Just over a month old, the Iroquois Theatre in Chicago cost over 600 lives. It was on December 30, 1903, that the theatre was enveloped in flames during a musical comedy called Mr. Blue Beard. The crowd of 1900 people consisted of mostly women and children.
The fire started when a malfunctioning arc light ignited the drapes. The asbestos safety curtain was jammed and flames quickly spread through the theatre as panic-stricken people fought to escape. Many were trampled to death, while others died as they jumped from the balcony or the high fire escapes. The on-duty fireman was equipped only with two tubes of patent powder. Most exits were closed and the doors that weren't locked, opened inwards.
By the time firefighters arrived, the auditorium was silent.
It was found later that the theatre - in a city with a bad reputation for fires - had violated many safety regulations. The Iroquois Theatre fire prompted new safety standards in the whole US. Under the new laws, exits had to be clearly marked, be openable from the inside at all times, and open outwards.
Montrose Cemetery in Chicago has a monument remembering the victims, saying:
TO THE MEMORY OF
600 PEOPLE WHO PERISHED
IN THE IROQUOIS THEATRE
DEC 30 1903. ERECTED BY THE