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The life and times of Maude Scales Darby

Sometimes you meet the most interesting people completely by accident. I met Maude Scales Darby in the April 1, 1914, edition of the Toronto World. Of course, I was looking for something entirely different when I stumbled upon her obituary.

Obituary for Maude Scales Darby from the Toronto World on 1 April 1914.

Obituary for Maude Scales Darby from the Toronto World on 1 April 1914.

Maude died on March 31, 1914, at age 43, of Bright’s Disease or chronic nephritis.[1] She was buried a few days later in St. James Cemetery in Toronto.[2]

Maude had lived with her husband William Darby at 60 Briar Hill Avenue. William was circulation manager for the Mail and Empire newspaper. The couple were married in December 1905, both in their 30s. They had no children.

Maude’s obituary (reproduced here) is rich in family details—a genealogist’s dream.

It mentions Maude’s grandfather Joab Scales “the well-known tobacconist”. Joab had relocated to Toronto from Kentucky after the Civil War.[3] Joab appears to have been quite the entrepreneur, building an addition to his factory on Palace Street in 1868,[4] patenting a “tobacco machine” in 1872,[5] and sending samples of his wares as part of a display of Ontario products at the Sydney International Exhibition in Australia in 1876.[6]

Ad for Joab Scales' business from "Ontario as it is". See note 6, below.

Ad for Joab Scales’ business from “Ontario as it is”. See note 6, below.

 

Joab Scales also had the questionable (but perhaps lucrative) distinction of vouching for “Northrup & Lyman’s Vegetable Discovery” in the company’s newspaper ads.[7]

When Joab died in 1895, it made the papers in Chicago and New York, likely because of his friendship with Jefferson Davis.

Maude had a beautiful cousin, another granddaughter of Joab—Caroline Scales. As a teenager, in about 1891, Caroline moved from Toronto to New York and took the stage name Miskel. She added the name Hoyt when she married playwright and politician Charles Hale Hoyt in 1894. Apparently a very talented actress, as well as a great beauty, Caroline Miskel Hoyt is known as the first “cover girl” appearing in the cover of Munsey’s Magazine in 1891.

It was a remarkable, but short career. Caroline died in New York in 1898 at age 25, probably as a result of complications during childbirth.[8]

Portrait of Maude’s cousin Caroline Miskel-Hoyt on a cut plug tobacco insert card (Knowledge Bank at Ohio State University)

Portrait of Maude’s cousin Caroline Miskel-Hoyt on a cut plug tobacco insert card (Knowledge Bank at Ohio State University)

But the most intriguing episode in Maude’s life was the day she survived the “Iroquois Theatre fire” in Chicago, on December 30, 1903.[9]

The Iroquois was a spectacular new theatre, in a bustling Chicago—the fastest growing city in the West. An imposing sixty-foot high entrance with twinned columns and a massive Greek pediment drew in patrons to a lobby with arched colonnades and graceful staircases. Claims that it was “absolutely fireproof” might have been closer to the truth if the owners hadn’t pushed to have the theatre open before the busy Christmas season—and if the city government and construction industry had not been corrupt.

But as it was, the theatre opened on November 23, 1903, equipped with fire extinguishers meant for household use, an untested fire curtain, an emergency venting system that was still wired shut for installation, balcony exits that were hidden by curtains and secured with difficult-to-open latches, and exterior doors that were locked. Even the metal fire escapes from the balconies were jammed or incomplete.

On the fateful afternoon, a standing-room-only crowd of 2,000—largely women and children on their school holidays—had gathered to see “Mr. Bluebeard” a musical comedy starring Eddie Foy.

Near the beginning of the second act, an arc light sparked and ignited a nearby muslin drapery.

The scene outside the Iroquois Theatre just after the fire (from Chicago's Awful Theater Horror, see note 9)

The scene outside the Iroquois Theatre just after the fire (from Chicago’s Awful Theater Horror, see note 9)

A stagehand attempted to put it out with an ineffective fire extinguisher. The asbestos fire curtain, which should have limited the fire to the actual stage, got caught on rigging and could not be lowered. When stagehands opened large exterior door backstage, thick toxic fumes from the very flammable painted backdrops and draperies swept into the audience, rather than exhausting as they should through the emergency vents.

There were 602 people who perished that day—from asphyxiation, fire, and injuries acquired while attempting to escape the inferno. The location of Maude’s seat on the main floor was probably an important factor in her escape from the theatre and survival. Many of the victims were those trapped in the balconies.

Toronto papers carried extensive news of the Iroquois Theatre fire on December 31, and for weeks following as the inquest was held and additional victims were identified. Many were from Ontario or had family connections here.

Many survivors were also mentioned and sometimes quoted, but I haven’t found any mention of Maude Scales. As a nurse (as her obituary suggests) I wonder if she stepped in to treat the wounded and was never interviewed.


[1] Ontario death registration 2337 (1914), accessed on Ancestry.com 3 Aug 2013. This record and others show her full given name to be Ethel Maude.

[2] Section A-Parliament Street, First Grave South of Lot 16-D.

[3] David Gardner, “SCALES, CAROLINE, Caroline Miskel Caroline Miskel-Hoyt,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed August 2, 2013.

[4] “Buildings in 1868” in The Daily Telegraph, 22 Aug 1868, page 1.
[5] The Commissioner of Patents Journal for 1872, London, page 755.
[6] Sessional Papers, Vol IX, part III, Second Session of the third Parliament of the Province of Ontario, Session 1877, Paper number 33, page 238The province of Ontario as it is, containing manufacturing, commercial, statistical and other valuable information, published by the Ontario exhibitors at the Exhibition at Sydney, New South Wales. Toronto: Ontario Legislature, 1877, pages 7 and 26. http://archive.org/details/provinceofontar00onta

[7] For example, “Nothing Like It” in the Sarnia Observer, 20 Mar 1891, page 7.

[8] David Gardner, “SCALES, CAROLINE, Caroline Miskel Caroline Miskel-Hoyt,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed August 2, 2013.

[9] There are many accounts of the fire online. One of the best is a well-documented article by Jeremy Oliver at http://iroquois-theater-fire.blogspot.ca/.
For a contemporary account, see: Chicago’s Awful Theater Horror by the Survivors and Rescuers. Chicago: Memorial Publishing Co., 1904.
There is an ambitious Facebook project at: https://www.facebook.com/IroquoisTheater

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