How old was she?
At death she was was
between seventeen and twenty-two years of age - or
Nellie came to the United States for the second time in November,
1901 as a member of Grigolatis aerialist group,
performing in Klaw & Erlanger's The Sleeping
Beauty and the Beast. In an interview for the
Waterbury, CT newspaper she said she'd joined the Grigolatis
troupe when she was fifteen years old, making her
seventeen at the time of the fire, but her manager
said she was twenty-one.
Where was she born?
or Bloombury, England?
When the fire began, was she
in her dressing room or on a catwalk awaiting her
William Wiertz reported that he found her in her dressing
room; others reportedly said she was stranded on a
4th- or 6th-floor
Was she able to get out of
her aerial harness?
Reportedly the aerial
artists could not get out of their harnesses without
assistance but other descriptions of their gear
reported that they could detach by touching a button
at the waist. Wiertz said she was nearly naked when he
found her in her dressing room.
In the Saturday Evening Post, Mar, 1904, Charles
Bloomingdale Jr. was quoted as relating a story he
was told by one of the Mr. Bluebeard chorus
girls that Nellie was attached to her harness and
could not free herself. The unidentified chorus girl
said the elevator operator (Robert Smith) broke the ropes connected
to Nellie’s harness that had not already been broken
by fire. Smith reported having drug some
performers out of their dressing rooms, on his last
elevator trip, but nothing was reported in Chicago
newspapers about his breaking harness ropes.
How did she get down to the
stage floor? Was she actually afraid of
Wiertz reported that he wrapped her in his coat and
attempted to get her on an elevator car but she
resisted because she was afraid of the elevator,
squirmed out of his reach and fell over a railing
sixty feet to the stage below. The Marshall disaster
book reported elevator
Robert Smith's account of her begging for a
space on the car, his promising to get her on his
next trip, then doing so. Weirtz's story about
her being afraid of elevators seems unlikely.
For over two years the woman had spent many hours a
week helplessly suspended from wires in the air.
Weirtz did not describe his own descent to the stage
floor to see if she'd survived the fall and his
entire Nellie story was not reported and attributed
to him until forty-six years after the fire.
Were there two elevators on the
stage, one working on the north side, one on the
south side not working?
The Marshall disaster book on page 79 reports that
the elevator to the dressing rooms did not work and
that all attempts to make it work "were futile," then
on page 125 describes the "fly elevator" on the
north side of the stage, operated by Robert Smith,
making many trips to bring people to safety.
This is the only indication there were multiple
stage elevators. There was also a spiral
stairway on the north side of the stage that may
have descended to the basement. Nellie could
have fallen into this stairwell, making it unlikely
she fell sixty feet. The sixty-ft fall may
have been reportorial conjecture.
If she fell, did Nellie
survive the fall for a short while?
Robert Murry testified that he found her
hysterical, in great pain and incoherent, scratching
a wall in the basement and that he let her to the
coal chute. Could she have fallen into the
stairwell and in an injured state gone down to the
basement rather than up to the stage floor?
Some reports support Murry's story insofar as that
they say she was badly burned and suffered from
smoke inhalation, dying in the hospital a few days
after the fire.
Was she a hero?
Her manager in the U.S., Hermann Schultze,
reported to a friend of Nellie's that she'd escaped from the auditorium once
then returned to save two children.
What happened to her parents and siblings?
According to a report in the Waterbury newspaper,
based on an
interview with Nellie in 1901 when she
came to the U.S. with the
aerial performance team,
the Grigolatis, her family consisted of her parents and two older
sisters who had lived in America for four years,
her father, John Reed, worked his trade as a brass
fabricator. In the 1880
census I found a John Reed in Waterbury, who worked
in the brass industry, but he had seven children,
not two, so I do not know if the newspaper story
about the size of her family was incorrect or, more
probably, that there was more than one John Reed
living in Waterbury then.
Where was she buried?
together in Sleeping Beauty, Nellie and
actress Viola Gillette (born Viola Pratt)* became,
according to Viola, "like sisters". It was reported
that Viola paid Nellie's funeral expenses and
planned for her to be buried in Viola's lot in the
famous Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.
Viola said Nellie had only one surviving relative,
an uncle in England who would decide Nellie's final
Green-Wood Cemetery offers a wonderful database of
interments, albeit noting that it is not complete.
The only Nellie Reed listed was buried a decade
before the Iroquois fire. Nellie is a nickname for
the names Helen, Ellen and Eleanor. Green-Wood has
no Ellen Reeds. There are several Helen Reeds but
their death dates disqualify them. Whether Nellie was
buried in Brooklyn at Green-wood Cemetery or her
uncle had her body shipped to London is unknown.
Perhaps some day a London genealogist will find
information about the family and share their
A funeral service was
held for Nellie in New York City at 2:00 Friday,
January 8, at the Stephen Merritt Embalming
Institute at 241-43 West 23rd St. between 7th and
8th streets. Reverend Homer Taylor of the Church of
the Holy Communion read the Episcopal burial service
and a double quartette of members from Sleeping
Beauty and Mother Goose stage companies sang hymns.