Friday, May 21, 2010

MEMORIAL TOMBSTONE OF THE UNIDENTIFIED VICTIMS OF THE RHOADS OPERA HOUSE FIRE - Fairview Cemetery, Boyertown, Berks County, PA




One of the 10 worst fires in American history occurred on the night of January 13, 1908 at the Rhoads Opera House in Boyertown, Pennsylvania. On that night, 171 people were killed in a fire that spread fast throughout the building. Many of the victims were trampled to death because of doors that did not open outward, but inward, trapping them when the fire and panic broke out. It was a national story for many days and the entire nation grieved at the tragedy. A local school was turned into a makeshift mortuary and painstaking efforts were made to identify the deceased. Many were identified by the jewelry or clothing they wore. Of the 171 who died, 25 were unable to be identified, despite every effort being made. Local leaders pondered the dilemma of not being able to present families with the remains of their beloved deceased while still facing the reality that the remains needed to be buried and properly memorialized. The solution was that a large plot of land was donated in the nearby Fairview Cemetery and funds were raised for the erection of a suitable monument to the deceased. Each one of the 25 unidentified individuals was given the dignity of a proper burial and all 25 are buried in separate graves. The memorial has held up well during the 102 years it has stood and an extreme sadness is felt when it is visited. It continues to stand as a reminder of that terrible night in January of 1908.


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