Have one to sell? Sell on Amazon
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more
See this image

Chicago Death Trap: The Iroquois Theatre Fire of 1903 Hardcover – February 14, 2003


See all 3 formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
Amazon Price New from Used from
Hardcover
"Please retry"
$15.00 $3.99
Best%20Books%20of%202014
NO_CONTENT_IN_FEATURE

Hero Quick Promo
12 Days of Kindle Book Deals
Load your library with Amazon's editors' picks, $2.99 or less each today only. Learn more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press; 1st edition (February 14, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809324903
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809324903
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,416,105 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This chilling narrative provides a minute-by-minute chronicle of one of the most physically and psychologically devastating disasters of the twentieth century. On the afternoon of December 3, 1903, a capacity audience enjoyed a matinee performance of Mr. Bluebeard at the newly opened Iroquois Theatre in downtown Chicago. When a spark ignited a fire on the stage, everything that could go wrong did. Roof vents were sealed off, the fire curtain malfunctioned, and the exits were inexplicably locked. Although more than 600 people perished and subsequent investigations revealed that the building was opened without complying with the standard fire code, neither the theater owners nor the city's building inspectors were ever held accountable for the tremendous loss of life. Packed with eyewitness testimony, this gripping account takes on a sense of dreadful immediacy as theatergoers, players, rescue workers, and victims' family members recount the grisly horrors of that afternoon and its aftermath. This superior piece of historical investigative journalism will keep readers turning the pages until the bitter end. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Review

Chicago Death Trap vividly tells the story of a theater that wasn’t properly designed despite its owner’s public claim that it was “absolutely fireproof.” So many safety rules were willfully ignored that in retrospect it is not surprising that the Iroquois disaster remains the deadliest fire in the history of any American city. Brandt . . . deftly lays out the story of a tragedy waiting to happen in a city with a corrupt government and greedy businessmen. . . . In the one hundred years since the fire, the worldwide horror and anger over the Iroquois calamity has faded away. But Brandt’s carefully documented, readable account reminds us what all the shouting was about.”Chicago Sun-Times



“This chilling narrative provides a minute-by-minute chronicle of one of the most physically and psychologically devastating disasters of the twentieth century. . . . Packed with eyewitness testimony, this gripping account takes on a sense of dreadful immediacy as theatergoers, players, rescue workers, and victims' family members recount the grisly horrors of that afternoon and its aftermath. This superior piece of historical investigative journalism will keep readers turning the pages until the bitter end.”Booklist



“Journalist [Nat] Brandt has written a riveting narrative of a tragedy that affected not only Chicago but the entire world. Public libraries will want to consider this readable book for their disaster collections while academic libraries that collect Chicago materials will find it essential.”—Library Journal  

 

“Nat Brandt has unearthed a plethora of interesting, off-beat, and unusual tales and facts that balance a methodical minute-by-minute account of the most horrific building fire disaster in Chicago history. . . . The depth of research Brandt brings to the topic is the best compilation of historical material dealing with the fire and its subsequent hearings that I have ever read.”—Richard Lindberg, author of Return to the Scene of the Crime: A Guide to Infamous Places in Chicago

 

“[F]ew who pass through [the Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theater's] doors realize that the building sits on the site of one of the most horrific tragedies in American history: the Iroquois Theatre fire that claimed the lives of six hundred and two people, over two-thirds of them women and children, on the afternoon of December 30, 1903. As Nat Brandt’s fascinating narrative reveals, this is a multilayered story that illuminates many aspects of life in the city and on the stage.”—Perry R. Duis and Cathlyn Schallhorn, from the Introduction


More About the Author

Discover books, learn about writers, read author blogs, and more.

Customer Reviews

The author is direct and writes in a sparse, conservative tone that works well.
Jon Hunt
Even though this story is of a 1903 event, I find myself, in 2006, looking around more carefully at fire exits after having read The Chicago Death Trap.
Non Fiction Lover
Both well researched and well written, it tells the story of the deadliest fire in U.S. history.
Brian D. Rubendall

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Brian D. Rubendall HALL OF FAME on April 24, 2003
Format: Hardcover
There has been a glut of books in recent years detailing historical diasters. Some have been very good, while others have been exploitative attempts to cash in on this particular publishing trend. Fortunately, author Nat Brandt's "Chicago Death Trap" falls squarely into the former catagory. Both well researched and well written, it tells the story of the deadliest fire in U.S. history. The disaster occurred in a brand new, supposedly "fireproof," theather, echoing the way a certain "unsinkable" ocean liner would go down a decade later.
Brandt appropriately tells the story in a straightforward manner. He describes the design and construction of the theather, introduces the major players in the tragedy and then recounts the disaster in an appropriately somber tone. Particularly gruesome is the account of the many who died after being forced to jump from the upper level of the theater, their bodies horribly filling an adjascent alleyway as helpless rescuers looked on.
Brandt also describes the aftermath of the fire, which saw an increase safety laws and an attempt to hold some of the theater officials responsible. Typically for the age, they ultimately managed to avoid formal punishment for the negligence that led to the disaster. The book is a fairly quick read at less than 150 pages of text, and there are a number of illustrations and pictures included to help the reader.
Overall, a decent historical account of an unfortunately preventable tragedy.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jon Hunt on May 24, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Chicago is certainly well known for the fire of 1871 but how many people have ever heard of the fire which swept through the Iroquois Theatre thirty-two years later, leaving six hundred people dead in its wake? I admit that I never had heard about it so with Nat Brandt's excellent new book, "Chicago Death Trap", the lives of those lost and the hundreds of families that the tragedy touched can now be told.
The author is direct and writes in a sparse, conservative tone that works well. Within the covers of this small book, Brandt, after some good preparation about the Iroquois Theatre itself and the men behind it, spells out the details of the fire....how it started, how it spread, how it affected the cast and stagehands, (the performers were giving a presentation of the comedy, "Mr. Bluebeard", starring Eddie Foy, Sr.) and finally how people in a sudden and severe panic tried to saved themselves. This is not an easy book to read but I give the author credit....it is also not an easy book to put down. Brandt gives human faces to those who escaped and those who did not. He tells of incredible rescues and how the city responded moments after the fire started and days and weeks after the finger of blame began to point in all directions. He describes makeshift morgues and those who came to identify loved ones...if they could at all. He recounts the ramifications faced by officials and the theatre owners after the tragedy. The horrors are so individualized...down to the items of clothing and personal items worn by those in the theatre that afternoon.
It is perhaps toward the very end of this book that Nat Brandt makes his most poignant point... that other than a cemetery monument and a City Hall bas-relief nothing else exists in commemoration of the Iroquois fire. The memory of the fire seems to have passed as quickly as the fire itself. Thanks to this book, we have a chance to learn about this horrible day in Chicago's history.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Paul Tognetti TOP 500 REVIEWER on October 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Since I work only about five minutes away from the site of the Station nightclub fire in West Warwick, R.I. where 100 people lost their lives in February 2003, I felt compelled to read "Chicago Death Trap: The Iroquois Theatre Fire of 1903". Relying heavily on newspaper accounts of the disaster, Nat Brandt does a masterful job of recreating the awful events of that frigid December afternoon in 1903 when 602 people, mostly women and children, lost their lives in the Iroquois Theatre fire in downtown Chicago. This was a brand new venue that had been opened for a bit more than a month. The parallels between this fire and what happened recently here in Rhode Island appear to be numerous. Brandt discusses all of the shortcomings at the theatre that resulted in such a heavy death toll. For example, many of the emergency exits were camouflaged in an attempt to improve the appearance of the theater. In addition, most of these exits were locked during the performance and there were no "EXIT" signs posted anywhere. Skylights were installed that would have allowed the fumes and flames to escape above the stage but because the opening of the theater was rushed to take advantage of the holiday season, the skylights were stuck shut. Other deficiencies, too numerous too mention here, also contributed to making this theater a death trap. Brandt also discusses the potential culpabilty of the owners of the building, the architect, the construction company, municipal inspectors and of course, the politicians. Finally, we learn about the ultimate result of years of litigation by family members of the victims. Hint: It is not a happy ending. My conclusion from reading this book is a simple one: "Laxity spells disaster." We never seem to learn, do we? This a well written book that deserves your time and attention.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By RogerV on February 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Remember the victims of this tragedy the next time you're in a public building and see an outward-opening exit door marked by a lighted sign. It took a tragedy of this scope to make these fire codes require these simple but incredibly important safety measures. I have a copy of the 1924 National Electrical Code, and several of its provisions can be directly attributed to the Iroquois fire.

This book is largely a more-coherent retelling of the information that was published shortly after the tragedy in a now extremely-rare book titled Chicago's Awful Theatre Horror. A great deal of inaccurate/incomplete information about this incident has been published; for example one book I own states that people found fire escapes to be uncompleted once they finally made it through the exit doors. A photograph of the alley behind the theater shows all fire escapes complete all the way to the ground. Fire from open doors farther down is actually what made some fire escapes unusable.

The infuriating thing about this story is that those responsible for the tragedy went completely unpunished. The theater's architect in particular was especially unrepentant.

Contrasting with their reprehensible actions were those of bystanders, police officers, firemen, newspaper reporters, neighbors, doctors, nurses, and medical students who all responded the moment they heard of the disaster. Many of them must have suffered longterm psychological effects of their experiences, but such conditions weren't even recognized, let alone treated in the early 1900's.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again

Most Recent Customer Reviews


What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?