Tinder Box

Tinder Box

The Iroquois Theatre Disaster, 1903

Paperback - 2010
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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.

Publisher: Chicago, Ill. : Academy Chicago Publishers, 2010, c2003.
Edition: 1st pbk. ed.
ISBN: 9780897336093
Characteristics: xiv, 274 p. : ill., plans ; 22 cm.


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Absolutely Fireproof: The Iroquois Theater Fire of 1903

Nearly 114 years ago, Chicago experienced the worst theater fire in U.S. history. The burning of the Iroquois Theater claimed the lives of over 600 patrons, a tragic number that even exceeds the estimated 250 lives lost in the Chicago Fire of 1871. Beautiful, lavishly designed and deemed “absolutely fireproof”, the ill-fated Iroquois Theater opened to the public on November 27, 1903 at 24-28… (more)

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