115 Years Ago Today…
A fire in the Iroquois Theater in Chicago, Illinois, kills more than 600 people on this day in 1903. It was the deadliest theater fire in U.S. history. Blocked fire exits and the lack of a fire-safety plan caused most of the deaths.
During the matinee performance of December 30, while a full house was watching Eddie Foy star in Mr. Bluebeard, 27 of the theater’s 30 exits were locked. In addition, stage manager Bill Carlton went out front to watch the show with the 2,000 patrons while the other stage hands left the theater and went out for a drink. It was a spotlight operator who first noticed that one of the calcium lights seemed to have sparked a fire backstage. The cluttered area was full of fire fuel–wooden stage props and oily rags.
As a result of this fire all commercial occupancies were required to have the “Panic Bars” so as to allow anyone the ability to press the bar and unlock the door for exiting.