Sixty-five-year-old Eleanora Oevilie Lutiger (b. 1839)* and at least one
of her five adult children, Mary Lutiger, went to a
Christmas season matinee at Chicago's newest luxury
playhouse on December 30, 1903. They were seated in
the second floor balcony. According to a later
newspaper report there may have been other women in
the theater party, not related to the Lutigers.
The night before, a women in the original group who
planned to attend, had a premonitory dream about a
fire. Some of the women were troubled enough
that they decided to stay home. It was not
reported how many women were part of the original
plan, or how many stayed home, only that Eleanora
and Mary went on to the theater. This is the
fourth report of a premonition of disaster.
Eleanora lost her life there that afternoon with
over six hundred others in the worst theater fire in
US history. Her only son, George Lutiger Jr.,
identified his mother's body. Mary was taken to
Passavant Hospital and survived but with such severe burns
that new ears had to be fashioned from grafted skin
and her teaching career was over.
Born in a village near Zurich, Switzerland, Eleanora
emigrated to the United States in 1868 at age
twenty-nine. Within her first two years in America
she found a husband and gave birth to the first of
their five children. Her husband, saloon keeper George Lutiger
Sr. (1841-1899), had emigrated from Switzerland as
well, in 1867. He
died of liver cancer fourteen years before the
Iroquois fire. Eleanora was laid by his side in
Forest Home Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois.
Three of Eleanora's children, Annie, George Jr and
twenty-four-year-old Rose (1878-1940), had married
and left home by 1903. Two daughters, both
schoolteachers, twenty-eight-year-old Mary
(1874-1937) and twenty-three-year-old Eleanora Marie
(1879-1961), shared a rented flat with their mother
at 756 S. Trumbull Ave. in Chicago, southeast of
Mary Lutiger taught at the
Thomas Chalmers school. After the fire the
Chicago school system voted to award a three months
paid leave of absence and soon after she filed suit
against the city the school board listed her as
"unassigned." I found no evidence that she
returned to teaching.
Three of Eleanora's daughters were school teachers
prior to marriage, Mary at Chalmers, Rose at the
Hammond school and Eleanora Marie at an unknown
funeral was held the morning of Monday, January 4,
1904 at St. Mary's Church and burial was at Waldheim
Eleanora may have had the opportunity to know two of her
grandchildren before her death. One was the son of George
jr and his wife,
Josephine, and the other the daughter of Annie and her husband,
Joseph Youngs, born January 5, 1892. The Youngs daughter did not
survive past 1909 and her date of death is not known.
Joseph Youngs was known in the
sporting world as as Tommy
Ryan.** For a time, George Lutiger
jr followed in his father's footsteps and co-owned a
saloon at 634 W. Vanburen with William Hamilton. He
later went into the sanitation business.
In the years after the fire
Six months after the
fire Mary brought a $50,000 suit against the
Iroquois and the city of Chicago for permanent
impairment to her senses of hearing, sight, smell
and touch. Due to the high dollar amount, and the novelty of the claimed damages, the
story was picked up by newspapers around the
country. There wasn't a follow up story; presumably
the suit died with all the other Iroquois Theater
suits. It was unfortunate that the news story
went for the titillating story of the claimed loss
of senses while ignoring a young woman with
fabricated ears. Upon first reading of Mary's lawsuit, I
suspected she'd found an overly ambitious attorney,
as probably did millions of other readers.
Then I found the story of her replacement ears
being made from the skin graft donations of her
Another Iroquois victim who underwent extensive skin
grafting was Edna Hunter.
Mary did not
marry. She lived for many years with her sister,
Rose - who enjoyed success as an amateur vocalist
and music educator in the midwest. As a widow Rose
lived with her younger sister, Eleanora Marie. Eleanora Marie had married Joseph Joyce six months
after the fire and the pair produced three children.
In 1910 all four of Eleanora's girls - Eleanor
Marie, Rose, Mary and Annie - lived on South
Trumbell with their families, a few blocks south of
their home in 1903.
Tommy Ryan retired from
boxing in 1907 and turned full time to coaching
and managing. He and Annie celebrated their
fiftieth wedding anniversary in 1941.
Discrepancies & addendum
* Sometimes spelled as
Ellenora, Eleanor or Hanore. A half dozen
different spellings were recorded over the years for
her last name, and included here are a few alternate
spellings suggested by Ancestry's search engine: Oeveli, Oberla, Olvela, Aauvuiles, Orelle, Orelli,
Overilet, Veihl, Viehl, Viale, Veile, Valieos.
** George Lutiger jr and his brother-in-law, Tomy
Ryan (real name Joseph Youngs), Annie's husband, participated in boxing and wrestling
matches in the 1890s.
Tommy Ryan was a boxing champion who competed in
both welterweight and middleweight classes and is
listed in Ring magazine's 2003 list of 100 greatest
hitters. Reportedly Joe/Tommy and Annie kept their
marriage a secret from Eleanora for two months and
sprang it on her after Tommy bested William McMullan
in a three-round Chicago match in August, 1891.
The newspaper story, that added the romantic marital
aside at the close of a
blow-by-blow recounting of the Ryan-McMillan fight,
suggested Eleanora was at first angry at the news.
Her acceptance of the union likely kicked in when
she learned she would be a grandmother in a few
months. Joe and Annie's daughter was born five
months later. Note that the whole story about
the secret marriage may have been hooey. Only
record I've found of Annie marrying took place in
Milwaukee, Wisconsin two days after the newspaper
story revealing their marriage.