Christmas night, 1903, Mattie Hogue McGill set
about bringing her family together in Chicago
over the New Year holiday. They were
the upper middleclass offspring of four
powerhouse fellows who had helped settle
Ohio, played commanding roles in America's
and France's military histories, and in
spreading Christianity in China. The party of
five, consisting of Mattie, her daughter,
mother, sister-in-law and nephew, boarded a
train to spend most of twenty-four hours
traveling to Chicago where they were met by
her sister and brother-in-law.
Mattie Hogue McGill (1859-1946), age
forty-four, standing a mere 5'1" tall,
with a fair complexion, round chin and
straight nose, was the wife of
Pittsburgh attorney, William Mowry
McGill (1854-1914), partner in Chantler,
McGill & McClung, specializing in
banking and real estate. Married in 1880,
Elizabeth their only child, the McGills
lived at 7225 Meade St.
in Pittsburgh's East End. The
structure was dubbed
the Pittsburgh Sanitarium Health Resort,
previously known as the Fahnestock
Mansion and the Normandie. By 1908
it was converted to a tuberculosis and
morphine addictions hospital. Also
living there in 1903 was William
McGill's sister and son, Mary McGill Happer
and Andrew P. Happer, his father,
James D. McGill, and Mattie's mother, Orilla
who would four
at the Iroquois Theater.
attended the Misses Mitchell's
Winchester preparatory school in
Pittsburgh (later merged with Thurston
to become today's
The Solomon Hogue bloodline ended with
Elizabeth's death. She was the
only offspring of Solomon's children.
(1834-1914) was the
sixty-nine-year-old mother of Mattie and
Nora, grandmother to Elizabeth McGill. There were no
reports of Orilla having attended the
theater but she made the railroad trip
to Chicago. A Virginia
native and son of a Ohio congressman,
her late husband Solomon Hogue (1821-1897)
had served two terms as a state
senator in Ohio and operated several
businesses in dry goods, wool and
tobacco. During his lifetime the
family lived in Somerton, OH. He left a
sizeable estate for his wife and
daughters that would support Orilla and
Mattie throughout their lives.
Orilla was Solomon's
second wife, having married him after the
death of her sister, Cornelia Koontz.
She bore him six children, of which
three adult daughters survived the day
she left Pittsburgh. Only two
remained when she returned home.
Mary D. McGill
Happer (1856-1936), Mattie's
sister-in-law, age forty-seven, was the widow of Andrew Patton Happer II (1849-1897).*
He had died at age forty-eight six years
earlier when they were living in Newchwang, Yingkou Shiqu, Liaoning,
China. He died without knowing
that Mary was pregnant. His son
was born nine months later. Son of a
who worked in China for over forty-five
years, Mary's husband was born in China
and grew up in Canton. In addition
to English he spoke Cantonese dialect
Chinese and Mandarin. He returned
to work for the Customs Department after
graduating in 1871 from Princeton
University and at death was commissioner
of the Newchwang port. He died
from rabies seven months after
a finger bite by a small rabid dog (web
surfing tells me that in rare cases the
rabies virus incubation can be as long
as two years). Mary may have
formed a special bond with her
sister-in-law, Mattie Hogue McGill, when
both suffered painful losses in 1897.
Mary lost her husband and Mattie her
Andrew Patton Happer III
(1898-1958), age five, a little
never knew his
father or maternal grandfather
but lived with his paternal grandfather,
James D. McGill (1825-1915). James would
receive the welcome news via telegram
that his daughter and grandson survived
the Iroquois Theater fire.
Chicago their train was met by:
Hogue Koll (b. 1854), nicknamed Nora,
Mattie's older sister, age forty-nine,
who would die at the Iroquois.
Married in 1875, Nora was childless.
The pair had lived in Salem, Ohio up
1900, sharing their home with Nora and
Mattie's mother, Orilla (see above). In 1902
they moved to Chicago and lived at 496
Charles L. Koll (1854-1905),
Nora's forty-nine-year-old husband, in
1903 working as a
superintendent at the
Chicago Stove Works and co-founder of the
Victor Stove Works in Salem, OH with his
father and brother. Victor Stove
Works produced 10,000 ranges and heating
stoves annually and employed seventy men. A
1905 genealogy collection reported that
Charles' health was poor then but did not
indicate the nature of his illness.
Newspapers after the fire reported that he
was in the theater party but did not mention
if he was injured. He could have
suffered debilitating respiratory damage
that contributed to an early death.
Charles Koll's grandfather, Peter A.
Koll, was a captain in Napoleon's army
during the Austria-French war. His
father, Daniel Koll, immigrated to
America from Germany In addition
to his stove manufacturing enterprise,
he was involved in the Quaker faith and
Salem, OH utilities and banking.
Charles Koll's name inaccurately appeared as a victim on
some early newspaper lists.
December 30, 1903 Mattie, Nora, Charles, Mary, Elizabeth
and Andrew went to a theater matinee of Klaw and
Erlanger's production of a Mr. Bluebeard fairytale.
Just weeks old, the Iroquois Theater was a new
addition to Chicago's theater district.
In some newspaper reports the
McGill-Koll-Happer party was
seated at the north side of the auditorium at the
front of the second floor balcony. Another report
stated they were in a box seat. Both statements
could have been true as there were boxes on the
south and north sides of the auditorium, on both the
first and second floors. Access to and from second
floor boxes was off the balcony. Whether they were
in a box or a row seat, they were within a dozen
feet of a fire escape exit leading to Couch Place
Fire exits obscured
When they took their seats those exit doors were
covered by heavy drapery and unmarked by signage.
Each fire escape exit consisted of two layers. On
the inside was a glass-paned door and on the
exterior a steel, daylight-blocking door.
Familiarity with typical theater construction would
have told most theater goers there were exits behind
the draperies but by the time that observation
became necessary, the theater had been plunged into
darkness. The electrical control panel, at which
auditorium lighting was controlled, was located on the stage
and destroyed early on in the fire. The only light
in the auditorium came from flames on the stage at
the west side of the auditorium, providing little
illumination for north and south walls.
Once opened, a bit of light came in through fire
escape doors, above the heads of people swarming
through, but those doors faced north across a narrow
eighteen foot alley and a six-story brick building.
On a summer afternoon Couch Place alley is shady; on
a winter afternoon, with sunset only a half hour off,
it is dark. And on December 30, 1903 visibility was
further obscured inside and out, by smoke.
Party separated by frantic
According to Martha McGill's
later testimony, when the fire broke out, her party
ran up the aisle to the landing at the top of the
balcony, behind the rows of seats. There they were
separated by the surging crowd. Martha and probably
others in the party were swept toward a fire escape
door and safety; Elizabeth, and perhaps Nora, was
swept toward the doors leading toward the foyer.
Mother and daughter screamed to one another but were
unable to push against the crush of people. In
another less believable newspaper report, Nora and
Elizabeth remained in their seats and suffocated.
reported that Elizabeth was then pulled to the floor and
trampled but in the next paragraph reported that her
body was not bruised or burned. If accurate, it's
possible the girl was righted and made it out of the
auditorium, then suffocated after becoming
enmeshed in the stack of victims on the stair
landing just outside the balcony.
The newspaper in a distant
city that reported Elizabeth and Nora stayed in
their seats and suffocated, also stated that they'd
incurred only superficial burns. Multiple
reports about the condition of their bodies,
seemingly based upon different interviews with
family members, give credence to that portion of the
report - and invalidate the other part. Bodies
found in the seats were amongst the most severely
burned and contributed to the list of those that
were not visibly identifiable.
Newspaper story inflation
According to reported trial
testimony by a fireman, as few as six corpses were
found sitting in their seats as though waiting for
the play to resume. The unsettling scene was
described, briefly but dramatically and memorably,
in early reports by Chicago newspapers. It was
picked up and hyped by newspapers around the country
with six corpses sometimes implied as hundreds. A few
out-of-town newspaper writers took it further and
attached it to stories about specific victims.
To their credit, Chicago newspapers knew better and
Six hundred bodies
disconnected from crime scene
Over five hundred bodies were
carried out of the theater, loaded into wagons and
transported to sixteen morgues and a half dozen
medical facilities. With many dozens of police
and fire workers handling bodies, for three hours,
it is highly improbable that those who carried Nora
and Elizabeth from the auditorium then went to the
morgue and reported to the mortician that those two
bodies had been found sitting in their seats, or
that the mortician made a note of same and shared
the information with the family. (Prosecutors
would have been giddy to have dozens more choices of
specific victims tightly tied to cause of death.
From an evidentiary viewpoint, the Iroquois was one
of the most compromised crime scenes in history.
The thrust of the prosecution effort focused on
Vera Jackson because she was one of the handful
that could be directly tied to her cause of death.)
Anguished train ride
McGill was in Pittsburgh at the time of the Iroquois
Theater fire, in his office in the Park Building,
and received a telegram that his wife and daughter
were missing after the theater fire. The sender was
identified only as "McGill." William knew Martha
would not have sent it without including her name
and took the first train he could find to Chicago.
In stops along the way he was able to purchase
newspapers reporting on the fire and his family.
Some reported both wife and daughter were lost, but
cited incorrect first names. A newspaper in
Liverpool, Ohio, through which his train passed,
seems to have interviewed him and issued an accurate
Elizabeth's body was transported back to Pittsburgh
in the private car of A.M. Schoyer, general
superintendent of the Pittsburg, Ft. Wayne & Chicago
Railroad, accompanied by her parents and aunt The
service was conducted by reverend Dr. E. H. Ward of
the Protestant Episcopal church. Martha attended her
daughter's funeral with her head bandaged from minor
burns. Elizabeth was buried in the McGill family
plot in Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh with her
paternal grandparents. Her body reached Pittsburgh
on Saturday and the funeral was held that afternoon.
Her parents were buried elsewhere in the years
Nora's body was found at Rolston's Funeral Home and identified by
her husband, Charles Koll. Her funeral was held in
Salem, OH where she and Charles had lived for many
years and where the Koll family was much respected. Her funeral was scheduled to take place
simultaneously with Elizabeth McGill's funeral in
Pittsburgh. Nora was buried in Hope
Cemetery in Salem. Charles would be
laid by her side less than two years later.
In the years after the fire
Six months after the
Iroquois Theater fire Elizabeth's parents started a
library in her name at her school, the Winchester, donating four
Martha and William
divorced within a decade after Elizabeth's
death. She remained a resident
of Pittsburgh. At Orilla's death in 1914,
Martha and her sister, Emma Hogue Stanley
(1869-1942), split an inheritance of around
$35,000 (around $850,000 today). Martha
made multiple trips to Europe.
Charles Koll remained in Chicago until his death in October, 1905.
Mary Happer did not remarry.
She was active in womens club and charity
organizations in Ben Avon, PA. At the end of her
life she lived with her son Andrew and his family.
Andrew Happer followed in his father's footsteps and
graduated from Princeton but chose a career in
industry rather than government service like his
father or the ministry like his grandfather.
He served in World War I, married and had a family.
Discrepancies and addendum
Supposition alert: I don't know that Mattie
was the trip organizer. Am guessing based
on: 1. She
attended small private college for a time prior to marrying,
an uncommon choice for a girl in 1876.
(Her college experience at the
& Musical Institute [since renamed Arcadia
University] might have contributed to her
interest in attending a musical while in Chicago.)
2. She sent
her daughter to a college
that emphasized academics rather than
embroidering. 3. Later in
life, as a divorcee, Mattie traveled
to Europe at least three times.
Altogether, she seems plucky.
That said, I suspect Mary McGill Happer was no slouch in the
pluck department either but was an unlikely instigator
of a trip to visit the Kolls, to whom she
was not directly related.
supposition alert: I do
not know with certainty that young Andrew Happer
accompanied his mother to Chicago, or to the
theater. One newspaper reported there were two
children in the McGill-Koll-Happer theater party. Elizabeth
McGill was one and the other was unnamed. The Kolls
were childless so the second child was not
theirs. 'Could have been a neighbor's child,
but it seems probable that Mary Happer,
widowed nine months before her boy's birth,
would have kept
him close. Can't see her going to Chicago
and leaving Andrew back in Pittsburgh with her aged
father, Civil War veteran Captain James D.
McGill (1825-1915).* Once in Chicago, however,
Mary might have
left the boy with his grandmother Orilla at the
Surviving the Iroquois Theater fire may have become part of Happer family lore so
perhaps a descendent of Andrew P. Happer will find
this web page and answer the question of whether
he was at the Iroquois.
wasn't the only American Civil War hero in this
interesting family. One of Andrew Happer's
Major Andrew G. Happer, fought at Manassas,
Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and
Gettysburg then rode through Pennsylvania with
Lincoln's funeral train.
Zanesville Ohio family of
five die at Iroquois Theater
Party of five from Akron
DAR granddaughters escaped Iroquois Theater
Other discussions you might find interesting