The Forgotten Fire

Mary Jane Schneider recounts a 1908 fire that claimed 170 lives in a small Pennsylvania town.


1908 Pennsylvania Opera House Blaze Claimed 170 Lives In 1908, a fire in a crowded auditorium in the small town of Boyertown resulted in Pennsylvania’s greatest fire disaster. One hundred seventy people died. The Boyertown Opera House fire is listed in the World Almanac as one of the major...


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One year later Pennsylvania’s legislature passed laws requiring that doors open outward and fire escapes be at floor level and clearly marked. And second-floor theaters were no longer built.

private grieving

What about the community of Boyer-town? The crowds went home. School reopened, with 25 empty desks. Workers returned to the workbench beside empty places. Homes and farms were sold. Orphans moved in with their grandparents.

Slowly the townspeople picked up the shattered pieces of their lives and went on. But beneath the outward activity there was an inward mood of private grief.

In the years that followed the fire, the community’s grieving went behind closed doors. Many people never talked about the fire again in their lifetime. Boyertown wrapped its greatest disaster in silence and survived.


Mary Jane Schneider is the author of the book, A Town In Tragedy, about the Boyertown fire. Copies of the 232-page softcover book may be purchased for $16.90 each from MJS Publica-tions, 23 East Orchard Hills Drive, Boyertown, PA 19512.