Forty-nine year old Mary J. Frazier Dawson (b. 1854), a
Pennsylvania native, took her five year old
granddaughter Gracie Dawson (b.1898) and grown daughter,
elementary school teacher, Mary Ellen “Nellie” Dawson (b. 1877), to the
Mr. Bluebeard matinee at the Iroquois
Gracie and her grandmother died at the Iroquois the
day of the fire and their bodies were later
identified by William T. Dawson Jr. -- Mary's son
and Gracie's father. Nellie, having incurred severe burns
from flames leaping out of a lower level fire exit
as she fled the theater on fire escape stairs, survived
for nine agonizing days at Passavant hospital.
Twenty-six year old Nellie boarded at 239 N. Harvey
street and taught second and third grades at the
64th Avenue elementary school.*
Mary may have felt a special bond with Gracie,
William's only child. She was named after a
daughter Mary had lost in 1886 when the girl was just two years older
than Gracie was at the time of the theater outing.
Gracie and her parents lived at 334 N. Harding.
In 1905, two years after losing Grace, her parents,
William (1873-1960) and Myrtle E. Craney Dawson
birth to a second child, a son named Leroy
Railroading seems to have been the family business.
William T. Dawson Jr. worked as a railroad engineer
for the Chicago Northwestern and
his father, English immigrant William R. Dawson Sr.
(1851-1936 ), worked as a railroad watchman.
At the time of the fire William and Mary had been
married for thirty two years. In the years after the
fire, he lived with a common law wife, a dressmaker
named Sarah Hannah Gaylord Steel, and owned his own
Mary Dawson's name was omitted
from the coroner's inquest list, or was submitted
with an alternate spelling I've not yet found.
Nellie's name was omitted from some victim's lists.
There is no doubt that all three were Iroquois
Theater victims, however. They were buried
next to one another in the Dawson family plot at
Evergreen cemetery in Barrington, IL with identical
gravestones. Mary's and Gracie's stones are
engraved with Dec 30. 1903 as the date of death and
Nellie's with Jan. 8, 1904.
* Built at 416-420 64th Avenue in
1901, electrified in 1902, the name of the 64th
Avenue elementary school was changed to Hawthorne
School, then in 1985 was renamed the Percy Julian
Middle School. The name of the street was changed as
well, and is known today as South Ridgeland Avenue.
The structure was replaced in 2002.
To get to her job at the 64th
Avenue elementary school from her room on N. Harvey,
Nellie may have walked south on Harvey for two
blocks, turned right on South Blvd for two blocks,
then continued south on 64th/Ridgeland for another