Today is the Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas (Alleluia!) We have no Saints to honor, but we will note that today is the anniversary of the fatal Iroquois Theatre Fire in Chicago, Illinois in 1903, which resulted in major fire safety regulation. Today is also the Sixth Day of Christmas, with more birds (geese, to be specific). Today is also the birthday of my friend Deborah in Colorado (1958) and of Richard’s nephew Greg, the second son of his brother Slug here in our town (1970).
The Iroquois Theatre had just opened in November 1903 in Chicago, Illinois; it had had a capacity of 1,602 with three audience levels. The main floor, known as the orchestra or parquet, had approximately 700 seats on the same level as the foyer and Grand Stair Hall. The second level, the dress circle or [first] balcony, had more than 400 seats. The third level, the gallery, had about 500 seats. There were four boxes on the first level and two above. Everyone used the same entrance, and the broad stairs leading off the foyer to the balcony level were also used to reach the stairs to the gallery level. Theater designers claimed this allowed patrons to “see and be seen” regardless of the price of their seats. But the common stairway ignored Chicago fire ordinances that required separate stairways and exits for each balcony. The Wednesday matinee was packed with nearly 2,200 people, most of them women and children; the playbills for the production of “Mr. Blue Beard” advertised that the theatre was “ABSOLUTELY FIREPROOF”. At about 3:15 that afternoon, shortly after the beginning of the second act, sparks from an arc light ignited a muslin curtain, probably as a result of an electrical short circuit. The fire quickly spread to the fly gallery high above the stage. There, several thousand square feet of highly flammable painted canvas scenery flats were hung. Skylights on the roof of the stage, which were intended to open automatically during a fire and allow smoke and heat to escape, were fastened closed. The stage manager was unable to lower the asbestos fire curtain (later testing showed it would have been totally inadequate to stem the fire), and pandemonium broke out in the audience; actor Eddie Foy received credit for attempting to calm the crowd from the stage. The main auditorium lights were not switched on, and the fire then burnt out the electrical board. There were no exit signs, and the fire doors (hidden behind drapery) had unfamiliar locks, and opened inward; three doors were opened, but the others could not be opened, and many patrons died attempting to open “doors with windows” that were actually only painted doors and windows. The actors and stagehands managed to open the back stage door and the freight loading doors to escape; the icy wind rushing in through these doors served to increase the fire. Those patrons in the orchestra section exited into the foyer and out of the front door, but those in the dress circle and gallery who escaped the fireball could not reach the foyer because the iron grates that barred the stairways (designed to prevent patrons with tickets to cheaper sections from sneaking in) were still in place. The largest death toll was at the base of these stairways, where hundreds of people were trampled, crushed, or asphyxiated. Patrons who were able to escape via the emergency exits on the north side found themselves on unfinished fire escapes. Many jumped or fell from the icy narrow fire escapes to their deaths; the bodies of the first jumpers broke the falls of those who followed them. Students from the Northwestern University building north of the theater tried bridging the gap with a ladder and then with some boards between the rooftops, saving those few able to manage the makeshift cross-over. The Iroquois had no fire alarm box or telephone. The Chicago Fire Department’s Engine 13 was alerted to the fire by a stagehand who had been ordered to run from the burning theater to the nearest firehouse. It is estimated that 575 people were killed on the day of the fire; at least 30 more died of injuries over the following weeks, including the aerialist, Nelly Reed, who was trapped above the stage, fell, and died of burns and internal injuries three days later. In New York City on New Year’s Eve some theaters eliminated standing room. Building and fire codes were subsequently reformed; theaters were closed for retrofitting all around the country and in some cities in Europe. All theater exits had to be clearly marked and the doors configured so that, even if they could not be pulled open from the outside, they could be pushed open from the inside. The Iroquois fire prompted widespread implementation of the panic bar, first invented in the United Kingdom following the 1883 Victoria Hall disaster. Panic exit devices are now required by building codes for high-occupancy spaces, and were mass manufactured in the United States following the fire by the Von Duprin company (now part of Allegion). A second result of the fire was the requirement that a asbestos fire curtain (or sheet metal screen) be raised before each performance and lowered afterward to separate the audience from the stage. The third result was that all doors in public buildings must open in the direction of egress, but that practice did not become national until the Collinwood School Fire of 1908. Turning to the Sixth Day of Christmas, we have six geese a-laying, which implies that we have geese (but no ganders, not unless we want fertilized geese eggs). Today is also the birthday of my friend Deborah in Colorado (1958) and of Richard’s nephew Greg, the second son of his brother Slug here in our town (1970).
Last night our LSU Men’s Basketball team lost their game with Wake Forest by the score of 72 to 77; our Tigers will next start the SEC season with an away game with Vanderbilt on January 2nd. And our #20 ranked LSU Tigers beat the Texas Tech Red Riders in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl by the score of 56 to 27. Thus ends the football season for our LSU Tigers; they will start the season up on September 3rd, 2016 with a game with the Wisconsin Badgers (subject to change). I had gone to bed at half-time, and when Richard came to bed he said LSU had won; he also said it was 2:00 am.
Although my alarm did go off, I was not prepared to get up, and did not awaken until 11:00 am; Richard had gotten up earlier, and took a nap when I got up. I had a cryptic message from Liz Ellen as a comment on yesterday’s Daily Update that asked, “Did he use the wireless?” While I can usually figure out Liz Ellen’s messages (which sometimes read like spirit writing from the beyond), I could not make sense at all of this one, and I told her as much. I did my Bathroom Devotional Reading, brought in the LSU flag, started my laundry, finished the Weekly Computer Maintenance, started the Weekly Virus Scan, and read the morning paper. I then did my Internet Devotional Reading and said the Sixth Day of my Epiphany Novena. By this time Liz Ellen had gotten back to me; she had been asking if Richard had used the wireless barbeque fork that she had given him at Christmas when he barbequed yesterday.
Richard had awakened again by this time, and we headed out at 2:30 pm. We stopped at a local furniture store because Richard had seen a sale on mattress sets, and we ordered a new mattress and box springs (queen, firm, and can be flipped over) for our bed. We then went to the Hit-n-Run, and I purchased my Powerball and Louisiana Lotto lottery tickets for tonight’s drawing. He then went to Winn-Dixie and got some groceries.
We returned home at 3:15 pm, just as our mail was delivered, and just as I got my package from Amazon which contained my new Galaxy Note 4 batteries and a charger for the spare battery. I promptly put in the new battery and tossed the old one. Right at 4:00 pm the guys came from the furniture store with our new mattress and box springs (Richard had put the old mattress and box springs out on the back porch, and had taken the opportunity to vacuum under the bed). Our new mattress and box springs are now up on the bed frame, and are a good six inches higher than the old one was. I spent the rest of the afternoon (with a break to watch Jeopardy! at 4:30 pm) doing Advance Daily Update Drafts for this weblog and finishing my laundry. We also ate our dinner of leftover barbequed pork roast (Richard had thought about using the wireless barbeque fork last night, but then had forgotten to use it), baked beans, and canned sweet potatoes. And I will head for bed soon, as I am quite tired for some reason; also, the Internet on this computer has been slower than molasses.
Tomorrow is the Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas (Alleluia!), and the Optional Memorial of Saint Sylvester I, Pope. Tomorrow is also the Seventh Day of Christmas, featuring swans, and tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, the last day of the civil year. I will iron my casino pants, apron, and shirts, and head out to the store for my salad supplies. In the afternoon I will make my lunch salads for Friday and Sunday, and go to the 4:00 pm Mass for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. And before I go to bed I will post my 2016 Resolutions, and also adjust any of my usual websites that need to be adjusted for the new year. And our New Orleans Pelicans will play a home game with the LA Clippers tomorrow night to usher out the old year in style.
Our Parting Quote on this Tuesday evening comes to us from Luise Rainer, German-born Austrian and American film actress. Born in 1910 in Düsseldorf, German Empire, she was raised by her upper-class Jewish family in Hamburg and later in Vienna, Austria. Although generally shy at home, she was immensely athletic in school, becoming a champion runner and a fearless mountain-climber. Rainer began acting in Germany at age 16, being trained by Austria’s leading stage director, Max Reinhardt. Within a few years she had become a distinguished Berlin stage actress with Reinhardt’s Vienna theater ensemble. Critics “raved” about her acting quality. After years of acting on stage and in films in Austria and Germany, she was discovered by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer talent scouts, who signed her to a three-year contract in Hollywood in 1935. A number of filmmakers envisioned she might become another Greta Garbo, MGM’s leading female star at the time. Her first American film role was in Escapade in 1935. The following year she was given a supporting part in the musical biography The Great Ziegfeld, where, despite limited appearances, her emotion-filled acting quality so impressed audiences that she was awarded an Oscar as Best Actress. She was later dubbed “the Viennese teardrop”, for her dramatic telephone scene in the film. For her next role, producer Irving Thalberg was convinced, despite the studio’s disagreement, that she would also be able to play the part of a poor uncomely Chinese farm wife in The Good Earth (1937), based on Pearl Buck’s novel about hardship in China. The subdued character role was such a dramatic contrast to her previous vivacious character that she was again given an Academy Award for Best Actress, the first one given for two performances by the same actress in consecutive years. After a string of unimportant movie parts (in The Emperor’s Candlesticks and Big City in 1937, and in The Toy Wife, The Great Waltz, and Dramatic School in 1938), MGM and Rainer became disappointed with each other, leading her to end a brief three-year career in films, soon returning to Europe. Adding to her rapid decline was the poor career advice given her by then husband, playwright Clifford Odets, along with the unexpected death, at age 37, of her producer, Irving Thalberg, whom she greatly admired, after she completed filming on The Good Earth. She filed for divorce in 1938, and her divorce from Odets was finalized in 1940. While in Europe, Rainer studied medicine and explained she loved being accepted as “just another student”, rather than as a screen actress. She returned to the stage and made her first appearance at the Palace Theatre, Manchester on May 1, 1939 as Françoise in Jacques Deval’s play Behold the Bride, and her first London appearance at the Shaftesbury Theatre on May 23, 1939 in the same part. Returning to America, she played the leading part in George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan on March 10, 1940 at the Belasco Theatre in Washington, D.C. under the direction of German emigrant director Erwin Piscator. She made her first appearance on the New York stage at the Music Box Theatre in May 1942 as Miss Thing in J. M. Barrie’s A Kiss for Cinderella. She made one more film appearance in Hostages in 1943 and abandoned film making in 1944 after marrying publisher Robert Knittel. Rainer took her oath of allegiance to the United States in the 1940s, but she and Knittel would live in the UK and Switzerland, instead, for most of their marriage. She made sporadic television and stage appearances following her and her husband’s move to Britain, appearing in an episode of the World War II television series Combat! in 1965. She took a dual role in a 1983 episode of The Love Boat. For the latter she received a standing ovation from the crew. Knittel died in 1989. She appeared in The Gambler (1997) in a small role, marking her film comeback at the age of 86. She made appearances at the 1998 and 2003 Academy Awards ceremonies as part of special retrospective tributes to past Oscar winners. On January 12, 2010, Rainer celebrated her centenary in London. Actor Sir Ian McKellen was one of her guests. During that month, she was present at the British Film Institute tribute to her at the National Film Theatre, where she was interviewed by Richard Stirling before screenings of The Good Earth and The Great Waltz. She also appeared onstage at the National Theatre, where she was interviewed by Sir Christopher Frayling. In April 2010 she returned to Hollywood to present a TCM festival screening of The Good Earth, accompanied by an interview with host Robert Osborne (died 2014): “For my second and third pictures I won Academy Awards. Nothing worse could have happened to me.”