Oct 29, 1863 – Dec 30, 1903
Oct 5, 1860 – Sep 27, 1939
(June 9, 1890 – December 30, 1903)
(November 8, 1892 – December 30, 1903)
Dr. Oakey and his daughters were killed in the Iroquois Theater fire (A total of more than 600 died).
They were found dead in their seats, overcome by smoke.
Other Madisonians Killed in the Fire
Ruth W Robbins – Burial Date:1/3/1904 – Forest Hill
Section 31, Lot 55 – No Marker
16 years old. – Plot owned by Hiram Moulton
Cylde O Thompson – Student at University of Wisconsin; Thompson has taken his fiancee,
Miss Leigh Haveland, to the theater; both perished.
Iroquois Theater Fire:
Chicago, Illinois December 30, 1903 Advertised as "Absolutely Fireproof" on its playbills,
within twenty minutes, claimed 602 lives.
By the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) records, it is still, as of 2008, the
worst single-building fire in U.S. history with the most fatalities.
The construction and opening of the theater had been rushed in six months to take advantage
of the holiday crowds with much being incomplete.
The theatre opened on November 23 and burned 37 days later. At about 3:15 P.M., late in the
second act, an arc light shorted and ignited a muslin curtain which then spread to the
backdrops, high above the stage, where thousands of square feet of painted canvas scenery
flats were hung. The backstage glow of the fire was mistaken by some in the audience as
Many of the fire exit doors in the auditorium were hidden behind curtains and were not marked.
As was the custom at the time, all of the doorways opened inwards, but more importantly, the
metal doors of the fire exits were equipped with bascule locks. Bascule locks were used in
European theaters but were virtually unknown to Americans and required the operation of a
small lever. The few patrons who found the doors were unable to open the locks.
Most of the lobby doors were locked. The balcony stairs were blocked by locked gates. Despite
the holiday overcrowding, there were over 200 patrons left standing in the aisles and behind
the last row, the gates were still locked by custom during the show to prevent the balcony
patrons from sneaking down to the more expensive seats.
Unfinished fire escapes of this six-story tall building prevented many people from escaping
alive or without injury, over 100 bodies lay in the alleys afterwards but cushioning many of
those who were pushed or had jumped. Because of the flames and heavy smoke the attending
firefighters and many of the jumpers were unable to make good use of the safety nets.
Corpses were piled 10 bodies or 7 feet (2.1 m) high, around the doors and windows, having
clambered over each other only to succumb to the flames, smoke and gases, 575 people died that
day, and hundreds were hurt. Another 30 would die from their injuries in the following weeks.
After the fire, it was revealed that fire inspectors had been bribed with free tickets to
overlook code violations.
As a result of public outrage, many were charged with crimes, including Mayor Carter Harrison,
Jr., some with involuntary manslaughter. But most charges were dismissed three years later
because of the delaying tactics of the owners lawyers and their use of loopholes and
inadequacies in the city's building and safety ordinances. The only person convicted was a
tavern keeper charged with robbing the dead.