Three friends planned a
theater outing for Wednesday afternoon, the day
before New Years eve celebrations. From
affluent families and members of Chicago society, they had
numerous party invitations to choose from, with
servants to ready their garments or drive the
carriage from their large homes on Calumet Avenue to
the Iroquois. Though separated briefly during
the frantic rush to escape from the fire at the
Iroquois Theater, like most audience members seated on the first
floor of the auditorium, all three survived without injury, the only
consequence being loss of their coats.
For twenty-year-old Bessie A. Knight
(1883-1961), a sophomore at Smith College
in Massachusetts, Christmas break was coming to an
end and she'd soon be boarding a train to return to
school, leaving behind her families eight-bedroom home on
Calumet St. in Chicago. The family:
Adele Brown Knight (1856-1912), descendent of
American Revolution veteran, Lemuel Hawley.
A. Knight (1853-1911), a prosperous attorney.
brother, James H. Knight (1886-).
after the Iroquois fire, Bessie and Martha Aldrich
become sisters-in-law when Bessie married Martha's
brother, Louis Sherman Aldrich. Three months
later she lost her father and her mother passed
before the birth of Louis and Bessie's child, named
Clarence, after her father.
After her holiday visit it
Chicago twenty-three-year-old Martha Aldrich
(1880-1955) would also head back east,
to Buffalo, New York where she lived with her
father, J. Frank Aldrich, an executive at the City
National Bank and a former Illinois congressman, her
young stepmother, Mariska, (a soprano that in
another seven years would debut at the Metropolitan
Opera), an infant half sister and three servants.
The Aldrich family had lived in Chicago for many
years before the move to Buffalo and maintained
close ties to the city.
Martha's choice in a husband wasn't
as fortuitous as Bessie's and Susan's. Willard Miller abandoned her for a waitress amidst
a scandal involving missing funds and multiple
weddings. Martha and their son Billy lived with
her father for many years, eventually moving to
Twenty-two-year-old Susan D. Hoyne
(1881-1972), nicknamed Susie, was the daughter of
Chicago attorney Thomas Hoyne (1843-1941) and Jeanie Maclay Hoyne
The family lived in a four-story greystone on Calumet, about six blocks from Bessie
Knight. Five of the Hoyne children lived at
home in 1903. Susan attended college for two
years and at age thirty-five in 1916 married Frederick Ingraham.
The pair settled in Cleveland, Ohio. They
did not have children. He died
in 1961 and Susan followed a decade later.
While Susie and her friends
were escaping out the front door, at the back of the
theater was a horror show with a slight
connection to her family.
Painters that had
been working in the Booth Hall lecture hall at
Northwestern's 3rd floor law school were trying
desperately to save people trapped in the Iroquois
balconies, shoving ladders and planks across Couch
Place alley. Susie's grandfather had donated the
money on which Northwestern's law school was founded
and her father was an alumni. Her father was a
one-time mayor of Chicago and her brother, Maclay
Hoyne (1872-1939) became a prominent prosecutor in
Chicago. As states attorney in 1918
Nellie Carlin to the position of assistant
states attorney, the first female in Illinois
history to fill that position. In 1904 Nellie
had represented the wrongful death claims of twenty
Iroquois Theater victims.