Colonial Theatre

24 W. Randolph Street,
Chicago, IL 60601

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Showing 26 - 49 of 49 comments

DavidZornig on November 21, 2008 at 11:10 am

Ah, thanks. I guess I got confused because I thought the Iroquois would be listed as such, because that’s what it was built as. I haven’t mastered the criteria yet on why some theatre’s get listed by their interim names.
I understand listing them by current names, but thought for recollection sake that they’d be listed for sure as their original name.
I guess that’s why there IS a “Theater Search Tool”. Thanks again.

DavidZornig on November 21, 2008 at 10:51 am

Thanks Lost Memory for steering me in the right direction.
My grandmother told my mother that as late as the 1920’s, a woman who survived the Iroquois fire used to walk the downtown streets wearing “Widow’s Weeds”. Some type of layered black veils to hide the burns to her face.

Also apologies to whatever CT page I wrongly associated the Garrick to be the theatre that burned.

dplomin1954 on February 12, 2008 at 9:48 pm

I have been a rabid historian on the Iroquois for many years, and have a copy of the “Memorial Edition” from 1904, and probably have memorized all of it. I was allways SHOCKED that not a single person was fined/prisoned for this tragedy, but also being corupt Chicago in 1903 could explain a LOT. Even how damaging the testimony was from so many??? I surprised that the theater’s manager, the building inspectors, etc….all didn’t have nightmares afterwards and commiting suicide for causing so many young lives to perish!
I wonder if anyone has any remnants of the theater in their private collections? I know it sounds morbid, but people Do take things from disaster sites. Like the John Dillinger alley by the Biograph Theater? News stories wrote than women were dipping their handkerchiefs in the blood soaked alley scene. What kind of mementos were salvaged after the Iroquois Theater Fire, and what was salvaged when they tore the building down?
I bet there’s a curse for whoever has THOSE souveniers!

Grmajan3 on July 21, 2007 at 5:51 pm

In working on my family history, I came across a picture of four of my ancestors. They were the wife and children of a cousin of my Great Grandfather. They perished in the fire that day. In doing additional research on the Internet, I found mention of a book titled “Chicago Death Trap.” I purchased and have read the book and cannot fathom what it must have been like for those theatregoers and the young woman who was suspended on wires over the stage waiting to perform her aerial ballet.

dbakin on February 21, 2007 at 2:42 pm

After reading so many accounts of this tragic fire we are happy to say that our story did not end in that way.
There has always been a family story about how our grandfather was a musician at the Iroquois and was able to escape down to the river.
We have a chair that was from the theatre and we would like to be able to document any of this. Would appreciate hearing from others.
db leverich

Broan on November 1, 2006 at 12:08 pm

Here is a postcard view.

Arturo on June 5, 2006 at 9:39 am

To Jan Foy,
my name is Arturo and I met you and your husband at the World Boxing Hall of Fame a couple of years ago. Lou Filippo had graciously invited my friends and I to sit with you all. You were all so nice to us and I was very very honored to meet your husband and he treated me with such “class” and didn’t know me from a hill of beans. I will never forget the generosity that you all showed us.
I would love to interview your husband for my Boxing website. I am narrating for the documentary that has been filmed on my mentor Chuck Bodak and would love your husbands input. I also have a million questions about the Foy legacy. I actually have a pic of myself and your husband on my website
Please contact me at
Arturo Gastelum

SDRoseman on May 2, 2006 at 1:57 pm

Until today, I was unaware of the tragic Iroquois Theater fire. I’m working on typing my Great Great Great Grandmother Louisa Hall-Cluts’s diary and came across this entry from 1903:

“On December 30th there was a terrible disaster of fire at the Iroquois theater, Chicago. Cousin William Hoyt’s daughter, Mrs. Ernelie Fox with her three children all perished in the disaster. Mr Fox has since died. So that family are all gone. The funeral of the four fine victims were held at the Graceland Chapel. Cousin William and wife came from their winter home in Green Cove Springs, Florida to attend the funeral of their only daughter. Such a dreadful blow! Nearly 600 people were lost in that fire. Cousin Lottie, Aunt Lydia and Robert Bennett wrote me about it. I could hardly sleep nights thinking about it.

There are so many terrible sorrows in life that come to many of us that almost crush."

janfoy on April 6, 2006 at 12:10 pm

My name is Jan Foy. My husband is Eddie Foy III. His grandfather, Eddie Foy, wrote a book in 1928 called “Clowning Through Life” in which he recalls the Iroquois fire. It was because of this fire that we now have exit signs on all theater doors and also, that the doors open out instead of inward. If the doors in the Iroquois Theater had opened out, more people would have survived. Instead, bodies of trampled women and children stacked up at the doors and they could not be opened. Also in the book I mentioned, he recalls being lifted up as a child and viewing the body of Abraham Lincoln in his casket. He recalls with great clarity being separated from his family for days during the great Chicago fire. It’s a facinating book.

kencmcintyre on February 28, 2006 at 3:41 pm

Here is another postcard from 1911:

Regarding the above discussion on human foolishness, you only have to look at the 2003 nightclub fire in Rhode Island to realize that human nature doesn’t change much in a century.

Broan on December 27, 2004 at 1:53 am

In 1904-1905 the Iroquois was known as Hyde and Behman’s Music Hall

spockva on October 3, 2004 at 3:32 pm

Yes, that is what I remember of my reading of the story. I was very interested in this as my grandparents had the book, and also my grandfather was a founder and 50 year veteran of Local #1 of the IATSE (International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees) in New York. My father is also a member of the IA, and I took the test for the union but never got called.

Well, thank you for confirming my memory, nice to know it still works!

Ziggy on October 3, 2004 at 11:42 am

Hi Spockva, I found a copy of this book about a year ago in a second hand book store. You’re right about some people escaping via planks across the alley. Apparently the people next door had laid planks from their windows to the fire escapes to help get folks out of the burning theatre. The Colonial (AKA Iroquois) was built without sufficient exits, and some of the exits were locked shut at the time of the fire. More people died being crushed to death that being burned.

spockva on October 1, 2004 at 7:22 pm

I used to own a copy of the book about this fire in hardcover. It was given to me by my grandparents. Where it is now, only God knows. I do remember reading a passage in the book that some of the persons in the theater were saved by placing a plank or planks across an alley to another building and they were able to crawl across. Has anyone else read this?

Ziggy on July 22, 2004 at 11:15 am

Susan, if you read this, you should write some of your grandmother’s recollections here for us to read. They would be very interesting, if you’re willing to share them.

Ziggy on July 22, 2004 at 11:14 am

All the above comments are pertinent, and interesting. I have a book called “The Great Chicago Theatre Disaster” printed shortly after the fire at the Iroquois. It states that all the performers in the show, (a musical entitled “Mr. Bluebeard Jr.) escaped with the exception of one, who was waiting in the wings to perform an "aerial ballet” on wires suspended out over the stage.

Susangrace on June 26, 2004 at 10:12 am

My paternal grandmother was a performer on THAT stage on THAT night. As for there being no such thing as an immortal soul….I take exception to that…..
She was one of the survivors…..the experience of that night affected her deeply, she really never recovered from it. Our family truly believes there was more happening there than meets the eye. We must all open our minds. Open our hearts. Mans greed and foolishness must be overcome. When will we ever learn?

JimRankin on December 31, 2003 at 11:40 am

The Iroquois Theatre fire was a landmark event that caused cities across the nation to institute or increase their theatre safety laws. It was this event with so many glaring failures in design and procedure that caused the designing and making of such safety devices as the AUTOMATIC fire curtain, the Crash Bar opener on exit doors that were thereafter REQUIRED to open outward onto a free space, and the deployment of the Stage Vent (or Smoke Vent) in the tops of stages to open automatically via the then new fusible links, as were the fire curtains. There have been several books written about that theatre’s fire, and the journal of the Theatre Historical Society of America also did a long article about it and other theatre disasters. It was the first issue I received when I joined them in 1976, so it was a rather rude awakening to the dangers in theatres. I was looking for photos of opulent movie palaces, but instead got a crash course in how dangerous theatres can be! They reprinted on their cover the painting of actor Eddie Foy in costume trying to calm the panicking audience as flames swept under the proscenium arch and bean to suffocate the remaining audience. The dramatic painting was reproduced from an “Esquire” magazine of 1946. The society’s “Marquee” magazine of 3rd Qtr. 1976 devoted nine pages to such disasters and included five photos of the Iroquois. The Society ( has the books on the subject, but that issue of “Marquee” is out of print. It is nice that the city chose to memorialize the tragic event and the progress we have made in preventing theatre fires, which are rare these days. There are rumors of a portion of the rebuilt Iroquois (the Colonial)’s stage wall being saved and added to the ORIENTAL now on the site, but no evidence to support that exists, and movie palaces customarily removed all of a preceding structure to allow sinking the heavy foundation needed for the much larger and heavier structures. Therefore, only the gullible will believe the stories of supposed ‘crying’ being heard near the stage wall at night by the supposed ‘ghosts’ of the perished. There are no such things as ‘ghosts’ since there is no such thing as an immortal soul to survive death, hence the deception comes from other sources. The IROQUOIS was a great theatre, but is now remembered as a monument to mans' greed and foolishness. Let us hope that the lesson is forever learne