Thirty-seven-year-old Otto H. Helms
taught flute at the
Chicago Conservatory of Music. I found nothing
to suggest who went to the theater with him, nor
anything to indicate he was in the Iroquois Theater
orchestra, though that seems most likely.
In 1900 he and his family
– wife Alma Campe Helms (1874-1945) and only child,
a daughter named Ruth Helms (1897-1960) – were
living apart. Alma was living with Otto's
parents and was described in the U.S. Census as
widowed, a common description in an era when divorce
was verboten. At the time of his death,
however, Otto lived on Maple Street and six months
prior to the fire reportedly lived with Alma and
Ruth so perhaps the Census status was inaccurate or
Otta was the son of German
immigrants, Christine and Christian Helms,
both deceased before his death. He
had eight siblings, one of whom, Walter,
identified his body after the Iroquois Theater fire.
Music was the family business
In becoming a musician he
followed in the footsteps of his father and older
brothers – Christ, a bass
trombone player and Richard, who played the
double bass. In addition to
teaching flute at the Chicago
Conservatory of Music and Dramatic Art at the
Auditorium,* he performed in
various orchestra and chamber music groups,
including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
threatening Teddy Roosevelt
months prior to the
fire Otto was arrested for sending
threatening letters to president Theodore Roosevelt
and underwent a sanity hearing.
To newspapers Otto insisted he meant no harm to the
president and nothing more was reported on
buried in Wonder's
Cemetery in Chicago with his parents.
years after the fire
remarried in 1906 to Charles Putnam, officer in
Newell-Putnam Manufacturing, a button company, but four years
later sued for divorce, accusing him of cruelty.
Daughter Ruth, then nine years old, testified about the man dragging her
mother from one room to another by the hair and
in another altercation severely bruising her
mother's arm. Putnam protested that Alma was a
battle axe but the judge granted Alma a divorce.
Ruth graduated from a
private girls school, Milwaukee-Downer Seminary in
Milwaukee, and attended Northwestern for three
years. In 1919 she married her first husband,
film and radio star
Conrad Nagel (1897-1970), making her one of his
three wives. A pretty girl with vocal skills,
Ruth appeared in on one silent film in 1920.
She, Alma and
her daughter by Nagel traveled Europe in the
1920s. She next married film director/producer