William Hennessy’s* sons went to the Iroquois
Theater, where they sat in the third floor balcony.
The middle son, Willie, did not return home.
year old John Earl Hennessy's (1887-) life was
threatened by his severe burns, including the loss
of one hand with his other hand deformed and his
face badly scared. He also suffered internal
injuries and was not expected to live.
Earl survived and as an adult
became a writer of short stories. He continued
living with his mother after his father's death in
1923. I was unable to learn the year of his
Twelve year old Donald Francis
Hennessy (1891-1912) also survived and as an adult
became a bookkeeper, dying when only twenty years
old, never marrying.
year old William James Hennessy (b. 1889), nicknamed
Willie, perished. Willie attended the
Forestville School in Chicago. Other
Forestville students who were Iroquois Theater fire
Erna and Ernest Reiss and
Minnie Schaffner, a teacher.
Earl and Willie were the sons of William Henry
Hennessy (1863-1923) and Annie McEnery Hennessy
(1865-). William immigrated to America from
Ireland with his parents as a youngster in 1868,
becoming a naturalized US citizen in 1883, and
Annie/Anna was a native of New Hampshire. They
married in 1887 in Hyde Park.
In 1903 the
Hennessy’s lived at 4411 Calumet Ave in Chicago.
William Hennessy, worked in sales for the Jefferson
Theatre Program printing company. That meant
he worked with Chicago theater managers every day.
Based on their homes, William was a good provider
which meant that to support his wife and two
remaining sons, he had to continue working, like all
the other fathers of Iroquois Theater fire victims,
but for William Hennessy that meant selling and
writing orders while listening to discussions about
the fire at work from co-workers and theater manager
customers, all with conflicting opinions about the
fire, some sympathetic to the owners, some
condemning, some critical of the audience for not
having calmly filed from the theater – while their
hair and backsides were in flames. Then he
to share the grief of his wife and sons, helping son
John with the pain of his severe injuries and
learning how to function with one hand, and finding
time to assuage the guilt of his youngest son,
Donald, who not only survived but did so without
In the years after the fire
the family received two $750 settlements from Fuller
Construction, the company who built the Iroquois
Theater, for John Earl's injuries and Willie's
death year for John Earl Hennessy and his mother,
Annie McEnery Hennessy.
name was sometimes spelled Hennessey or Hennesy.