On December 30,
1903 Illinois cousins thirty-four year old Nellie English
Hart (b. 1869) and thirty-five year old Maude Ganong Smith
took Maude's thirteen year old daughter, Maurine W.
Smith (b. 1890), to a theater matinee. They
went to see the Klaw and Erlanger Mr. Bluebeard
pageant at Chicago's newest playhouse, the
Iroquois Theater. All three perished.
Maude Smith was the daughter of
Catherine "Kate" Harper Ganong (1834-1921) and Nellie
Hart was the
daughter of Catherine's sister, Sarah Harper
English (1839-1903). Maude grew up in Hampshire, and Nellie in Atkinson,
Illinois, about two hours distant.
Close enough to have seen one another at family gatherings.
In 1903 Nellie might have felt an especially keen appreciation for her
family relationships. In 1901 she'd lost her
brother, Dr. John English (1874-1901), then in 1903
her mother in early March and sister, Blanche
English (1878-1903), at the end of March.
Besides their familial
connection, and similar age, Nellie and Maude had
other things in common. Maude had been married
for fifteen years, Nellie for twelve. Maude
had just one child and Nellie had only a stepson,
Nellie's husband, Emerson C.
Hart (1860-1952), was a traveling salesman for a drug company,
possibly Hartz & Bahnsen that was headquartered
in Rock Island, Illinois where they lived.
Rock Island is about a half hour east of Atkinson,
Illinois where Nellie grew up and her father still
December, 1903 Emerson and Nellie had traveled to
Indiana near Fort Wayne, Indiana to spend the
Christmas holiday with Emerson's parents, David and
Lucy Hart. After Christmas, Emerson went back to work
in Rock Island and Nellie traveled north into
Chicago to visit with her cousin Maude, Maurine, and
possibly with her aunt Kate, too.
Maude's mother, Kate Harper
Ganong, lived with the Smiths in 1900 and presumably
still in 1903 but that hasn't been confirmed. Maude and Maurine were the
wife and daughter of Frederick E. Smith (1865-1951), a school
teacher in Des Plaines, Illinois. Three years
earlier the family had lived in Barrington, IL.
not known where the Hart-Smith party was seated
in the theater or if there were others in their
was pronounced dead at the "Home Hospital," (was
possibly the Beulah Homes Maternity Hospital) and her
body identified by her father, John English, who
came from Atkinson, IL for the sorry task of
identification and joining his son in law to escort
his daughter's body back to Atkinson for burial.
Nellie's was the third family member John had to
bury that year, having lost his wife of forty-two years and his youngest daughter
in March, yet the man had the pluck to remarry after
his wife's death.
Emerson and a
friend from Rock Island, Illinois, Henry B.
Hubbard, along with Emerson's son,
thought to have been eighteen year old Walter E. Hart,*
searched morgues and hospitals
for two days before finding
Fred Smith identified the
bodies of his wife and daughter. He was the
son of Lorenzo and Phoebe Sholes Smith of Elgin,
Nothing is known of
any of the three funerals.
Maude and Maurine were buried in the Bluff City
Cemetery in Elgin, IL and Nellie in Grand View
Cemetery in Atkinson, IL.
years after the fire
remarried, as did Emerson. Emerson Hart was described as a broad-shouldered
six foot two inches tall.
He got a law degree as a young man
but didn't practice law until later in
life. After selling drugs, he
tried his hand in other occupations, including real estate,
and eventually became
a municipal judge in Washburn, Wisconsin.
If Walter was Emerson's son
and Nellie's stepson, and I found the fight fellow,
he went to North Dakota to work as a photographer in
the real estate industry around 1910, married
a Rock Island girl named Cora Van Galder, had a
couple sons, and spent the rest of his life working
in the cement industry.
Maude's mother, Kate Harper
Gonong, moved to California with her oldest daughter
and lived to age eighty seven.
Discrepancies and addendum
* 1903 newspapers reported that Emerson's son helped
search for Nellie's body and obituary information
for Emerson's first wife, Alice Jane Bowers Hart,
who died in 1890, references a five year old son,
name unstated, who would have been born in 1885 and
eighteen in 1903. A son did not live with
Emerson and Nellie in 1900; however, that year a
fifteen year old nephew named Walter E. Hart, born
in 1895, lived with Emerson's sister, Anna Hart
Monroe Allen (1869-1962), the only nephew living
with one of Emerson's siblings. The US Census
from 1890 was destroyed in a fire so I don't know if
he lived with Anna throughout his childhood after
his mother's death (both Alice and Emerson had
parents and many siblings available to take in a boy
whose father was a "knight of the grip,") but Walter
seems a likely prospect to have been Emerson's boy.
The newspaper story about people who traveled to
Chicago to help search for Nellie's body did not
include Walter, so he may have lived in Chicago.