Synopses & Reviews
This the 100th anniversary of one of worst man-made disasters of the 20th century. When the Iroquois Theatre opened in Chicago on November 23, 1903, it was considered one of the grandest structures of its day, a monument to modern design and technology, as well as "absolutely fireproof." This was a theatre that would rival any in New York or Paris. Instead it became the funeral pyre for hundreds of victims. Tony Hatch, former CBS reporter and Emmy Award winner, tells the grisly story in meticulous, riveting detail, based on more than forty years of research, including many exclusive interviews with eyewitnesses. In Tinder Box, he tells the Iroquois story as it has never been told before. In a rush to open the theatre on time, corners were cut, and the Iroquois lacked the most basic fire-fighting equipment: sprinklers, fire alarm boxes, backstage telephone, exit signs and functioning asbestos curtain. Some exists, for aesthetic reasons, were hidden behind heavy draperies, doors opened inward and exterior fire escapes were unfinished. But Chicago officials, the theatre owners and managers, the contractor, stagehands—all looked the other way. Then, on December 30, 1903, disaster struck. The theatre was packed, overcrowded with a standing-room-only audience, mostly women and children who had come to see the popular comedian Eddie Foy perform in the musical fantasy Mr. Bluebeard. A short circuit in a single backstage spotlight touched off a small fire that, in minutes, erupted into an uncontrollable blaze. More than 600 people died. Because of the magnitude of the catastrophe and the obvious corruption that allowed it to happen, building and fire laws were changed to prevent it everhappening again. Tinder Box is a riveting history of a traumatic and costly calamity.
Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Iroquois Theatre fire, Tinder Box tells the story in detail based on forty years of research, including exclusive interviews with eye-witnesses. Advertising. Anniversary Events in Chicago and elsewhere.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 261-266) and index.
The Iroquois Theater in Chicago, boasting every modern convenience, advertised itself proudly as “absolutely fireproof” when it opened in November, 1903. Mr. Bluebeard, a fairy tale musical imported from the Drury Lane Theatre in London was the opening production. And leading the troupe of nearly 400 was one of the most popular comedians of the time, Eddie Foy.
None of the many socialites and journalists who flocked to the shows were aware that city building inspectors and others had been bribed to certify that the theater was in good shape. In fact, the building was without a sprinkler system or even basic fire fighting equipment; there was no backstage telephone, fire alarm box, exit signs, a real asbestos curtain or ushers trained for emergencies.
A month later, at a Christmas week matinee, the theater was illegally overcrowded with a standing room only crowd of mostly women and children. During the second act, a short circuit exploded a back stage spotlight touching off a small fire which spread in minutes throughout the theater. Panic set in as people clawed at each other to get out, but they could not find the exits, which were draped. The doorways, locked against gate-crashers, were designed to open in instead of out, creating almost impossible egress.
The tragedy, which claimed more than 600 lives, became a massive scandal and it remains the worst theater fire in the history of the country.
About the Author
Anthony P. Hatch twice won an Emmy for his journalism; he worked for CBS News as a correspondent and as Director of Public Affairs Broadcasts. He lives in Santa Fe with his wife.