12/30/2013 The End Is Near

The Iroquois Theatre fire occurred on December 30, 1903, in Chicago, Illinois. It is the deadliest theater fire and the deadliest single-building fire in United States history. At least 605 people died as a result of the fire but not all the deaths were reported, as some of the bodies were removed from the scene.



Corpses were piled ten bodies high around the doors and windows. Many patrons had clambered over piles of bodies only to succumb themselves to the flames, smoke, and gases. It is estimated that 575 people were killed on the day of the fire itself; well over 30 more died of injuries suffered over the following weeks. Many of the Chicago victims were buried in Montrose, Forest Home, and Graceland cemeteries.[24][25]

Of the 300 or so actors, dancers, and stagehands, only five people - the aerialist (Nellie Reed), an actor in a bit part, an usher, and two female attendants died. The aerialist's role was to fly out as a fairy over the audience on a trolley wire, showering them with pink carnations. She was trapped above the stage while waiting for her entrance; during the fire she fell, was gravely injured, and died of burns and internal injuries three days later.[26]

In New York City on New Year's Eve some theaters eliminated standing room. Building and fire codes were subsequently reformed; theaters were closed for retrofitting all around the country and in some cities in Europe. All theater exits had to be clearly marked and the doors configured so that, even if they could not be pulled open from the outside, they could be pushed open from the inside.[27]

After the fire, it was alleged that fire inspectors had been bribed with free tickets to overlook code violations.[28] The mayor ordered all theaters in Chicago closed for six weeks after the fire.[29]

As a result of public outrage many were charged with crimes, including Mayor Carter Harrison, Jr.. Most charges were dismissed three years later, however, because of the delaying tactics of the owners' lawyers and their use of loopholes and inadequacies in the city's building and safety ordinances. The only person convicted was a tavern keeper charged with grave robbing.

The exterior of the Iroquois was largely intact. The building later reopened as the Colonial Theater, which was torn down in 1926 to make way for the Oriental Theater.[30]

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