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Old Paper


for the
Mysterious Woman in men's clothing

In 1908, Boyertown experienced an unthinkable loss. However, the fire at the Rhoads Opera House led to the bonding of a community, imperative changes to building code regulations, and even a mystery... a female victim dressed in men's clothing. Theories included stories of bandits or bank robbers in disguise.

Very real persons and events formed a network, linking the historic locations of our small town together during this monumental time. Using newspaper articles, actors to portray our key figures, artifacts and replicas, we mapped your trip around the Boyertown of the past to solve the mystery for yourself.

Gen. Carl Spaatz Museum

Burgess Daniel Kohler

Signet Ring


*Daniel Kohler directed the relief committee for aid after the fire. Coroner Strasser was summoned to assist with those lost. It was emphasized to keep possessions with the victims to help identify them. Due to the number of people, some belongings were mixed up, such as the men's clothing found with the woman. 

*Charles Spatz, editor of The Democrat, was also injured in the fire. This brought his son, the man to become General Carl Spaatz, home to assist in running the newspaper. With over 400 subscribers, The Democrat was a test in maturity for Carl, which may have primed him for his military success.

*Reverend Weber attended the play with 4 of his children. He escaped injured, along with 3 of the children. His wife had remained at home. He had been St. John's Pastor for 15 years and had played Martin Luther in a play 5 years prior.

*St. John's sponsored the performance of "The Scottish Reformation" on the evening of January 13, 1908. The town was particularly interested in the play's portrayal of Mary Queen of Scotts, which accounted for the packed house that evening. 

St. John's Church

Housekeeper of Reverend Adam Weber


Good Shepherd Church

Former Pastor's Daughter-in-Law Irene Mayer


*Irene Mayer was the wife of Dr. Charles Mayer, the son of a former Good Shepherd Pastor and local pharmacist. Dr. Mayer did not attend the play, but rushed in at the sound of commotion to save his wife and daughter. Only Irene was rescued and Charles and his daughter Gwendolyn were lost in the fire.

*Long lists of members lost of both Good Shepherd and St. John's churches reveal how these historic houses of worship shared many of the area's residents. Even the young Jewish girl Rosa Diamond was listed in their records.

Old Paper

*Farmer Frank Rothermel, living about 10 miles outside of Boyertown, contacted Coroner Strasser about 2 persons who were seeking a carriage into Boyertown. He described them both as dressed in men's clothing, though he was positive one was female based off of her diamond earrings and other jewelry. Many of these sensational stories came up in newspapers following the fire - questioning if this woman was a bandit or bank robber in disguise. 

*Carriages and fire fighting vehicles that would have been in use at the time of the Opera House Fire are just some of the locally made vehicles on display at the Museum of Historic Vehicles. The original Carriage Works building is part of the museum, which houses the carriages that were made on the premises. 

Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles

Farmer Frank Rothermel

Diamond Earrings

Boyertown Area Historical Society

Coroner & Mrs. Robert Strasser

Recovered Dollar Bill

*Coroner Robert Strasser was tasked with recovering and identifying 170 victims of the fire. With 3 undertakers in the area, more were called in from Reading and Pottstown to assist in the processes to have families notified and victims laid to rest. Persons were identified by medical cards, jewelry, and other items.

*Included in the museum exhibit for the Opera House Fire is a dollar bill recovered from Jeremiah G. Rhoads. Surrounding the bill on display is a list of victims' names, including our woman of interest.  Some of the victims were not able to be identified at the time, such as the Taggert family, due to lack of forensics. Since the entire Taggert family went to the play, no one knew they had all perished until their farm animals became restless from hunger. This is why Rose Taggert could not have been the 'mystery woman'- she did not have anyone to identify her.

*Just as folks received their news in the past, our paper girl distributed the names of those lost in the tragic well as a little Morse code key for our secret challenge! These 'papers' also showcased other real articles and ads of the time...

*January 19, 1908 was the busiest day for the Reading Rail Road Company in Boyertown as thousands of spectators arrived for the burial of the unidentified victims. Folks arrived from as far away as New York City and many newspaper reporters were in town.

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Colebrookdale Railroad

Paper Girl

List of names
Secret Challenge: Morse Code

State Theatre

George Unger, Stakeholder & Businessman

Secret Challenge:
Morse Code birds
spell Claude Croll

*Five investors were interested in the building of a new amusement place, including George Unger - a businessman whose former home now houses the Historical Society. 

*Originally opened as the Lyric Theatre in 1912, this building was to be made of brick and absolutely fireproof. The building would be a single storey and have wide aisles with easy access to the exists. The name was later changed to the State. 

*In 2006, artist Robert Williams and area high school students researched Boyertown's history to select a few scenes to depict in the mural on the side of the theatre building. This includes some birds on a wire, placed with their wings out or tucked to mimic morse code. They spell the name of the WWI veteran and telegraph operator at the railroad station, Claude Croll. At age 15, Claude sang in the choir during the play on the evening of January 13, 1908. 

Due to another victim wrongly identified as Rosa, as well as men's clothing and belongings found stuck to her own, it took several days until volunteers and the parents of 14 year old Rosa identified her from her signet ring and other jewelry. She had gone to the play with a friend dressed in her own feminine clothing.

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Case Status:

Boyertown Heritage Day event is a proud partnership effort with our historic churches and attractions

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