For the 1903
holidays forty-six year old
Anna Ernst Menzer* took her niece, eleven year old
Rosina "Rose" Ernst (b.1892), to see the
Mr. Bluebeard pageant at Chicago's
elegant new theater.
One of history's worst theater fires ensued and
little information about Anna
Menzer. She was a widow and
"Etta" Menzer, who was grown and
helped search morgues for her mother's body.
Anna was the sister and Rose
the daughter of Henry G. Ernst (1859-1935),
a man who suffered an extraordinary amount of grief
during the first five years of the twentieth century.
His mother died in 1901. His mother in law and
thirty-five year old wife died in 1902. He
lost his sister and only remaining child, Rose, at
the Iroquois. (Two children, including Henry
Jr., died prior to 1900.)
Henry Sr. remarried
in 1905 but six months into the marriage his wife
filed for divorce, citing abandonment. Finally
in 1906 things turned around for Henry. He and
his second wife reconciled, had a daughter and
remained together for the remainder of his life.
Their daughter graduated from the University of
Chicago in 1930 and died in 1997 without marrying.
Henry was in business with his brother
Fred C. Ernst. Henry started out doing upholstery
work in the 1870s while Fred made wire bed springs.
By 1878 they'd
combined their skills and were manufacturing
mattresses, incorporated as the Ernst Bros.
From the early
1880s to early 1900s the Ernst family lived on 24th
Place in Chicago. Henry and Anna's widowed
mother, Anna, after whom she was named, and several of her siblings, lived at
265 and Henry's family at 202.
attended the Harrison School.**
One of the school's teachers,
Gertrude Rosetta Falkenstein, was also an
Iroquois Theater victim.
Rose's funeral was
held at 1:30 pm January 3, 1904 at Trinity Church.
She was reportedly buried at Waldheim (today named
Forest Home), presumably near her mother,
followed by Henry in 1935.
Ernst family members are buried at Graceland in
In the years after
the fire Anna Menzer's daughter, Etta, wed, had
four children and relocated to Montana.
|At the Ralston's
Funeral Home there was a mix up in the
identification of Anna Menzer's body.
Anna's daughter, Etta, and one of her
sisters, Frieda Ernst Paul, identified a
body as Anna's on the basis of a scrap of
silk clothing, a belt and a scar. The
upper portion of Anna's body was too badly
damaged to be recognizable.
A deputy coroner at
the funeral home checked the records and
discovered the body had already been
identified by the husband of another victim,
Caroline M. Edwards of Iowa.
William Edwards had gone to make
arrangements with an undertaker to have the
body transported to Iowa. The funeral
home held the body until identification
could be verified. Nothing more was
reported about Anna's or Caroline's bodies
but either William Edwards or Etta and
Frieda had to keep searching.
Discrepancies and addendum
In some places Anna's name was
reported as Menger but city directories for a decade used Menzer.
Her husband may have been named Henry. I found
some evidence that her surname was Niederberger at
one point but failed to discover how she came by
that name. A marriage prior to that with Henry
Menzer is the most obvious possibility but I was
unable to find evidence of it. I also failed
to find evidence that her mother was married to a
Niederberger prior to Henry Ernst.
** The Carter
H. Harrison School was located on Chicago's south side on 23rd
Place at the corner of Wentworth avenue. The
structure was completed in 1889 at a cost of
$52,000, replacing the old Wentworth Avenue school.
The principal of Harrison's 1,400
students was Orris J. Milliken.
survived Iroquois fire
Van Ingen family of
Cooper brothers of
Kenosha were Iroquois Theater victims
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