The Iroquois Theatre Fire of 1903

Is There Any Living Person Here, asked a member of the Chicago Fire Department upon entering the ruined theatre? Only an eerie silence answered back. Over 600 people lay burned and trampled inside, or outside where they had jumped to their deaths. Most of the 27 exits were unavailable—some hidden by drapes some locked against people coming in unpaid. Each time someone found an exit door, others pushed toward it en masse.

Grandmother, at 23 years old, had taken her younger brothers to see Eddie Foy as Sister Anne in The Blue Beard. Grandma, Willis and Logan had been standing on the main floor not far from an exit—it would prove to be unlocked and mostly unseen by the panicking crowd.

As the flames lapped up the scenery, Nellie Reed the aerialist died helpless on her swing high above the stage. Foy tried to calm the crowd but a fireball exploded toward the audience, and they surged toward safety, but were only caught in the crowd.

The theatres of the day were dangerous and prone to fires from poorly constructed lights, draperies and flammable scenery. Promising the five-week old Iroquois Theatre was fire-proof proved no different from the later Titanic’s claim of being unsinkable.

Grandmother was a dancer of Scots’ music, pointing her toes between the blades of crossed swords or gracefully dancing the Highland Fling for the Social Clubs visited by her parents and friends. She never forgot the smell of death and feeling of panic. When she told me stories, she would shiver if I asked about the Fire. When I was older, she told me of women who threw their children off the fire escape because the ladder wouldn’t open; she saw people trying to run to exits, pushing past her while she vainly tried to make her way to the exit she remembered.

The air grew thicker and fear at losing the boys propelled her through the dead and dying to outside the theatre where she walked the boys through fire hoses, tangled like limp snakes on the wet pavement. Rows of bodies had already begun to fill the street outside the Iroquois—bodies that would later need to be identified by family members.

The Fire Department, the pride of Chicago, would find bodies crushed in the aisles, dead in their seats of smoke inhalation, the crowd allowing no movement. People jumped from the balconies and were trampled below.

The only folks saved were those like my Grandmother and her brothers, those seated in the parquet; those who were standing by a main floor exit, or from the back of the stage through the loading dock that someone broke open with a pipe. Almost 2,000 people began their day looking forward to an afternoon of comic burlesque. Six hundred and two died, two-thirds of whom were women and children.

References: “Chicago Death Trap, The Iroquois Theatre Fire of 1903”
by Nat Brandt as well as family stories told by Grandmother.

Published in: Uncategorized on December 1, 2014 at 1:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

Old Houses Have Their Wisdom


My childhood home was 19th century old,

bricks with ivy growing up the side and,

a wooden porch in the front.  There 

was a walk-in attic off my bedroom where

I played with my doll’s house and my Sparkle

Plenty and Shirley Temple dolls.


Gram sewed outfits for the dolls and I got

doll-house furniture like sofas, bags of flour,

and little beds with covers of embroidered flowers

on the pillow cases and spread. Of course, Sparkle

and Shirley were too big to live in the doll house, so

I had to have little painted people who would lie in bed

and stand in the kitchen. 


I also had a Hedy Lamarr doll when I was a little older

and began to collect movie star autographs. I was 

precocious and gave Hedy her period by painting

mercurochrome on gauze mimicking my mother’s 

hygienics. I also began waiting for my own period

so I could achieve “grown-up status.” Some of 

my friends were “grown-up” now and I envied them.


I always felt like the house was a breathing thing. 

With the attic and dirt-floor basement it was different

than my friend’s houses and they would always want

to discover in my house. We also had an old barn

in the back yard that had tack for animals hanging

on hooks from the walls. The hay mow was on the

second floor and we were always warned against

the thin floor and falling through.


There was a Philips radio in the living room and we

would gather around it for Amos and Andy, and 

Gram and I would listen to her soaps in the kitchen

while she cooked. I had a victrola and played my

childhood records of Rudolph, Spike Jones,

and Bing and Bob Crosby. My favorite was

Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers 

singing Water, Cool, Clear, Water. We also

had a piano and our boarder played songs

and we sang with the tunes. I remember she

was playing when Daddy came come from

the war. 


He’d been expected hours earlier

but they let me stay up and wait and the songs

made the time go by. Finally, he came in the 

door and I was sent to see who it was! I shouted,

“Daddy, Daddy is here,” and everyone else

greeted him. Daddy was very tired and soon

went to bed, I later found out he was staggering

drunk and they rushed him upstairs before

he passed out. 







Published in: Uncategorized on May 19, 2014 at 7:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

Rehab Update

Well, it’s been about three weeks since my last blog and I do have improvements to list. I can now stand with the walker without putting weight on my foot. I can transfer from bed to wheelchair, wheelchair to grown-up potty and back, wheelchair back to bed. In the therapy room i have learned to hop on my good leg while holding the bad leg off the floor. My rotator cuff doesn’t seem to be improving much probably will take longer to exercise it out. I get an electrolysis-type of treatment each day and I do pretty good with raising it as long as I hold it with my other hand.  I can see by the small improvements I’ve made, how long it will take me to recover. My goal is to leave this place using a walker and not a wheelchair. 

For those of you thinking your insurance is perfect, I have some truths for you. I have Medicare and Deancare from work. These have covered everything on an outpatient I’ve used it for BUT for long term care it is a different story. In a skilled nursing home, you have to show progress every day. If you can, Medicare covers for 20 days then Dean picks up the twenty percent Medicare stops payingfor a limit of 120 more days. BUT again, Dean has the same criteria as Medicare and you still have to show progress each day. If you get to a non-weight bearing status of no progress, they BOTH stop paying and you must go into a Private Pay status or leave the facility. Private Pay is expensive and a good share of us can’t afford it. Also, if you are lucky enough (using up all your savings, etc.) to remain in the Skilled Nursing Home, your physical and occupational therapy is extra. When I asked the sense of this, I was told the facility has a dailly exercise class that patients are encouraged to go to. 

I have wonderful care here at St. Mary’s Care Center, the aides are very nice and the meals continue to be great. I have no fault with any of the care I’ve received here. This then is an update. If you have more interest, send me an e-mail at 



Published in: Uncategorized on February 14, 2014 at 12:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

Rehab, the new experience!

Well, I’ve really done it t his time. Stepped on some black ice and fell on my leg breaking my ankle in four places. I’ve had two surgeries so far and after eight days in the hospital, I am in rehab. My leg is not to have any weight on it, so you can imagine trying to get out of a wheelchair or bed using only one foot while the other one has a six pound boot on it and I’m not supposed to put it on the ground. I thought I was doing okay, but yesterday I found out I was putting up to 40 pounds on it when I transferred from my bed to the chair(s), so I’m back to baby steps again and just trying to do the therapy. Those who know me, know how I  hate any kind of exercise so this is like eating spinach or broccoli, in other words hard to impossible.

Speaking of food, the food here is great. Much better than the hospital and a lot of variety. If I don’t like the meal of the day, I can order ala carte from a bunch of different selections, and the desserts are wonderful!

Someone comes to visit almost every day so the time is broken into reasonable units. In fact most of the time I don’t have enough time between needing help to do EVERYTHING so waiting for someone to help me, meals, physical and occupational therapy etc. The days have gone by quickly.

Today I managed to get up from my wheelchair twice without putting weight on my left leg (the bad one). I also hurt my right arm so have some problems writing and typing. Right now I have just the right things set up for my computer (which is why I’m going on so long) and can type without much pain.

With that, I’ll close this down. I’ll write again, with more exciting news about rehab. My poet friends have told me they expect to see poems coming out of this experience. I’ve already written four whiney poems and one that is pretty good. So it goes here in rehab land.

Published in: Uncategorized on January 29, 2014 at 11:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

What Child Is This

ImageI just heard on TV that a motorcycle gang bought and delivered Christmas presents to a family who had been robbed of all their holiday gifts. Apparently, they didn’t know the people, just heard about it and heartened, they rescued this family from a gift-less morning, I love the picture of people on Bikes, wearing helmets with horns and swastikas handing over gaily-wrapped gifts to make this family’s day.

It reminds me of the WW1 story where on the eve of Christmas, soldiers fighting  met in the no-man’s land between them and celebrated the birth of Christ with carols and good cheer. How much it cost the first German and first Allied man to take that first step––the possibility of death put to one side in the desire for fellowship and celebration.

It’s not really the gifts; it’s not really the food––it’s the warmth of our childhood memories living once more. We try and give our children the happiness we had long ago before mortgages, illness, and failures in businesses. The simple tree or menorah or the symbol of all peoples is all it takes to change what is in our hearts.

But I’m imagining now. There were embassy bombings Christmas eve, and killing didn’t stop in Syria or the Gaza Strip. Think how cold the stomachs of terrorists are having to hate on a holiday of love and hope.

Well this brief respite is over for another year. Let’s try and bring some of these feelings into the new year.

Published in: Uncategorized on December 26, 2013 at 2:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

These Truths Shall Be Self-Evident . . .

“Nothing built by human beings can be seen from the moon”
Toscanelli’s Ray by Wilde-Menozzi


I always thought that the Great Wall was visible from the moon––didn’t they tell us that and why didn’t the reporters check the facts. This is like finding out there is no Santa or the Easter Bunny. It makes one wonder about other “truths” and just how truthful they are. 

For instance: What about the man in the moon and all that green cheese he was going to eat. In fact, what about the stories that  we never even went to the moon––it was all done in a movie studio somewhere in California! I want to know more about St. Nicholas and Smokey the Bear. And what about Goldilocks––if some things aren’t true,  I’ll bet some are. Take for instance the three bears, the three pigs, the big-bad wolf, red riding hood. I’m suspicious of everything now. Why even our baseball heroes couldn’t make it to hero-status  alone. 

I always knew I hadn’t played the piano when I was six but I told it so many times even I believed it. Was broccoli ever just little trees? Black cats, walking under a ladder and three-on-a-match all gone to the absolute truths we insist on now, although these three have some basis in truth. I’ll vote for Santa to be real.


Published in: Uncategorized on December 20, 2013 at 3:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

I see fuzz on the moon



Driving at night with car lights all around, halos––red, green, yellow from the stop lights. If pavement is wet the reflections sparkle like Christmas trees and yard lights begging for a trip to the North Pole.

Mixed in with the color glistening in the night are the black spots where for a moment relaxation takes over, eyes resting, the headlights of the car showing the road as a road and not a moving  rainbow.  Then suddenly the darkness ahead is lit by two spotlights and the flashing starts over.

The surgery helped but I can’t drive with one eye closed, especially the one in the corrected lens, to avoid the lights. The second cataract is scheduled for removal in a month or so––then if as promised, lights will be singular the way they were designed to be. But I imagine some part of me will miss them, especially if I’m feeling psychedelic.

Published in: Uncategorized on December 18, 2013 at 1:32 am  Leave a Comment  

The Story of a Cancer


(This is a story of Cervical Cancer long before the vaccination was discovered. Treatment has become shorter and easier on the body, but the danger of death remains if early intervention is missed.)

There was cancer in my abdomen my ears buzzed and I didn’t hear the rest of the nurse’s comments. I had cancer, did that mean death? The appointments began over the next few weeks and treatments were discussed. But I had cancer and that was all I could think of. When was it going away?

I spent a week in the hospital having cesium implants the doctor brought into the room in a lead box, it was a lead room, my husband could only visit for seven minutes at a time. And there was pain like the worst menstrual cramps I’d had rippling up and down my stomach. I couldn’t roll over and only move my head a few inches. There would be four days of this, and we would do it again in two weeks.

After discharge from hospital there were daily trips to the radiation unit—five days a week for five weeks, I lay for minutes that seemed like hours under the sterile white machine. I pictured the rads as spears going in and stabbing my cancer into disappearing ugliness.

My body won. The cancer was killed and now I only had to remember its name every six months for three years,  then once a year for five years to see if it stayed dead.  I was lucky—that was twenty-five years ago. So the spears stabbing the cells and my visualizations all won me back my life. At the age of ill-health, there were other friends who died being grateful.

Published in: Uncategorized on December 9, 2013 at 3:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

That Unspeakable Destination of Life


As Bob Dylan sang, “the times, they are a-changing,” and as I begin my 76th year, there’s no where so changeable as in my getting around.

When I was a kid (six through 13), my grandma had a “trick knee,” and would hobble around the house groaning about her knee whenever anyone was there to hear her. But once the living room was empty and her “stories” came on, she would hop to it with very little limping and no complaining.

This got to be a standing joke at our house, that Gram couldn’t walk but could run to get the soap operas on. Well, I have nothing but sympathy for her now. I have a bad knee and I moan and shuffle around just like she did except I don’t watch the soap operas, so I don’t know if I could hie myself to the TV without a limp or groan if I did.

Just about the time when I think it’s all downhill, I get my eye operated on––a cataract. A simple laser procedure that took about 15 minutes and when I got my patch removed the next day, Voila, I could see without the glasses I’ve worn since I was eight years old. Something actually improved with growing older.

I saw Judy Dench on TV this morning and she said she doesn’t allow words like “Old,” or 80 or “Elderly” in her house. Good idea, maybe if I stopped speaking about myself as elderly, I’d drop a few years. By the way, that doesn’t work with pounds! You can NOT talk about it all you want and if the scale’s not moving up, it’s standing still.

Published in: Uncategorized on November 21, 2013 at 6:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Coveted Blue Plaid Dress

Mother had a blue plaid dress that was a size 12, and my dieting had me about two sizes above that until I hurt my back. The chiropractor couldn’t help me with weeks of exercises. Pain meds left me too groggy to take care of my toddler. So my doc tried tape (from my panties to my bra).

 It helped my back and gave me the gift of slimness so I could fit into the blue plaid pencil-skirted dress, so instead of leaving the adhesive on for three days as ordered by my doc, I kept it on my tender skin for a week so I could wear “the dress” at my dinner party. By that time, the tape had begun to itch, then hurt. 

 When I finally peeled it from my body, skin came off like fish scales. That was the only time I wore the plaid outfit, returning to my larger body and my own clothes.

Published in: Uncategorized on October 30, 2013 at 11:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

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