Because Of Haste And Greed, Many Lives Were Tragically Lost In The Great Iroquois Theater Fire

Posted by Editorial Staff in History On 24th July 2017
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The dead bodies had to be guarded by police because people were stealing personal belongings from them such as jewelry, money, good fillings from teeth and even their identities!

The Iroquois Theater Fire

Described as an “absolutely fireproof” theater, the Iroquois Theater opened in mid November 1903 and was in its sixth week of operation before the tragic fire it just over a month later on December 30th.

The Iroquois Theater opened during the holiday season. With the idea of being able to sell a few more tickets because of the holidays, they opened early with left a lot of work undone. The theater was advertised as being “absolutely fireproof”. Not only did they open early, their maximum occupancy was 1,724, how ever that tragic day, almost 2,000 people, mostly women and children had come to see a matinée show of "Mr. Bluebeard" starring Eddie Foy. No one was turned away even though it was well over its capacity.

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The Iroquois Theater Fire

The Iroquois Theater Fire was beautiful inside, with three seating tiers - was ground level seating commonly called "orchestra" or "parquet", the second level known as the "dress circle" and staircases in the foyer leaving to the top called the "gallery" with the ability to hold just over 1700 people. It even housed an elevator leading from the dressing rooms on all five levels to the stage.

Before the opening of The Iroquois Theater, there were many noted imperfections structurally that had they waited to open and took the time to complete and trouble shoot and test, this terrible tragedy might never have happened. There were also things like the 30 exits routes not made clear and less confusing for the patrons. Some of the exits didn't have any lights above them and some had levers that people did not know how to operate and some exits were locked with no way to open unless you were the keeper of the key. To prevent people from trying to get a better seat, particularly ones they didn't pay for, there were big iron gates that blocked off the stairways.

The Iroquois Theater Fire

It was well into the second act that the fire started. A spark from a malfunctioning light ignited a drop curtain and the fire started. It spread quickly catching fire to drapery, decorations, and thousands of square feet of canvas scenery flats. Roof vents intended to handle smoke and heat had been sealed off, preventing the heat, smoke and gases from escaping – a result of the hurried construction. A fire curtain was supposed to be lowered, but as luck would have it, the stage hand trained in its operation was out sick and his replacement was not prepared to manage it.

Roof vents intended to handle smoke and heat had been sealed off, preventing the heat, smoke and gases from escaping – a result of the hurried construction. A fire curtain was supposed to be lowered, but as luck would have it, the stage hand trained in its operation was out sick and his replacement was not prepared to manage it.

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The Iroquois Theater Fire

People began to panic and started stampeding towards the exits. People on the ground floor were a little calmer than the people on the upper floors. Hysteria ensued when people from the balcony floors were stopped by the iron gates that had been in place in order to prevent seat hopping. They started jumping off the balconies. Doorways soon became hard to exit because people were being trampled and killed in the doors openings.

Some used ladders to cross between buildings trying to escape the flames. Only about a dozen people made it across the ladder. Many fell to their death below in the alley between the two buildings. It is now known as Death Alley.

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