Tinder Box: The Iroquois Theater Disaster 1903

Overview

The Iroquois Theater in Chicago, boasting every modern convenience, advertised itself proudly as “absolutely fireproof” when it opened in November, 1903. Mr. Bluebeard, a fairy tale musical imported from the Drury Lane Theatre in London was the opening production. And leading the troupe of nearly 400 was one of the most popular comedians of the time, Eddie Foy.

None of the many socialites and journalists who flocked to the shows were aware that city building inspectors and ...

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Overview

The Iroquois Theater in Chicago, boasting every modern convenience, advertised itself proudly as “absolutely fireproof” when it opened in November, 1903. Mr. Bluebeard, a fairy tale musical imported from the Drury Lane Theatre in London was the opening production. And leading the troupe of nearly 400 was one of the most popular comedians of the time, Eddie Foy.

None of the many socialites and journalists who flocked to the shows were aware that city building inspectors and others had been bribed to certify that the theater was in good shape. In fact, the building was without a sprinkler system or even basic fire fighting equipment; there was no backstage telephone, fire alarm box, exit signs, a real asbestos curtain or ushers trained for emergencies.

A month later, at a Christmas week matinee, the theater was illegally overcrowded with a standing room only crowd of mostly women and children. During the second act, a short circuit exploded a back stage spotlight touching off a small fire which spread in minutes throughout the theater. Panic set in as people clawed at each other to get out, but they could not find the exits, which were draped. The doorways, locked against gate-crashers, were designed to open in instead of out, creating almost impossible egress.

The tragedy, which claimed more than 600 lives, became a massive scandal and it remains the worst theater fire in the history of the country.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

 "[Hatch]...utilizes interviews and correspondence with survivors of the fire, which lends a special poignancy to the story. This is a painful, but  superbly written work about wholly unnecessary tragedy." --Booklist

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780897336093
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 11/2/2010
  • Pages: 274
  • Sales rank: 985,874
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Anthony P. Hatch twice won an Emmy for his journalism; he worked for CBS News as a correspondent and as Director of Public Affairs Broadcasts. He lives in Santa Fe with his wife.

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Table of Contents

Foreword ix

Introduction xi

1 Opening Night 1

2 Absolutely Fireproof 7

3 A New Year's Surprise 17

4 Strikes, Snow and Show Business 21

5 The Song-and-Dance Man 35

6 Mixed Reviews 39

7 The Day: December 30 47

8 Engine 13 59

9 "Pale Moonlight" 69

10 The Inferno 83

11 Death Alley 99

12 Inside A Volcano 113

13 The Charnel House 121

14 The New Year 131

15 The Blame Game 145

16 The Inquest 163

17 The Grand Jury 181

18 "Not Guilty" 193

19 A Warning Unheeded 207

Aftermath 211

Epilogue 221

Acknowledgments 235

Notes 241

Selected Bibliography & Source Material 261

Index 267

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