also patented an automotive carburetor.
Mabel Bright McMillan
was the daughter of Joseph (1832-?) and Margaret
Bridget Evans Bright (1837-1908). In 1900 she
married Frank Edwin McMillan (1871-1940) and their first child,
Margaret McMillan (1902-1997), arrived in 1902.
The second, Bertha McMillan (1903-1982), came in
October, two months before the Iroquois Theater
Mabel's husband Frank was one of four
children born to Henry (1849-1889) and Mary Brown McMillan,
immigrants from Canada and England.
McMillan and Roebuck movie
In corporate registrations
for 1904 and 1905, Frank McMillan was
reported as president/manager of the Enterprise
Optical Mfg company and Alvah C. Roebuck (of the
Sears, Roebuck Co.) as secretary. Despite Frank's title, Roebuck's money
was behind the corporation, and it was Sears
catalog exposure and Roebuck's marketing experience that propelled sales and gave the
brand wide-spread recognition. The first Motiograph,
introduced in 1896, was actually an entertainment
kit designed for churches, fraternal organizations
and amateur theatricals. It consisted of a magic
lantern, fifty or so hand-painted glass slides, advertising
posters, tickets and an instruction manual. Two
years later came the Optigraph that Roebuck would in
his memoirs describe as the first practical motion
picture projector. In correspondence Roebuck
credited Frank McMillan for designing the Optigraph
but did not mention Frank in his memoirs.
tells me there is a story behind that omission but
I've thus far failed to learn what it is.
Frank was not an educated man,
perhaps giving he and Alvah Roebuck two things in
common. Frank's mother, like Alvah's
parents, was a native of England, and Frank's
affinity with engineering, metal and machining, like
Alvah's affinity for watch making, was self taught. Frank might have
benefited from the experience of his father-in-law, Joseph, a machinist, and
his late father, Harry McMillan (1849-1889), a photographer.
Frank's brother, Arthur
M. McMillan (1875-1922), went into the movie film rental business,
operating the Unique Film and Construction Company
then the Exclusive Film Exchange. He claimed to have
gone into film rental after "selling out" his
interest in a partnership with Frank after they
developed the Optigraph projector.
In the years after the fire
The Bright and McMillan
families continued to live on N. Heritage Street in
Chicago until at least 1909 and it is probable that
from 1903 until her death in 1908, Bertha and
Margaret's grandmother, Frank's mother-in-law,
Margaret Bright, looked after the little McMillan
girls. At her death Frank remarried. His
new wife, Pennsylvania native
Maude O. Miller (1880-1956),
was twenty-eight when she took on raising a five and
six year old who'd just lost their grandmother and
In 1910 Frank's family made
up five of the three hundred residents of Milton, Illinois, a town
near the Illinois border north of St. Louis, MO.
Mabel's aged father Joseph Bright, widowed by then, moved with
them to Milton. In 1919 the family moved to
Santa Cruz, California, south of San Francisco,
living at 270 N. Branciforte Ave. Within a few
years, however, Frank went back to Chicago and did
not return to live with Maude full time until 1931
when his inventing
days seem to be behind him. The last
evidence of his involvement in product development
was in a 1924 Santa Cruz city directory when he gave his
occupation as "curl carver."§ His
death came in 1940 at age sixty-eight after a
five-year illness. This was about the time his
son and namesake graduated from high school (see
did not attend college. They worked for a few
years, married and had families.
Margaret worked at Woolworths and as a stenographer,
then married William L. Wrenn, with whom she had two children,
the family living in Burlingame, CA near San
Bertha also worked as a stenographer, married Charles W. Strother,
honeymooned in Yosemite and had
one child, the family living in Piedmont, CA near
attended college for two years, married Frederick Klicka and had two children. They
too relocated to California, in San Diego. Her
visits to Maude and the girls in Santa Cruz were
sometimes reported in society columns of the Santa
In 1922 Maude bore a son by Frank,
Frank E. McMillan Jr. (pictured
above), who grew up to attend Salinas
Jr. College, where he was involved in college
theater. Frank Jr. was also
enrolled, briefly, in Warner
Brothers talent school before enlisting in the army
in September, 1942.
Many big studio's operated talent schools.
In the mid 1950s, reportedly, WB's school produced Natalie
Wood and Connie Stevens; other studio schools
produced Van Johnson and June Allyson. It
isn't known whether Frank's enlistment was a
response to patriotism, impending conscription or insufficient
After graduating in 1943 from
the AAF photography school in Lorry, Denver, Frank
Jr was by 1945 a sergeant with combat intelligence on Tinian
in the Mariana Islands. In that capacity he
prepared photos and maps for flight
kits used on the
B-29 Fortress planes that dropped
atomic bombs on Japan. (Unrelated to
Manhattan Project scientist, Edwin McMillan.)
Plucky mom Maude McMillan kept Santa Cruz newspapers
apprised of her boy's every academic and military
wiggle, including his stint as a highway maintenance
worker during the summer between years in junior
After World War II Frank Jr. worked as a
Discrepancies and addendum
The newspaper paragraph
pictured at top of accompanying image contains an
inaccurate address. The Brights, McMillans and
Prescotts lived at 2824 N. Hermitage, not 2284 N.
Hermitage. And the Glenn Bickford referred to
in the paragraph was sixteen years old, not a
* Bertha's last name was
spelled Baga Boge Borge Borgen.
† On Alice's birth
certificate her name was recorded as Emma Allise
Prescott but in other documents throughout her life
it was recorded as Alice Elizabeth Prescott.
‡ In some lists and records
Mabel's last name was spelled McMillen or McMullen
and her age was reported as twenty or twenty-eight.
§† The curl carver may
have been a hair styling invention by Frank but
that's just a guess, didn't find patent information
about it. In 1941, a year after Frank's death,
such a device was supported with a modest newspaper advertising campaign so
if it was a McMillan creation, perhaps he or his
heirs sold the rights and inventory.
Iroquois Theater stage
carpenter Frank Barr
John R. Thompson
restaurant Iroquois Theater fire scene
Grigolatis aerial ballet
Other discussions you might find interesting