Minutes before the
Iroquois Theater fire started, the scene was jovial and festive. The
audience was filled with children enjoying a
spectacle of lights, costumes and music, excitement
heightened by expectations for a
holiday celebration the following night and then the
resumption of school.
William A. Brady (1863-1950) and
(1859-1941) enjoyed some verbal jousting about the
size of their 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 Klaw &
Erlanger theater syndicate.
Brady left the Iroquois auditorium, from the stage,
comedienne Eddie Foy called out to wish him a happy
new year. 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 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
he walked along Randolph St., Brady was passed by a
man yelling that the Iroquois Theater was on fire.
Disbelieving, an astonished Brady went back to the
Iroquois. When he saw people fleeing the theater,
Brady hurried to the Garrick to do crowd control. He
envisioned someone shouting the news about the
Iroquois inside the Garrick that would trigger a
stampede of people leaving to go to the Iroquois.
Wilton Lackaye gave a comedic speech to keep
audience members in their seats between acts so they
did not learn of fire at the Iroquois and cause a
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 had several names over the years. From 1898
to earlier in 1903 it was called the Dearborn
Theater. It was the theater where one year of part
time employment qualified George Dusenberry, in the
view of Iroquois managers Davis and Powers, to be
supervisor of ushers at the Iroquois.