1903 Fire breaks out in Chicago theater A fire in the Iroquois Theater in Chicago, Illinois, kills more than 600 people on this day in 1903. It was the deadliest theater fire in U.S. history. Blocked fire exits and the lack of a fire-safety plan caused most of the deaths. The Iroquois Theater, designed by Benjamin Marshall in a Renaissance style, was highly luxurious and had been deemed fireproof upon its opening in 1903. In fact, George Williams, Chicago’s building commissioner, and fire inspector Ed Laughlin looked over the theater in November 1903 and declared that it was “fireproof beyond all doubt.” They also noted its 30 exits, 27 of which were double doors. However, at the same time, William Clendenin, the editor of Fireproof magazine, also inspected the Iroquois and wrote a scathing editorial about its fire dangers, pointing out that there was a great deal of wood trim, no fire alarm and no sprinkler system over the stage. During the matinee performance of December 30, while a full house was watching Eddie Foy star in Mr. Bluebeard, 27 of the theater’s 30 exits were locked. In addition, stage manager Bill Carlton went out front to watch the show with the 2,000 patrons while the other stage hands left the theater and went out for a drink. It was a spotlight operator who first noticed that one of the calcium lights seemed to have sparked a fire backstage. The cluttered area was full of fire fuel–wooden stage props and oily rags. When the actors became aware of the fire, they scattered backstage; Foy later returned and tried to calm the audience, telling them to stay seated. An asbestos curtain was to be lowered that would confine the fire but when it wouldn’t come fully down, a panic began. It later turned out to be made of paper so it wouldn’t have helped in any case. Soon, all the lights inside the theater went out and there were stampedes near the open exits. When the back door was opened, the shift of air caused a fireball to roar through the backstage area. The teenage ushers working the theater fled immediately, forgetting to open the locked emergency exit doors. The few doors that were able to be forced open were four feet above the sidewalk, which slowed down the exiting process. Most of the 591 people who died were seated in the balconies. There were no fire escapes or ladders to assist them and some took their chances and jumped. The bodies were piled six deep near the narrow balcony exits. In fact, some people were knocked down by the falling bodies and were eventually pulled out alive from under burned victims. In the aftermath of the disaster, Williams was later charged and convicted of misfeasance. Chicago’s mayor was also indicted, though the charges didn’t stick. The theater owner was convicted of manslaughter due to the poor safety provisions; the conviction was later appealed and reversed. In fact, the only person to serve any jail time in relation to this disaster was a nearby saloon owner who had robbed the dead bodies while his establishment served as a makeshift morgue following the fire. 1905 Former Idaho governor Steunenberg assassinated Targeted for his role in quelling a miners’ strike in 1899, former Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg is wounded by a powerful bomb that is triggered when he opens the gate to his home in Caldwell, Idaho. He died shortly afterwards in his own bed. A former newspaper editor, Steunenberg entered Idaho politics in 1890, when he was elected to the House of Representatives. In 1896, he won the Idaho Governor’s seat as the head of a coalition of Democrats, Populists, and Republicans who supported the use of silver to back currency. Generally perceived as a friend to labor and the “little man,” Steunenberg won a second term as governor in 1896. During this term, he was confronted with one of the most divisive and violent western battles between labor and management of the 19th century. Miners in the rich silver districts near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, had been struggling to unionize and gain better pay and working conditions since 1892. Radicalized by their initial defeats, an increasing numbers of miners began supporting the violence-prone Western Federation of Miners (WFM), which advocated aggressive tactics and worker control of industry. Alarmed by the growing influence of the WFM, Coeur d’Alene mine owners attempted to bust the union in 1899, and the WFM responded by blowing up one mining company’s huge and costly concentrators with dynamite. Disturbed by the miners’ violent tactics, the hitherto pro-labor Steunenberg heeded the demands of the powerful mine owners and turned against the WFM, requesting that the federal government send in troops. The soldiers placed the region under martial law and herded hundreds of miners into makeshift prisons, ignoring their constitutional rights to know the charges and evidence against them. Steunenberg’s actions restored order in the Idaho silver mines, but also earned him the lasting enmity of many radical WFM members. Six years later, the radicals took their revenge by sending a professional assassin named Harry Orchard to Caldwell. The professional hitman was responsible for planting the bomb that killed the former governor. Orchard was captured, tried, and sentenced to life in prison, and his guilt has never been seriously disputed. However, many were convinced that the plot to kill Steunenberg was supported not just by a radical minority within the WFM, but also by its top leadership. WFM secretary-treasurer William “Big Bill” Haywood was brought up on charges of criminal conspiracy but was found not guilty largely as a result of famous Chicago lawyer Clarence Darrow’s brilliant defense. Haywood went on to found the even more radical Industrial Workers of the World. ' 1978 OSU fires coach Woody Hayes for attacking an opposing player On December 30, 1978, Ohio State University (OSU) makes the decision to fire its 65-year-old football coach, Woody Hayes, one day after Hayes punched a player on the opposing team near the end of the Gator Bowl. Born in Clifton, Ohio, in 1913, Hayes played college football at Denison University before serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, rising to the rank of lieutenant commander. He returned to his alma mater as a coach upon his discharge in 1946. After three seasons with Denison and two with the Redskins of Miami University of Ohio, Hayes took the head coaching position at OSU in 1951. In his 28 seasons with the Buckeyes, Hayes compiled an overall record of 238-72-10, including 13 Big Ten titles, four national championships, and four appearances in the Rose Bowl. His 238 wins placed him ninth on the all-time list of top NCAA Division I coaching victories (as of 2007), and he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983. Despite his prodigious coaching ability, Hayes (who died in 1987) is also remembered for his volatile temper and violent outbursts, which sometimes threatened to overshadow his teams’ performance on the field. The most egregious example came on December 29, 1978, during the Buckeyes’ 15-17 loss to the Clemson Tigers in the Gator Bowl. With OSU down by two points in the closing seconds of the game, Clemson linebacker Charlie Bauman intercepted a pass and was knocked out of bounds on the Buckeyes’ sidelines. As Bauman was getting up, Hayes punched him in the throat, after which he was restrained by several OSU players. On December 30, an embarrassed OSU administration fired Hayes, who would never coach again.