kids came to Chicago from Wisconsin
children - Henry, Lizzie and Mellie - grew up
as big fish in the small pond that was New Lisbon,
Wisconsin in the post civil war years, with a
population then of around one thousand.
Arriving in 1856 with his wife, Maria Moore Smith
(1824-1909), Richard Smith (1818-1899) was New
Lisbon's first attorney. Eventually he
would serve as post master, circuit court judge,
district attorney and justice of the peace. By
1894 their three children were married and
raising families of their own, each with a child
about ten years old:
Henry J. Smith (1854-), founder
in 1892 of the H.J. Smith & Co., a subscription book
publisher in Chicago, had
married a woman named Emma (1859-). Their
old was named Richard R. Smith (1885-), after Henry's, Lizzie's
and Mellie's father.
Elizabeth Caroline Smith
Lizzie, had married Henry L. Richardson
(1854-1903), pastor of the First Congregational
church in Ripon, Wisconsin. Their ten year
old was named Arthur H. Smith (1886-1958).
Henry L. Richardson was one of seven children born to Wisconsinites
Caroline Nichols Richardson (1821-1908) and stone
mason, Lewis Richardson (1821-1897).
nicknamed Mellie (1860-1949), had married New York native,
Edgar Eugene Fowler (1856-1922), a former school teacher who later
went to work for Henry J. Smith's book
publishing business. The pair had three
daughters; Elva Fowler
was their ten year old.
When the family looked back, 1894 may have been seen as
one of the best, before everything slid off a cliff.
Elizabeth Lizzie Smith Richardson
died in 1895 while in Philadelphia. I
failed to learn the cause of her death.
With a young son to
raise, Henry L. Richardson soon remarried but
the union got off on the wrong foot during the
honeymoon and ended in divorce two years later.
The scandalous court proceedings cost Henry his
church in Racine, WI.
1897 brought the death of Henry's father, Lewis
Richardson. In 1901 Henry brought Arthur to
Chicago where they lived at 5738 Drexel near the
University of Chicago. Henry had
a part time income as a substitute pastor at a
church in Whiting, Indiana while he worked at
adding a theology doctorate from the University
of Chicago to his University of Wisconsin and
Yale Divinity School degrees.
Richard Smith, father of
Henry, Lizzie and Mellie, died in 1899, leaving
Maria Moore Smith widowed and living in
Meadville, Pennsylvania, far from her children
and grandchildren. Wonder why Maria and
Richard Smith left New Lisbon, whether it was before
or after Richard's death.
Then it got worse
Early in the afternoon of December 30, 1903, forty-nine-year-old Henry
Richardson, son of the late Lewis and Caroline Nichols
Richardson, took the seventeen-year-old cousins,
Arthur Richardson and Elva Fowler, to a matinee
performance at Chicago's opulent new theater,
the Iroquois, on Randolph St. The dazzling production of
the Mr. Bluebeard fairy tale should have been
a fun interlude for the teens before returning to
high school for the last months of their senior year. Instead,
lives of Henry and Elva were lost along with over six hundred
others in what remains the worst theater fire in
America's history. Henry and Arthur made it out of the
but Henry went back inside, perhaps to find Elva.
Newspaper reports said he was found with a little
girl in each arm. Newspapers reporting on the
disaster were frequently inclined to describe
teenagers and young adults as "little girl" or
"little one" so it is possible the girls found with
Henry's body were those of teenagers Elva and a schoolmate
from Englewood High School,
Richardson identified his father's body. Henry
was buried next to Lizzie in the Hillside Cemetery
in Ripon, Wisconsin.
Elvira "Elva" Irene Fowler (b.1886),
her parents and two younger sisters, Marjorie and
lived at 3450 W. 63rd Place in Chicago.
Nothing was said to suggest that Marjorie (age ten) and/or
Elizabeth (age six) attended the theater as well and survived but it
is possible. If it was a cousins excursion,
Richard R. Smith, Henry's son, may also have been in
the party and survived.
Elva's body was found at
Jordan's funeral home and identified by Henry J.
Smith (her uncle and
Edgar's boss, as well as Henry
Funeral services were held
Sunday, January 3, 1904 at 1:00 pm and burial
the Forest Park Cemetery in Cook County.
In the years after the fire
Arthur H. Richardson inherited roughly $10,000 from his
father's estate, administered by his guardian and
E. Fowler (Elva Fowler's father). Arthur
graduated from Beloit College in 1909 and married a
Bryn Mawr girl from Vermont in 1912. They
produced two sons, including a boy named Henry D.
Richardson, presumably named after Arthur's late
Two years after the
Iroquois fire Edgar and Mellie
Fowlers moved to Meadville, Pennsylvania near
Pittsburgh where Mellie could be near her
mother for Maria Smith's last two years.
Edgar took a job there
as a sales manager
for a corset factory. In 1922 and 1949
they were laid to rest beside
their daughter Elva. Their
daughter, Marjorie Fowler, married a Fitzhugh and
had a daughter, Ann, pictured above, the
only clue I've found as to what Elva looked like.