At sixty-seven and fifty-nine, William "Willie" Marshall Reid* (b. 1836) and
his wife, Clara Ella Marr / Mars Reid (b.1844), were
among the older victims of the Iroquois Theater
fire. Married in 1864, they were the parents
of one son, Clarence Marr Reid (1876-1958), and
lived in Waukegan, Illinois about forty miles north
of Chicago on the west shores of Lake Michigan.
(Waukegan is Potawatomi for "Little Fort.") As
early as 1870 seven trains a day ran between
Waukegan and Chicago. By 1903 there were
many more so an hour-long trip into the city
was an easy excursion.
Rhode Island to Illinois and college
William was the son of Thomas
and Mary Cook Reid. Thomas was a Scottish
immigrant who relocated the family from Providence
Rhode Island, where William was born, to a farm in
Illinois. Following two years at the
University of Michigan 1857-1859 William returned to
Waukegan to work in the
Douglas evergreen and ornamental tree seedling
Abraham Lincoln in Waukegan
On April 2, 1860 while
campaigning for the Republican presidential
nomination, Abraham Lincoln came to the little town
of Waukegan, population then around 4,000,‡ to
make an abolitionist speech at Dickinson's Hall.
Twenty-five minutes into
Lincoln's speech a fire broke out at the Case
warehouse on the North Pier, bringing an end to the
speech as all involved, including Lincoln, went to
fight the fire. The following month at the
convention in Chicago Lincoln won the republican
nomination on the third ballet. That November,
with the Democratic party split over slavery,
electoral college votes put Lincoln in the White
House. It is not known whether William Reid
attended Lincoln's speech in Waukegan but by May 24,
1861, five weeks after war broke out, he was in the
from 1861 to 1865 in the 15th Illinois Volunteers in
the Illinois Union infantry and in Company D of the
146th Illinois Volunteers, achieving the rank of
Lieutenant Colonel.† His mother, Mary, died while
he was a soldier.
Marriage to Clara Ella Marr
William married Clara in July, 1864, a year before
he left the military. She was the daughter of
Waukegan residents, Dennis Marr and Philena Bailey Marr.
Both were natives of Maine and Clara was born there
before they headed west to Illinois. She had
two siblings, one of whom, Emma
Marr Farr, died in 1920 from injuries suffered in an
accidental explosion of an alcohol lamp.
years of undertaking
Carpentry skill in the hands of a entrepreneur in
the mid 1800s could lead to various specialties.
For William it led to furniture making and undertaking. Upon his
return from the war he went into partnership with
his father-in-law, Dennis Marr, operating a
combination furniture store and undertaking business
on Genesse St. in Waukegan, named named Marr, Reid &
Co. In 1874 they left furniture behind and
concentrated on undertaking, with a name revision to
reflect the new focus: Marr & Reid. †
In the 1870 US Census Dennis
described his occupation as "sexton," which means
the 4,500 citizens of Waukegan could go to Marr and
Reid to buy a dining room table or a coffin and hire
them to prepare, transport or bury the body.
Clarence Marr Reid was William and Clara's only
child. He married two months after the Iroquois
Theater fire. He and his wife Effie moved to
Wisconsin then Sioux City, Iowa where he worked in a
variety of jobs including a travel agent, salesman,
time keeper in a packing plant and operated a
chicken hatchery. They raised two daughters,
naming one of them after Clara.
In later years William worked as a roofing
contractor, including some contracts for the 1893 Worlds
Fair Columbian Exposition in Chicago. He also
served 1883-84 as an Republican alderman from the
third ward on Waukegan's common council and as an
party and body identification
Clara's body was located
forty-eight hours after the fire by Waukegan
residents, Calvin J. Kucker and dentist, Dr. Delehur
Albrecht, and Chicago resident, William's nephew,
Thomas E. Loveday. It is possible that William
and Clara were visiting the Lovedays as part of
their Chicago excursion.
Thomas was the son of William's
widowed sister, Fanny M. Reid Loveday, and
her late husband, Julius L. Loveday, who had been
with William in Company D of the 146th during the
last year of the civil war.
William's body was found at
Sheldon's funeral home and identified by a fellow
civil war vet, George R. Lyon (1846-) of Waukegan
and George Larson, relationship unknown but possibly
In the days immediately
after the fire it was discovered that William's Dopp
kit had dropped to the ground outside the
theater during the hectic hours after the fire, when
his body was laying on the sidewalk out front or
carried to a wagon. Inside the kit was a
$1,000 note to William from a William Hutchison.
The man who found the kit was caught out after
cashing in and spending the $1,000.
The funeral for William and
Clara was held four days after the fire at the
Christ Church in Waukegan with burial at Oakwood
Cemetery. There were hundreds in attendance at
the afternoon service, many to pay respects to
William for his military service. G.A.R. adjutant general and
Congregational minister Charles A. Partridge
(one-time publisher of Waukegan Gazette
newspaper), read military rites for William and
reverend William E. Toll of the
Christ Episcopal Church conducted the services.
The church rectory had been completed the year of
the fire. Pastor Toll had emigrated from
England to America in 1866. In addition to
serving the Waukegan parish he traveled around the
area in horse and buggy to smaller communities.
The church where William and Clara's funeral was
held, constructed in 1889, still stands.