By William Shepherd
The nation learned of the horrible fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company through the eyewitness account of a United Press reporter who happened to be in Washington Square on March 25, 1911. He phoned in details while watching the tragedy unfold. At the other end of the telephone, young Roy Howard telegraphed Shepherd's story to the nation's newspapers. This document first published in the Milwaukee Journal, March 27, 1911.
I was walking through Washington Square when a puff of smoke issuing from the factory building caught my eye. I reached the building before the alarm was turned in. I saw every feature of the tragedy visible from outside the building. I learned a new sound--a more horrible sound than description can picture. It was the thud of a speeding, living body on a stone sidewalk.
Thud-dead, thud-dead, thud-dead, thud-dead. Sixty-two thud-deads. I call them that, because the sound and the thought of death came to me each time, at the same instant. There was plenty of chance to watch them as they came down. The height was eighty feet.
The first ten thud-deads shocked me. I looked up-saw that there were scores of girls at the windows. The flames from the floor below were beating in their faces. Somehow I knew that they, too, must come down, and something within me-something that I didn't know was there-steeled me.
I even watched one girl falling. Waving her arms, trying to keep her body upright until the very instant she struck the sidewalk, she was trying to balance herself. Then came the thud--then a silent, unmoving pile of clothing and twisted, broken limbs.
As I reached the scene of the fire, a cloud of smoke hung over the building. . . . I looked up to the seventh floor. There was a living picture in each window-four screaming heads of girls waving their arms.
"Call the firemen," they screamed-scores of them. "Get a ladder," cried others. They were all as alive and whole and sound as were we who stood on the sidewalk. I couldn't help thinking of that. We cried to them not to jump. We heard the siren of a fire engine in the distance. The other sirens sounded from several directions.
"Here they come," we yelled. "Don't jump; stay there."
One girl climbed onto the window sash. Those behind her tried to hold her back. Then she dropped into space. I didn't notice whether those above watched her drop because I had turned away. Then came that first thud. I looked up, another girl was climbing onto the window sill; others were crowding behind her. She dropped. I watched her fall, and again the dreadful sound. Two windows away two girls were climbing onto the sill; they were fighting each other and crowding for air. Behind them I saw many screaming heads. They fell almost together, but I heard two distinct thuds. Then the flames burst out through the windows on the floor below them, and curled up into their faces.
The firemen began to raise a ladder. Others took out a life net and, while they were rushing to the sidewalk with it, two more girls shot down. The firemen held it under them; the bodies broke it; the grotesque simile of a dog jumping through a hoop struck me. Before they could move the net another girl's body flashed through it. The thuds were just as loud, it seemed, as if there had been no net there. It seemed to me that the thuds were so loud that they might have been heard all over the city.
I had counted ten. Then my dulled senses began to work automatically. I noticed things that it had not occurred to me before to notice. Little details that the first shock had blinded me to. I looked up to see whether those above watched those who fell. I noticed that they did; they watched them every inch of the way down and probably heard the roaring thuds that we heard.
As I looked up I saw a love affair in the midst of all the horror. A young man helped a girl to the window sill. Then he held her out, deliberately away from the building and let her drop. He seemed cool and calculating. He held out a second girl the same way and let her drop. Then he held out a third girl who did not resist. I noticed that. They were as unresisting as if he were helping them onto a streetcar instead of into eternity. Undoubtedly he saw that a terrible death awaited them in the flames, and his was only a terrible chivalry.
Then came the love amid the flames. He brought another girl to the window. Those of us who were looking saw her put her arms about him and kiss him. Then he held her out into space and dropped her. But quick as a flash he was on the window sill himself. His coat fluttered upward-the air filled his trouser legs. I could see that he wore tan shoes and hose. His hat remained on his head.
Thud-dead, thud-dead-together they went into eternity. I saw his face before they covered it. You could see in it that he was a real man. He had done his best.
I'll believe corporations are persons when Texas executes one.: LBJ's Ghost
We found out later that, in the room in which he stood, many girls were being burned to death by the flames and were screaming in an inferno of flame and heat. He chose the easiest way and was brave enough to even help the girl he loved to a quicker death, after she had given him a goodbye kiss. He leaped with an energy as if to arrive first in that mysterious land of eternity, but her thud-dead came first.
The firemen raised the longest ladder. It reached only to the sixth floor. I saw the last girl jump at it and miss it. And then the faces disappeared from the window. But now the crowd was enormous, though all this had occurred in less than seven minutes, the start of the fire and the thuds and deaths.
I heard screams around the corner and hurried there. What I had seen before was not so terrible as what had followed. Up in the [ninth] floor girls were burning to death before our very eyes. They were jammed in the windows. No one was lucky enough to be able to jump, it seemed. But, one by one, the jams broke. Down came the bodies in a shower, burning, smoking-flaming bodies, with disheveled hair trailing upward. They had fought each other to die by jumping instead of by fire.
The whole, sound, unharmed girls who had jumped on the other side of the building had tried to fall feet down. But these fire torches, suffering ones, fell inertly, only intent that death should come to them on the sidewalk instead of in the furnace behind them.
On the sidewalk lay heaps of broken bodies. A policeman later went about with tags, which he fastened with wires to the wrists of the dead girls, numbering each with a lead pencil, and I saw him fasten tag no. 54 to the wrist of a girl who wore an engagement ring. A fireman who came downstairs from the building told me that there were at least fifty bodies in the big room on the seventh floor. Another fireman told me that more girls had jumped down an air shaft in the rear of the building. I went back there, into the narrow court, and saw a heap of dead girls. . . .
The floods of water from the firemen's hose that ran into the gutter were actually stained red with blood. I looked upon the heap of dead bodies and I remembered these girls were the shirtwaist makers. I remembered their great strike of last year in which these same girls had demanded more sanitary conditions and more safety precautions in the shops. These dead bodies were the answer.
Leon Stein, ed., Out of the Sweatshop: The Struggle for Industrial Democracy (New York: Quadrangle/New Times Book Company, 1977), pp. 188-193
The Kheel Center would like to thank Mrs. Miriam Stein and Barbara Ismail for granting permission to use selections from the late Leon Stein's book.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Coordinates: 40?43′48″N 73?59′43″W
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire
Date March 25, 1911
Time 4:40 PM (local time)
Location Manhattan, New York City, U.S.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911, was the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city of New York and resulted in the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in U.S. history. It was also the deadliest disaster in New York City until the destruction of the World Trade Center 90 years later. The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers, who either died from the fire or jumped to their deaths. Most of the victims were recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women aged sixteen to twenty-three; the oldest victim was 48, the youngest were two fourteen-year-old girls. Many of the workers could not escape the burning building because the managers had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits. People jumped from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors. The fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers.
The factory was located in the Asch Building, at 23-29 Washington Place, now known as the Brown Building, which has been designated a National Historic Landmark and a New York City landmark.
The Triangle Waist Company factory occupied the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors of the 10-story Asch Building on the northwest corner of Greene Street and Washington Place, just east of Washington Square Park, in the Greenwich Village area of New York City. Under the ownership of Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, the factory produced women's blouses, known as "shirtwaists." The factory normally employed about 500 workers, mostly young immigrant women, who worked nine hours a day on weekdays plus seven hours on Saturdays.
As the workday was ending on the afternoon of Saturday, March 25, 1911, a fire flared up at approximately 4:40 PM in a scrap bin under one of the cutter's tables at the northeast corner of the eighth floor. The first fire alarm was sent at 4:45 PM by a passerby on Washington Place who saw smoke coming from the eighth floor. Both owners of the factory were in attendance and had invited their children to the factory on that afternoon. The Fire Marshal concluded that the likely cause of the fire was the disposal of an unextinguished match or cigarette butt in the scrap bin, which held two months' worth of accumulated cuttings by the time of the fire. Although smoking was banned in the factory, cutters were known to sneak cigarettes, exhaling the smoke through their lapels to avoid detection. A New York Times article suggested that the fire may have been started by the engines running the sewing machines, while The Insurance Monitor, a leading industry journal, suggested that the epidemic of fires among shirtwaist manufacturers was "fairly saturated with moral hazard." No one suggested arson.
A bookkeeper on the eighth floor was able to warn employees on the tenth floor via telephone, but there was no audible alarm and no way to contact staff on the ninth floor. According to survivor Yetta Lubitz, the first warning of the fire on the ninth floor arrived at the same time as the fire itself. Although the floor had a number of exits ? two freight elevators, a fire escape, and stairways down to Greene Street and Washington Place ? flames prevented workers from descending the Greene Street stairway, and the door to the Washington Place stairway was locked to prevent theft by the workers; the locked doors allowed managers to check the women's purses. The foreman who held the stairway door key had already escaped by another route. Dozens of employees escaped the fire by going up the Greene Street stairway to the roof. Other survivors were able to jam themselves into the elevators while they continued to operate.
The building's south side, with windows marked X from which fifty women jumped
The building's east side, with 40 bodies on the sidewalk. Two of the victims were found alive an hour after the photo was taken.
Within three minutes, the Greene Street stairway became unusable in both directions. Terrified employees crowded onto the single exterior fire escape, a flimsy and poorly-anchored iron structure which may have been broken before the fire. It soon twisted and collapsed from the heat and overload, spilling victims nearly 100 feet (30 m) to their deaths on the concrete pavement below. Elevator operators Joseph Zito and Gaspar Mortillalo saved many lives by traveling three times up to the ninth floor for passengers, but Mortillalo was eventually forced to give up when the rails of his elevator buckled under the heat. Some victims pried the elevator doors open and jumped into the empty shaft, trying to slide down the cables or to land on top of the car. The weight and impacts of these bodies warped the elevator car and made it impossible for Zito to make another attempt.
A large crowd of bystanders gathered on the street, witnessing sixty-two people jumping or falling to their deaths from the burning building. Louis Waldman, later a New York Socialist state assemblyman, described the scene years later:
One Saturday afternoon in March of that year ? March 25, to be precise ? I was sitting at one of the reading tables in the old Astor Library... It was a raw, unpleasant day and the comfortable reading room seemed a delightful place to spend the remaining few hours until the library closed. I was deeply engrossed in my book when I became aware of fire engines racing past the building. By this time I was sufficiently Americanized to be fascinated by the sound of fire engines. Along with several others in the library, I ran out to see what was happening, and followed crowds of people to the scene of the fire.
A few blocks away, the Asch Building at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street was ablaze. When we arrived at the scene, the police had thrown up a cordon around the area and the firemen were helplessly fighting the blaze. The eighth, ninth, and tenth stories of the building were now an enormous roaring cornice of flames.
Word had spread through the East Side, by some magic of terror, that the plant of the Triangle Waist Company was on fire and that several hundred workers were trapped. Horrified and helpless, the crowds ? I among them ? looked up at the burning building, saw girl after girl appear at the reddened windows, pause for a terrified moment, and then leap to the pavement below, to land as mangled, bloody pulp. This went on for what seemed a ghastly eternity. Occasionally a girl who had hesitated too long was licked by pursuing flames and, screaming with clothing and hair ablaze, plunged like a living torch to the street. Life nets held by the firemen were torn by the impact of the falling bodies.
The emotions of the crowd were indescribable. Women were hysterical, scores fainted; men wept as, in paroxysms of frenzy, they hurled themselves against the police lines.
The remainder waited until smoke and fire overcame them. The fire department arrived quickly but was unable to stop the flames, as there were no ladders available that could reach beyond the sixth floor. The fallen bodies and falling victims also made it difficult for the fire department to approach the building.
?The horrors of jumping.? An editorial cartoon depicts women leaning out windows, jumping and falling from the burning Asch Building, framed by dollar signs.
Photographer: Artist TAD [Thomas Aloysius Dorgan], 1911
?This Is One of a Hundred Murdered. Is any one to be punished for this?? The editorial cartoon shows a woman?s body on the sidewalk surrounded by smoldering fragments with a sign nearby that reads ?Operators Wanted. Inquire Ninth Floor.?
In an editorial cartoon, a skeleton surrounded by smoke and flames rises from the burning Asch Building and considers the horrifying events below.
Photographer: Artist unknown, 1911
In an editorial cartoon, a man wearing clothing made of money leans against the factory door which is locked with a dollar sign key, while women die in smoke and flames on the other side of the door.
Photographer: Artist name illegible, 1911
?Fire Trap Victims Buried. Draft New Law to Save Shop Workers.? The March 28, 1911 New York Evening Journal cover stories told the horrifying experiences of survivors and witnesses, and asked who was responsible for the catastrophe and what would be done.
Photographer: Artist TAD [Thomas Aloysius Dorgan] and others, March 28, 1911
?Who is responsible? Who is responsible for the murders of one hundred and forty-five young girls and men in the ?fire proof? fire trap? On whose head rests the blame for the inadequate, antiquated, criminal stairs and single fire escape, made possible because the building was classed as ?fireproof?? These dead girls cry aloud, not for revenge, but for justice. Their flame-racked bodies demand protection for the thousands of sister toilers who have not yet been sacrificed to fire. Their silent lips call, ?Who is responsible??? Detail of March 28, 1911 New York Evening Journal editorial cartoon.
Photographer: Artist TAD [Thomas Aloysius Dorgan], March 28, 1911
?How Girls Were Trapped at Every Turn, and Some Principals in the Tragedy.? The March 28, 1911 New York Evening Journal reveals the locked door; the blocked fire escape; Sarah Commerstein [Cammestein], a sewing machine operator who jumped on top of the elevator to escape and later testified about her experiences; Joseph Zitto [Zito], an elevator operator; Anna Cochran, who worked to oust Superintendent Miller of the Building Department; and Mary Goldstein, missing after the fire, who may have died in the blaze.
Photographer: unknown, March 28, 1911
?In compliance with law? The fire escape that ends in midair must be abolished.? A New York Tribune editorial cartoon depicts women falling from a collapsing fire escape surrounded by smoke and flames while those above them look on.
Photographer: Artist Boardman Robinson, 1911
?The Locked Door!? An editorial cartoon shows women surrounded in smoke and flames pounding their fists on the locked factory door.
Photographer: Artist Robert Carter, 1911
In an editorial cartoon, a spotlight shines on a shrouded body being lowered from the Asch Building after the Triangle fire.
Photographer: Artist unknown, 1911
I'll believe corporations are persons when Texas executes one.: LBJ's Ghost
So what is your take on all these news articles you paste.
I would love to read some opinions you have on them.
As soon as I see a copy & paste only, i unless really bored just skip it, but will almost always read a persons take on the article, and the article then to.
We do NOT need to raise taxes on the people. The government needs to spend less is the answer.
So what is your take on all these news articles you paste.
I'm too shy to have opinions......
Death on the job was a routine hazard for American workers a century ago. About 100 workers, on average, died every day as mines collapsed, ships sank, trains crashed and factories burned. Nearly all of them are long forgotten.
But not the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. Events marking the 100th anniversary of that disaster in New York City have been planned across the country at public gatherings, panel discussions, art exhibitions and concerts. I used to stop on the sidewalk outside the scene of the fire ? a 10-story tower still standing just east of Manhattan's Washington Square ? and wonder why this tragedy is set apart from all the others. I could picture the horrific spectacle. On a bright spring Saturday, March 25, 1911, a fire broke out at closing time inside the city's largest blouse factory. Fueled by hundreds of pounds of highly flammable cotton and tissue scraps, the blaze spread quickly through the top three floors. Hundreds of onlookers converged as horse-drawn fire engines thundered from every direction. Trapped by flames and a locked door, workers on the ninth floor began to leap to their deaths. By the time the last victim succumbed to her injuries, the toll was 146 dead ? 129 of them women, dozens of them teenagers.
It's often said the tragedy was so gruesome that New Yorkers could not possibly look away and forget. But that underestimates the vast and awful store of history that humans have gladly forgotten. The real reason we remember the Triangle fire is its legacy, not its toll. The story remains a compelling study of political power ? where it comes from, what it's for ? as relevant today as it was in the angry aftermath of that inferno.
At the dawn of the 20th century, New York had been run for more than a generation by the corrupt Democratic political machine known as Tammany Hall. Boss Charles F. Murphy ruled the city from his private room at Delmonico's restaurant, quietly tending the gears that turned the votes of poor immigrants into power and profit for Tammany. But new waves of immigrants were filling the grim tenements of Manhattan, and many of them weren't content to do the Tammany ward heelers' bidding. Especially among the East European Jews who fled the oppression of the dying Russian empire, a spirit of independence led the new arrivals to organize their own institutions: newspapers, charities, labor unions.
They made their numbers known in the autumn of 1909, when more than 20,000 shirtwaist workers, most of them women, went on strike for better wages and union recognition. The following year, an even larger strike by the men of the cloakmakers' union created a model for modern industrial relations. Murphy had always taken the side of management ? but his genius was the ability to count votes. He saw that the Triangle fire was a chance to win over the voters of this new generation.