The Rhoads Opera House,
located in Boyertown, Pennsylvania
, caught fire on January 13, 1908 during a church-sponsored stage play. The fire started when a kerosene
lamp was knocked over, lighting gasoline
from a stereoscopic
machine. The stage and auditorium were located on the 2nd floor and all auxiliary exits were either unmarked or locked. One fire escape was available but unable to be accessed through a locked window above a 3 foot sill. 171 people perished when the exit was crowded against to escape the fire. Entire families were wiped out.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, Philadelphians contributed relief funds of $18,000. Three morgues were set up and approximately fifteen thousand people attended funerals on a single day. One hundred and five new graves were dug in Boyertown's Fairview Cemetery.
In the days following the fire, Dr. Daniel Kohler, Burgess of Boyertown, appointed a relief committee, to whom the people were asked to report the names of missing persons, and who would arrange a proper and speedy burial of the dead. The Relief Committee would act in tandem with the National Bank of Boyertown (now known as National Penn Bank), to receive and distribute all contributions received from all sources. The Committee met three times a day the first weeks following the fire, once a day the next month and once a week for the next year. Irwin Ehst served as chairman, James Stauffer as secretary. On April 10, 1909, the... Read More