Osceola Sentinel, January 7, 1904

A Clarke County Boy Views the Iroquois Catastrophe

Chicago, Ill. Jan. 1, 1904

Dear folks at home - This is New Year's morning and the saddest New Year Chicago has ever seen. The Iroquois theatre burned Wednesday afternoon and nearly six hundred lives were lost. I hope never to see such a sight again in my lifetime. I went right over to the fire from work. It is only a short distance from the store, and I dodged through the lines of policemen and wagons and got right up to the door of the place. Great God! the sight! Men, women and children laying and standing, wedged in the fire trap, suffocated, mashed and burned to death. I saw them load over three hundred in wagons, just common trucks, drays and garbage wagons, from the big stores, and anything and everything they could get. They would just bring them out and throw them into the wagons lengthwise, crosswise or anyway. They loaded up over a dozen big drays while I was standing there and several times I had to step back or to one side. Some of them had the clothes torn entirely off them. I was standing near one woman who had her hands full of hair. All those who suffocated turned a copper color. Whole families were wiped out.

I believe the saddest sight I ever saw in my life was this. The doctors were working over a girl about seventeen or eighteen years old and her father was there, but not having been in the theatre was not injured. The doctors worked hard, but finally had to give her up. When the last doctor said "there is no hope" the father picked the girl up in his ams and walked and cried and kissed her and kept saying Oh! my God! what will mother say?

They picked up a little boy about eight or nine years old and he had the sweetest smile on his face you ever saw. They worked hard to save him but in vain. A big, burly, Irish poiceman came along and looked at the little fellow and broke down and cried like a child. There are hundreds of bodies in the trap yet. The police will not let the people go in as the walls are still standing and might fall in on them. A friend, Mr. Thomas, went down last evening and he said many had been covered with water from the fire engines and then froze. He saw them chop three out of the ice while he was there; just chop out a big piece of ice with the body in it.

Every morgue in the city is full and Marshall Field's big basement and Thompson's restaurant have both been used and hundreds are still in the theatre. Almost six hundred have been identified. Such a ghastly sight I shall never forget as long as I live. One man was almost frantic. He told me he had lost his wife, two daughters and his sister and could find no trace of them. Saturday is to be observed as a day of mourning. Mayor Harrison wants all the business houses closed. The theatre was owned by the same people who own the Illinois. It was just completed this summer and was much larger and finer than the Illinois. The fire started on the stage and as the fire proof curtain failed to work the blaze shot out into the audience. People jumped from the galleries and balconies and crushed and mashed....who loaded them into the wagons had burnt flesh and blood all over them. When I sneaked through the lines I had no idea what the sight would be or I wouldn't have gone. All for now.

Your loving son,

W. Alvin Coon

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Last revised Jan 6, 2012