BOYERTOWN, Pa. - It's been more than a century since one of the worst disasters in Pennsylvania history.
A fire at the Rhoads Opera House in Berks County not only killed 170 people, but it also had a nationwide impact.
69 WFMZ-TV presents a documentary that recounts the events of that terrible night and everything that followed.
The Boyertown area of 1908 was a bustling crossroads with newly paved streets that lined the way for a thriving economy.
One of the nation's largest casket companies and a cigar maker employed many of the town's 2,000 residents.
On January 13 of that year, townspeople were buzzing about a play about the Scottish Reformation to be performed at the Rhoads Opera House. Extra chairs were set up to accommodate 340 ticket-holders.
In between acts, a stereopticon showed slides of Scotland. The stereopticon used a combination of oxygen and hydrogen gas to produce calcium light.
Just before the third act, audience members were watching the slideshow when they heard a hissing noise. Someone backstage pulled the curtain back, upsetting a kerosene foot lamp. The curtain caught fire and an explosion ensued.
Survivors would later say it was as if the air caught fire. People rushed for the doors, but they couldn't get out because the doors opened inward. Some managed to escape through the back stairs or on fire escapes.
But as dawn broke the next day, the death toll came into focus. One-hundred-seventy people died in the fire, along with a fireman rushing to help.
69 WFMZ-TV's special presentation of a "Legacy of a Tragedy" chronicles those who were lost, the aftermath and the fire's impact on fire safety laws.