During the week after
the Christmas of 1903, a young married couple in Chicago,
Carl and Maggie Berry, entertained out of town
visitors, Carl's brother
and sister, Otto and Emma Berry from Battle Creek, Michigan. As a
special treat, the foursome attended an afternoon
matinee of Mr. Bluebeard at Chicago's newest theater, the Iroquois.
Carl was injured but escaped. His wife,
brother and sister perished.
Carleton Charles Berry (1871-1948) worked as an
assistant undertaker at A.L. Bentley & Son funeral
parlor headquartered at 238 Lincoln.
Established in 1888, the Bentley undertaking company consisted
of three funeral parlors. In 1900, married for six months,
Carl was living at the funeral home, probably
serving an apprenticeship.
and Maggie, the former Margaretha Niebling (b. 1877),
married the summer of 1899 when Maggie was twenty-two. She was one of
seven children born to the late Frank Niebling and
Magdalena Keilman Niebling. By 1903, Carl and
Maggie lived at 759 Larrabee in Chicago (north of
today's Montgomery Ward Park).
Carl Berry first
testified about his escape from the Iroquois
Theater four years after the fire, in a
deposition to prosecutor Barnes, preparatory
to the final Iroquois trial. Carl's
testimony would never be presented to a jury
in a criminal trial but was published in the Chicago Tribune.
Carl, Maggie, Otto and
Emma had seats in the third floor balcony.
He became separated from his family members
and briefly became unconscious. Upon awakening
he climbed over a pile of the dead and out
onto a fire escape. From there he jumped
down to a fire escape on the second floor
balcony and hung from it until rescued.
Though not hospitalized, he was badly burned
and under medical care for several
Carl, Otto and Emma Berry were three of eight
children born to Sylvester and Mary Berry. All three
were brought up in the village of Emmet, Michigan.
Today's Emmet has around 87 households and many of
its residents commute to larger nearby cities.
Agriculture is still an important part of the
economy, as it was in 1903.
Twenty-five-year-old Otto Glen Berry (b. 1878)
worked as a carpenter at the Advance Thresher Co.*
and was a member of Modern Woodsmen of America.†
In 1903, seventeen-year-old Emma M. Berry (b. 1886)
lived with one of her four sisters in nearby Yorkville
where she worked for the Tryabita Food Company‡ in
and Emma's funerals were held at the First
hundreds in attendance, pastor William Potter read
the scripture, Mrs. Alfred Raper sang Lead Kindly
Light and Fannie Metcalf played the organ. The
Modern woodsman band led a funeral march to the Oak
Hill Cemetery where Otto and Emma were buried.
years after the fire
years after the Iroquois Theater fire, Frank married
Nellie Mann (1882- ). I found no record of children by either
Maggie or the second wife. He continued to work in
undertaking and by 1940 was an embalmer. He
and Nellie lived in Alabama at the end of their
Discrepancies and addendum
A February 1904 newspaper
story about Carl's testimony before the grand jury
referred to him as George C. Berry but by 1906 his
name was reported as Carl and all other evidence
supports his name was Carlton, not George.
includes a second Berry girl, Bernice "Buncie" S. Berry, as an
Iroquois fatality but that appears to be an error.
Only Emma and Otto were included in the
Battle Creek newspaper story about Berry
Iroquois victims. They were the only
two listed in the coroner's
inquest report of Iroquois Theater victims.
Marshall, Michigan newspaper, two years
after the fire, reported that Buncie visited relatives in Yorkville for a
few days. Two years later the same
newspaper reported that she
visited her sister. In 1910 Buncie was
listed in the U.S. Census and in 1912 a Battle
Creek city directory listed her as a clerk
working at Kelloggs. Had Buncie
survived the fire it seems probable her escape would
have been mentioned in the newspaper story about
Thresher was founded in 1881 and in 1911
sold out to M. Rumely. Production at Advance
ended in 1917.
† Modern Woodman
was founded in 1883 by Joseph Cullen Root as
a fraternal organization with insurance
Creek, Michigan is/was Cereal
Central, home to Kellogg, Post and Ralston.
It was a cereal boom town in 1903, with
cereal producers and suppliers in every
crook and cranny. The unique feature of Tryabita was the inclusion of celery, said
to build up weak stomachs caused by heavy
Party of twelve survived
Periam Mingins Abbott and
Chicago fire department
became body detail at Iroquois Theater
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