January 19, 1908: In a Solemn Ceremony the Unidentified Victims of the Opera House Fire Are Buried


By Margaret Leidy Harner from her book One Day at a Time: A Social History of Boyertown, PA.

January 19, 1908: Fifteen thousand spectators arrived in town today to view the burial of 24 or the 25 unidentified victims of the Opera House fire. Before the burial ceremony began, all relatives of those 25 agreed never to disturb the graves looking for their family members and to allow their loved ones to rest in peace forever.

A stately process of hearses began promptly at 9 AM from the Washington School, whose front door was draped in black and its flag flown at half-mast. Along with area residents, those strangers lined the route, most moved in tears as they stood at silent attention with buried heads in respect to the dead. Moving up Philadelphia Avenue, the hearses, each carrying a casket with one body to the Fairview Cemetery, were spaced 100 feet apart and accompanied by an honor guard of four pallbearers, all dressed in black and searing white gloves. Ministers from the Lutheran, Reformed, Methodist-Episcopal, and Evangelical churches, all of whom had lost beloved members, conducted the services.

The unidentified bodies were placed in separate graves, divided by 9-inch brick walls, as relatives stood nearby in a special section that had been roped off for them. One grave was left open, for a body that had been mistakenly buried in Philadelphia and was on her way back home.

It was the busiest day for the Reading Railroad Company in Boyertown since its opening in 1869, bringing 7000 people on special excursion trains from as far away as New York City. The rest came by trolley, horse and buggy, a few by motor car, and some on bicycle.

There were many newspaper reporters in town. Members of the State police and officers from the Reading city police force directed traffic and maintained order. It was a tribute to their good work that events progressed so smoothly that day. The City of Reading footed the bill for the men they had supplied and gave $50 to the relief fund.

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