Learning Lab Denmark - INCUBEus

Iroquous Theatre

The theatre had seats for 1724 visitors, but that day 1900 people were gathered in the theatre to watch a popular comedy. The Iroquois Theatre was a beautiful theatre and had been advertised as “absolutely fireproof”. The guarantee was based on the theatre’s asbestos curtain, which was to be lowered in case of fire, separating the audience from the rather frequent fires on stage.

As the chorus began to sing ”In the pale Moonlight”, a piece of painted canvas scenery caught fire from a spotlight. The audience saw a strange ray of light from above the stage and then a piece of burning canvas scenery fell upon the singers. The singers fled while the star of the comedy shouted to the technicians to lower the asbestos curtain. To everyone’s horror, the asbestos curtain snagged on a light fixture and jammed in its wooden tracks. A fireman tried to put out the fire, but his equipment was completely inadequate to put it out.

What happened next made Iroquois the worst fire in American history. The frightened singers fled from the theatre, and as they ran out the back doors, they left them wide open. The sudden draft of ice-cold wind rushed over the stage, billowing the flames into the massively packed audience. It was like a huge fireball, igniting everything on its way.

Those who could rushed to the emergency exits, of which some were closed. Some were trampled to death, others died while jumping from the windows. Approximately 600 people died in the fire, of these mostly women and children.

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