ELEVEN EXITS WERE LOCKED.
No Person Had Been Named to Operate the Ventilators. Employes [sic] Never
Instructed What to Do In Case of Fire. 31 Per Cent of People In Theater Killed.
Chicago, Jan. 7.—By their own evidence before Monroe Fulkerson, who is conducting the fire department investigation into the Iroquois theater horror, the proprietors of the theater showed that a worse condition of affairs existed than had heretofore been thought possible.
Will J. Davis, Harry J. Powers and Thomas J. Noonan, active managers of the Iroquois, pleaded ignorance of any precautions taken to prevent loss of life by fire at their theatre.
They admitted failure to instruct employes in fighting fire and failure even to provide suitable appliances for use against flames. Their statements were corroborated by the testimony of 20 employes of the theater, none of whom had ever been told his duty in case of fire.
Exits Bolted and Locked.
Noonan admitted that 11 of the theater exits were locked and bolted. Two of these exits leading to the front of the theater on the ground floor were locked, three additional exits on the north side of the ground floor were bolted, three exits on the north side of the theater from the first balcony were bolted and three exits on the north side of the second balcony were bolted.
The greatest loss of life from the fire was in the first and second balconies, where hundreds of people were suffocated through inability to get out or were trampled to death while trying to do so. Had the exits in each balcony been available, according to Inspector Fulkerson, the loss of life must have been greatly diminished.
Noonan declared that no person had been named by the theater management to superintend the operation of the ventilators in case of fire and that in consequence the flames had been permitted to sweep the place instead of seeking a natural outlet through the stage roof.
It was said by Noonan that George M. Dusenberry, the head usher; Archibald Bernard, who operated the lights; the chief electrician, and the theater engineer knew how to operate the ventilators.
It was proved by the evidence of these men, however, that two of them never went upon the stage and that the other had never been told to assume charge of the ventilators in case of fire. Dusenberry declared that his duty as usher kept him In the front of the house. The engineer was always below the stage attending to his engine, and Bernard testified that he never bad been told to assume charge of them. He said his post of duty was on the side of the stage opposite the ventilator machinery.
31 Per Cent Lost Their Lives.
From figures obtained by Noonan it became evident that almost one in three of the people who attended the matinee lost their lives, the percentage being a trifle over 31 per cent. The theater seated 1,606 people and in addition to these 286 had been admitted after all seats were sold, making a total of 1,842 people in the theater, of whom 591 were killed. Of these 588 were killed in the balconies.
Will J. Davis testified that he had given no orders to place a fire alarm box in the theatre; that he had given no direction to place a pump upon the stage beyond the fact that any apparatus the firemen wanted should be provided. He declared that he could not say as to whether the building had been finally accepted from the Fuller Construction company or not. He admitted that he never gave instructions to anybody as to what should be done in case of fire. He had no knowledge as to whether the theater had received a final certificate of inspection from the building department before opening.
Mr. Powers gave similar evidence.
Fifteen other witnesses said there was never a fire drill in the theater and none of the stage hands was ever informed as to the location or use of fire appliances or the operation of the ventilators.
Two ushers declared that they ran on the first alarm of fire and did not return to the theater until the next day. The stage hands said they all sought safety on hearing that the place was on fire.
Four bodies still remain unidentified at the city morgue.
Theater Protection Required.
Owego, Jan. 6.—The village trustees have refused to continue the license of the Wilson Opera House until fire escapes, a fire proof curtain and other protection is provided.
Cortland Standard, Thursday, January 7, 1904.