Fifty-five-year-old Amelia Wigfall went to live with the Patterson family at
4476 Oakenwald* in Chicago after the 1901 death of
Thomas B. Wigfall, her husband of nearly thirty
years. John Patterson was a division
superintendent at the Pullman Car Company and his
wife, Carrie, was busy with their two sons, ten year
old William and eleven year old Crawford.
John's son from his first
marriage, Stewart Patterson, had married in June,
1902, freeing a bedroom, so that may be when Amelia
Jane Stewart died from
childbirth complication when Stewart was born in
John Patterson raised the boy
alone until he married Carrie in 1891.
William and Crawford had come
along soon after. Some time after 1900 the
family moved from New Jersey to Chicago and in 1903 the boys attended
what was then called the Greenwood Avenue elementary
school on 46th street in Chicago (see accompanying
photo and for an interesting discussions of the
school's history see
Julia Bachrachs piece at Chicago's Historic Schools).
Amelia boarding with the Pattersons may have benefitted all involved.
She could have supplemented
her nest egg† and milliners income with reduced
lodging expense in exchange for helping with
housework and looking after the Patterson boys.
She operated her millinery
business out of an office or shop in the Masonic
Patterson's had at least two houseguests over the
1903 Christmas holiday. John's brother William
Patterson and his son, thirteen year old Fred N.
Patterson. William managed the shoe department
at Bennett's dry goods store in Omaha, Nebraska and
Fred was a high school student. The family
lived at 1130 S. 32nd in Omaha.
30, 1903, Amelia Wigfall escorted the three
Patterson boys, William, Crawford and Fred, to the
much heralded Mr. Bluebeard extravaganza from
Klaw & Erlanger at Chicago's newest playhouse, the
Iroquois Theater. They were seated in the
third floor balcony. I have not yet learned
anything about the final moments for William and
Crawford, or of Fred's. A Rochester, NY
newspaper reporting that Amelia's half sister,
Frances Selmser of Weedsport, NY, was on route to
Chicago to be with her sister, described Amelia's ordeal.
She fell on her way out a fire escape
exit and became trapped beneath other victims.
Fire fighters removed the bodies above her and
Amelia became the second person to cross Couch Place
on a plank over to Northwestern.
Crawford's may have been alive when rescued from the
auditorium because newspapers reported they were in
critical condition but they did not survive long
before their bodies were transferred to Sheldon's
Funeral Home where they were identified by their
uncle William Patterson. Fred was taken to St.
Lukes Hospital where both legs were amputated above
Extremities deemed non-salvageable due to deep burns
were/are amputated to prevent infection.
Amelia Wigfall was also taken to St. Lukes, severely
burned and in critical condition. She survived
for seven days, during which time her feet were
Amelia was buried at the Maple Grove Cemetery in
In the years after the fire
Patterson remained in Chicago until
1930 and by 1940 relocated to Portland,
months at St. Luke's Hospital recovering from multiple surgeries and
being fit with
artificial limbs, (burns to Fred's legs required
that both be amputated at the knee) Fred Patterson finally returned
home to Nebraska. He eventually married and became an accountant for
Western Electric in Omaha, NE. During his
months at St. Lukes Fred became friends with another
patient, Thomas Burns. Thomas was a brakeman
on the Northwestern railroad who also had both legs
amputated following a train wreck. In 1906 he
traveled to Omaha to visit. Fred.
Theater fatality William A. Patterson
(1894-1903), born in New Jersey. Coroner
did not issue death certificate
Iroquois Theater fatality
Crawford J. Patterson (1892-1903), born in New
Iroquois Theater fatality
Amelia Cole Wigfall (1848-1903), daughter of James and Tryphenia Baker
Cole of Van Buren, NY.
Severely wounded Iroquois
Theater victim Fred N. Patterson (1890-1965),
born in Omaha, Nebraska, John Patterson's
nephew, cousin to William and Crawford Patterson,
son of William and Virginia Patterson.
John Crawford Patterson
(1861-1948) father of William and Crawford, born
Claudia "Carrie" Clausen
Patterson (1866-1945) mother of William and
Crawford, born in Wisconsin or Iowa
(1854-1943) father of Fred N. Patterson, born in
Virginia, in 1903 a resident of Omaha, Nebraska
Virginia Andrew Patterson
(1856-1925) mother of Fred N. Patterson, first
wife of William Patterson, born in Virginia
Jane "Jeanie" Stewart
Patterson (1845-1975), late wife of John C.
Patterson, daughter of Hart L. Stewart, wealthy
contractor and realtor, his most famous project
being completion of Erie Canal.
Thomas B. Wigfall
(c.1825-1901), late husband of Amelia C. Wigfall,
born in Pennsylvania.
At death he was
one of about 230 patients at the Chicago Home
for Incurables. He may have suffered from
tuberculosis. Prior to his illness he was
Discrepancies and addendum
and 1930 US Census records for John and Carrie
Patterson are perplexing. John's state of
birth, birth year and employment serve as important
identifying clues but other information, such as
Carrie's state of birth, are conflicting. In
1930, though they live together, Carrie is reported
as married and John as single. A descendent of
Carrie Clausen Patterson helped me unravel many of
the discrepancies. The transition from the
nineteenth to the twentieth century was one of
bereavement for Carrie. She lost her parents,
Peter and Annie Clausen, in 1899 and 1902, her
brother Edward in 1900, then her two boys in 1903.
* Today site
of the Vivian Gordon Harsh Park playground.
Amelia signed a will from her hospital bed on
January 7, 1904, allocating her $1,500 estate
(inflation adjusted: $38,000). The will was
contested by a half sister who maintained Amelia was
mentally incompetent when she signed the will.
Of cash disbursements, Amelia had allocated $100 of
$950 to that sister and $850 to four other
relatives, including her niece, Ruth A. Williams
(1875-) with whom she lived in 1900. The
bequest that drew an objection may have been $500
(about $13,000 today) to a nineteen year old named
Harry Marshall Jr. – four times more than granted to
any family member. Topping it off, she appointed his
father, described as "my friend," estate executor.
A married woolen manufacturer, Harry seems an
unlikely swindler. Another source for
discontent may have been Amelia's designation of her
sister Mary, rather than Frances, as the one to
divvy up her personal possessions. Newspapers
did not report the court finding.
Bernard Iroquois Theater electrician
Geneva Illinois couple
lost all 3 of their children
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