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.
The 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 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.
Their 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”