Burning Down the House

Main Performance:

There’s a theater in Downtown Chicago called the James M. Nederlander Theater, back then known as the Iroquois Theater, which apparently burnt down once in 1903 with around 2000 people inside where at least 600 patrons ended up dead. The panic caused mass hysteria, the crowds of people tried to force doors that opened inwards, meaning that a wild crowd could not properly open them. Many other doors were locked by foreign locks, exits were not properly labeled, and the upper floor patrons as they were locked in as VIP 2nd floor rooms were locked from the outside as to keep the 2nd floor exclusive and not have anyone sneak in after the shows sold out. While many burned to death, others stuck on the 2nd floor threw their bodies out the windows, barely managing to cushion their falls from the bodies of those who fell before. The back alley served as a temporary morgue, accounts saying that bodies were stacked 6 feet high, and the area trapped the spirits of the dead to wander in and out of the back of the theater. Countless remarks about the inexplicable amount of noises, moving objects, and sightings of ghost inside and outside the theater and around the alley have been reported. The area is known as the Coach Place, Death Alley.


The informant, NC, is a friend from my highschool days who I bonded with over videogames and appreciation for animated shows who I still keep in daily contact with today. NC is particularly religious but loves to partake in the knock on wood superstition.


Because he was living separate from his family, NC did not necessarily have too many folklore or tradition to share and instead asked one of his friends if she had any interesting tidbits to share.

My Thoughts:

Reading up on the story some more revealed to me that there has not been a formal memorial marking the location of the incident, which might be the entire reason that these tortured souls have not been able to move on from their suffering in the first place. Much like how desecrated grave sites are the classic grounds on which angered spirits haunt those who disturbed their rest, this story feels as if these spirits haven’t been at peace at all. More than a ghost story, the entire thing reads like a historical account on how fire safety protocols were implemented because something horrific had to happen at least once for these things to be taken seriously. An infrastructure problem with the theater itself most likely led to many basic amenities and fire safety procedures we take for granted today. It seems strange that this particular location hasn’t been taken by the city’s government to be made into a tourist zone, one of the few examples of how things are left as they are and the story is allowed to speak for itself.