Montrose Cemetery
to the Memory of
600 People Who Perished
In the Iroquois Theatre Fire
Dec 30 1903. Erected by the
Iroquois Memorial


The Iroquois Theatre was a mere five weeks old that day in 1903. Located on Randolph between State and Dearborn, it was a magnificent palace of marble and mahogany, a "virtual temple of beauty", and had been advertised as "absolutely fireproof". On the afternoon of December 30th, an audience of 1,900 was present to see Eddie Foy and Annabelle Whitford in the musical comedy "Mr. Blue Beard". The crowd consisted of mostly women and children.

As the orchestra played "Let Us Swear by the Pale Moonlight" during the second act, a malfunctioning arc light ignited the muslin drapes. The fire quickly spread to the backdrops hanging above the stage, pieces of which then fell toward the performers. The actors fled; Eddie Foy soon returned and urged the audience to remain calm and in their seats.

The crew tried to lower the asbestos curtain between the stage and the audience. Midway down, it stuck - the cheap wooden tracks had caused it to jam. As the stage collapsed, the audience panicked and ran for the twenty-seven exits, only to find most of them locked. Those in front were trampled and crushed against the doors, which opened inwards.

By the time firefighters arrived, the auditorium was silent. Five hundred and seventy five were dead; at least 25 more would die from their injuries.

The Iroquois fire prompted new safety standards nationwide. Under the new laws, exits had to be clearly marked; be openable from the inside at all times; and open outwards.

It had been the worst theatre fire in the history of the United States, and had the highest number of deaths of any fire in Chicago, surpassing even the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. It ranked as the worst disaster of any kind in the history of the city until the overturning of the Eastland in 1915.

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