Minutes before the
fire started, the scene at the Iroquois Theater was
festive and jovial. The
audience was filled with excited children enjoying a
spectacle of lights, costumes and music,
anticipating two days of
Between acts, William A. Brady (1863-1950) and
(1859-1941) enjoyed some verbal jousting about the
size of their respective audiences. New York-based Brady was a
theatrical producer with a show at the Garrick
Harry Powers, co-manager of two Chicago theaters,
the Iroquois and Powers, was part of the
Erlanger theater syndicate. It is possible
both had previously in the day paid their respects
at the funeral home for actor
Jerome Sykes, along with Iroquois manager,
Will J. Davis.
Brady was in Chicago to see if his most
recent production was better received in Chicago
than it had been on Broadway. Despite being based on
1903's third best-selling novel, The Pit had closed
after only 77 weeks in New York. Brady hoped local
interest in Frank Norris Jr's story about the wheat
market and Chicago's Board of Trade, would buoy
Brady left the Iroquois auditorium, audience members
comedian Eddie Foy called
from the stage to wish him a happy new year.
To Chicago theater goers, Foy was a local boy who
made good and didn't forget his roots.
he walked along Randolph St., Brady was passed by a
man shouting that the Iroquois Theater was on fire.
Disbelieving, Brady went back to the
Iroquois. When he saw people fleeing the theater,
Brady hurried to the Garrick.
Envisioning a stampede
there if someone shouted out about the Iroquois
fire, he gave instructions to Garrick employees and
cast. They were told to prevent audience
members from leaving or reentering the auditorium
Wilton Lackaye was directed to perform comic speeches.
The goal: keep
audience members in their seats between acts so they
did not learn of fire at the Iroquois Theater.
Unbeknownst to Garick switchboard lighting engineer
Thomas J. Cleland,
his wife Elizabeth, a
restroom matron at the Iroquois, was in mortal
danger. (She survived and continued working
for Will J. Davis.)
Thomas Cleland had trained
William McMullen on operating a stage
switchboard before McMullen moved on to the Illinois
Theater and the Iroquois where he operated the lamp
that started the fire.
64 W. Randolph St., the Garrick was located in the
Schiller building, an 1892 Adler & Sullivan design
(razed in 1961). The 1,300-seat theater was designed
to accommodate the German Opera Company but that
initial association ended in the late 1890’s and the
theater became, like the Iroquois, a house that
hosted traveling shows.
Garrick Theater had several names over the years. From 1898
to earlier in 1903 it was called the Dearborn
Theater. It was the theater where, in the view of
Iroquois managers Davis and Powers, one year of part
time employment as an usher qualified George Dusenberry
to supervise a dozen teen ushers at the Iroquois.