“Absolutely fireproof” –A human Tragedy


 It was Wednesday, December 30, 1903, the end of a festive Christmas week. The weather in Chicago was fair, temps in the low teens, a hint of snow flurries forecast for the evening and heavier snow later in the week.

Annie Bergch, her husband Arthur Sr. and their 11 year old son Arthur James left their five room, two bedroom three story brownstone built 1895  at 4926 S. Champlain. They made their way seven miles to downtown’s vibrant theatre district, eager to see the 2PM afternoon matinee of Mr. Bluebeard.

tribbestThe Bergch family was just three of as many as 2200 theatregoers, mostly women and children, arriving at the Iroquois Theatre at 24–28 West Randolph Street, between State Street and Dearborn Street. There were only 1,602 seats in this new theatre so several hundred had standing room only tickets  causing people to be four-deep behind the last row of seats and many others sitting in the aisles..

annie b

Annie Hedges Bergch was 32 years old, the daughter of James and Mary Hedges. She was born August 21 1871 in Canada. Annie married Arthur Bergch, on November 17, 1891 in Chicago, IL. He was engaged in the wholesale tobacco business.

arthur bTheir son Arthur James was born oct 22 1892 and their youngest Edward George born June 28 1899. Edward did not go to the theatre probably because of his young age. He would lose his mother on this day, then be raised by his grandparents and later marry.

Annie, her son Arthur and some 600 others would die that fateful afternoon, most of them to the toxic fumes and smoke in the worst theatre fire in the United States. And it was the worst disaster in Chicago’s history, inflicting a greater death toll than the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, in which about 250 died.

How could this possibly happen in a city so aware of the dangers of fire? Continue reading ““Absolutely fireproof” –A human Tragedy”


Yes, you read correctly!  The article was dated January 31, 1921

For all you hard core fans of  Riverview, this proposed amusement park was just wrong, motivated by spite and revenge. A few men were quite serious in stealing business away from our beloved Riverview Park at Belmont and Western. Two disgruntled former officials of Riverview Amusement Park, investors,  and their associates planned on building an “end of the streetcar line” park on Chicago’s far Northwest side. It would have been on Milwaukee Avenue just north of Devon Avenue (6400 North) and directly across the street from St. Adalbert’s Catholic Cemetery.

Had it been built, the cemetery would have has a very noisy neighbor.

woodlawns composiite

This new park was even planned to front the North Branch of the Chicago River much like Riverview at Belmont and Western, but some 8 ½ miles north. Had it been built, it might well have had an advantage over Riverview with the option of expansion as it gained popularity.woodlawns overview locater

Continue reading “FLASH NEWS BULLETIN!”

STILL ALARM! Christmas Eve 1919

I take you back 100 years to Christmas Eve, December 24, 1919 just as the fire bell is shattering the quiet in Engine 47’s firehouse at 7531 S. Dobson. “Squad 5, you are due to respond to the still alarm”.

The term “still” originated from the days when most fire alarms were transmitted by a street pullbox. A still alarm was considered “silent” when called into the fire department by telephone or by a means other than the loud clicking telegraph signal from the street box. Hence the term “still”.

The post office, in 1919, had been delivering 24 million pieces of Christmas mail and 2 million parcels. Products of the day included Belmont biscuits, Cuticura soap, and Christmas candies at $.80 a pound. Victrola’s were in vogue selling for $25 and $700. There were movies with Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks. On stage there was Ziegfield Follies.

In most homes, lighted candles illuminated Christmas trees, an extreme fire hazard which kept the Chicago Fire Department very busy during the holidays. Continue reading “STILL ALARM! Christmas Eve 1919”


For fifteen years the large Forest Park Amusement Park was smack dab adjacent German Waldheim and Concordia Lutheran Cemeteries in Chicago’s western suburb originally called Harlem.

Opened in 1908 at Des Plaines Avenue and West Harrison Street, it was built as an “end of line” amusement park and was served by the Metropolitan West Elevated “L” line, surface line street cars and the Aurora and Elgin interurban rail line. The park, was quite popular, but was a noisy neighbor to the adjoining cemeteries, giving new meaning to the phrase “enough to wake the dead”.


From Venice to Mount Carmel Cemetery

Come with me on a late night automobile ride north from downtown Chicago, 21 miles to the quiet suburb of Wheeling. Let’s choose 1924 for our trip, in a spiffy Studebaker touring car. As we drive north on Milwaukee Avenue we bypass a corridor of roadhouses, taverns, mob hangouts, hotels, arriving at 2855 Milwaukee Avenue.Studebaker-1927-PresidentVilla Venice Postcard







We drive through a main gate and enter an extravagant resort called Villa Venice where we will have a seven course dinner, drink adult beverages, watch a Las Vegas style revue, dance until dawn, gamble and ride in authentic Italian gondolas.

But behind all the glitter and glitz is a dark side, that later in this story will end us at the beautiful Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Hillside.

Continue reading “From Venice to Mount Carmel Cemetery”



Chicago History in Pictures 1895It is well known that George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., 1859-1896 a structural and civil engineer from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, built the colossal Chicago Wheel for Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. What is not as well known is where the huge wheel reappeared after the fair had ended.

The fair wanted a landmark, something daring, and unique. They wanted something that would surpass the Eiffel tower which was built in 1889. Ferris’s enormous vertical structure served their purpose, which rotated around a massive center axle weighing 71 tons, and featured 36 gondolas capable of holding up to 60 people each—for a total capacity of 2,160 people. It carried some 38,000 people daily who each paid 50-cents for a 20-minute ride. Some 2.5 million people rode the wheel before it moved to a quiet northside Chicago neighborhood.


THE END OF THE LINE (no pun intended)

Cemeteries and Amusement parks share a common geographic trait, that both were on the “end of the line” of street cars, “L” lines or interurbans. The owners of transportation companies realized that amusement parks could be a boon to weekend revenues.

Cemeteries on the other hand, often were at the end of the line, because as early as 1865, Chicago banned burials within the city limits, banishing cemeteries well out of the then city. Before motorized hearses, funerals to these outlying cemeteries depended on funeral trains and street cars for transportation.       Hearses pulled by horses did not fare well on long trips and muddy rutted roads.

Continue reading “THE END OF THE LINE (no pun intended)”