William and Sarah Ann Gebhardt Kranz were
each forty-seven years old in 1903, and had been married for
twenty-five years. They took a train from
their home in Racine, Wisconsin into Chicago to
visit relatives over the Christmas holiday.
William's father, John Kranz (1819-1904), had
retired five years earlier from the stationery and
office supply store he'd founded in Racine, but may
have helped watch over things at the store while
Willy was away. Most people called his son
Will but John probably still called him Willy.
Wednesday, December 30, Will and Sarah went to see a
fairy tale pageant at the city's newest theater, the
found their seats at the front of the second or
third floor balcony. About ten minutes later they
recognized two fellow Racine residents entering the
auditorium and sitting five rows behind --
college student Harold Bliss and his lady friend,
Mabel Botsford. It was not surprising that they
recognized the pair. Mabel's father, Oliver
Botsford, was also a shop keeper in Racine, of the
Botsford & Wooster books, stationery and sporting
the beginning of the second act, a stage curtain
drifted too close to a carbon arc lamp, caught fire
and within minutes the stage was engulfed in flames.
Along with hundreds of others in the balcony,
William and Sarah Ann Kranz were moving toward an
exit, groping in the dark, the only light coming
from the flames. They became separated.
died at the Samaritan hospital. William was taken to
a different hospital, with burns to his face and
hands, but survived.
Sarah was one of three children born to Frederick
Gebhardt and Magdaline Schuettler Gebhardt. Her father was a
cooper, making barrels, wood buckets and cisterns.
In 1890 his shop was just a few doors from the
family home at 817 Union St. in Racine. Her
parents and siblings* were still living at the time
of her death.
Sarah Ann's body was identified by Herbert Jillson,
her sister Julia Gebhardt Jillson's husband.
Gebhardt, Kranz and Jillson families were all active
in the Methodist church in Racine. Will Kranz
played the organ for several years, Mary Gebhardt
sang in the choir and Julia's husband, Herb, was a
William and Sarah Ann were Wisconsin natives, both
born in 1856. They married in 1878.
Though they did not have children they owned a large
five-bedroom home at 1336 Main Street in Racine.
William's stationery business was
founded in 1850. The firm soon began
concentrating on packaging materials and janitorial
supplies. William joined his father in the
business in 1881. He expanded the business by
adding a wholesaling arm and increasing the
territory to include northern Illinois. In
addition to stationery supplies the company sold
William remarried in 1905, to a woman named
Florence. In 1917 he sold his business
interests and retired. The new owners retained
the name and the
Company is still in business today.
William and Florence moved to Los Angeles where he
died in 1944.
William was one of ten children
born to John and Elizabeth Ritchie Kranz (1831-),
and one of four who survived as of 1900 when John
and Elizabeth celebrated their 50th wedding
anniversary. Both had emigrated to the United
States in the mid 1840s, John from Germany and
Elizabeth from Switzerland.
William Kranz was active in civic
affairs in Racine. One of his interests was
the city's parks.
I was not able to find a photo of
Sarah but there was probably a resemblance between
she and her sister Mary (see photo).
The Racine community lost three
of its citizens to the Iroquois Theater fire, Sarah
Kranz, Harold Bliss and Mabel Botsford. A
fourth Iroquois patron, Clara Hanson, a school
teacher, survived. A former Racine resident,
Annie Ellis, was also among the fatalities.