The Iroquois Theatre
Billed as “absolutely fireproof,” it went up in flames less than six weeks after opening.
Written by Filed under History
In the Windy City it seems most people have forgotten the Iroqouis fire. “When people who were involved in the tragedy were [still] alive Chicago held an annual service at City Hall,” reports Hatch. “But the city no longer has any commemorative service, and this year, on the 100th anniversary, has nothing planned. I do believe there is still great sensitivity in Chicago about this disaster. That may explain why the city does not plan to have any commemoration,” he continues.
It might also explain why the lone memorial to the victims—a bronze bas-relief by sculptor Laredo Taft—now sits without any identifying markings inside the LaSalle Street entrance to City Hall, and why the Chicago Historical Society is unwilling to display the spotlight that reportedly started the fire. According to Hatch, an examination of the spotlight by a trained expert might reveal exactly what caused it to spark. “Someone could look at that spotlight and say, based upon this scorched metal that the fire started with these wires or whatever,” notes Hatch. “But it remains in the vaults of the Historical Society.”
At the moment, Hatch is in the process of organizing (in conjunction with the Chicago Fire Museum), a memorial service that will be held in early December at St. Gabriel’s Roman Catholic Church in Chicago. Hatch says the inspiration came from a man who lost his mother and two sisters in the fire, and contacted him in an effort to locate the cemetery where his relatives were buried. “Afterwards, I received a very moving e-mail from him saying, ‘You’ve found them. You’ve helped fill a partial void in my life.’ It moved me to the extent that we’re going to try to do something and invite people who may have lost loved ones in the disaster,” he reports.
But Hatch also hopes the memory of the Iroquois Theatre will encourage government officials and the public to become more vigilant about fire safety. Otherwise, complacency and a lack of accountability might lead history to repeat itself. “That’s another reason why I think Chicago would like to forget about this story,” says Hatch. “There was a lot of blame, but when all was said and done nobody was found guilty of anything.”