Two Theatre Disasters

Seventy-three men, women, and children lost their lives in a stampede on December 24th, 1913 at the Italian Hall in Calumet, Michigan after somebody falsely shouted “Fire!” at a crowded Christmas Party. They were attending a party for miners in the midst of a strike. The estimated number of attendees was five hundred people. When somebody yelled “Fire!” to distrupt the party, they started a panic. Even though there was a fire escape, it was not well marked and as a result nobody used it. The whole crowd ran to the only staircase to get down to the first floor and then the exit. Fifty nine of the deceased were children. It was eventually discovered that there was no fire. It is thought that the anti-union company management sent somebody to disrupt the party.

It is considered a misuse of free speech to falsely shout “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. The Italian Hall disaster is only one of a few examples. Thus proving Men in Black’s point about people: One person could be smart and could handle the truth, but people in general would panic. I seem to remember that the most recent example of human stampedes happened during religious festivals in India. When there is disaster or people belive that there is a disaster happening, they panic. It is okay to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theatre if there actually is a fire. I sometimes wonder though if people would take that warning seriously these days. Would people ignore the figure running up the aisles screaming of the aproaching danger? Would they continue to watch the performance unaware of the heat rising around them? Would they know that it was too late when they saw the flames come upon them? Of course, the Michiganders would have been well aware of the disaster that had happened ten years before …

Six hundred and two people lost their lives as a result of the Iroquois Theatre Fire on December 30th, 1903 in Chicago, Illinois. Two thousand people were attending a performance when a light shorted out and caught a curtain on fire. A stagehand noticed and failed to put out the fire. When he attempted to lower the asbestos curtain, it was snagged on something and could not be freed. Scenery used in the various plays soon caught fire. An actor rushed onto the stage and asked the people not to panic, even as large chunks of burning scenery was falling all around him. He later recalled that he had never seen so many women and children at a performance ever before. The fire had now spread to the Gallery. Patrons were now attemping to find exits from all three levels of the theatre. Some found the exits, but could not open the locked doors. Some knew how to open the locks, and some forced the doors open anyway, but most of the doors could not be opened. Other patrons were trapped in dead-ends or found trying to open doors that were actually well-disguised windows. In the panic people were crushed and trampled. When it was time for the actors and stagehands to flee, they exited through the coal hatch and any window they could open. One group of people were trapped  by inward opening doors. A passing railroad agent used the tools he carried with him to undo the hinges allowing for them all to escape the fire safely. With the opening of one set of doors, the cold air rushed into the theatre and caused a massive fireball to incinerate everything still in the main theatre room, the ochestra pit, and any patrons still in the three viewing levels. Those that managed to survive the conflagration could not get past the iron gates at the base of the stairways. Most of the people died here, having been crushed, trampled, or asphyxiated. Those that did manage to find the fire escapes found themselves in areas of the building that had not been finished during construction. They had no choice but to jump. Those that jummped first did not survive, but everybody jumping down thereafter had something to break their fall. The last avenue of escape was on a makeshift bridge between the theatre and the nearby university roof.

In both cases, people left their homes expecting a good time for a few hours. They might have had plans for the rest of the evening, the rest of the week, or even years. They had no way of knowing that not everybody would make it home that evening. Sadly the most vulernable in these two disasters were the children. We must remember the terrible lesson that these people learned the hard way, there is absolutely no guarantee that you’ll be around to carry out your plans. So make the most of your life and be certain you’re comfortable with your beliefs about your afterlife.


...Anyway, that's just how I feel about it ... What do you think?

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