Friday, March 25th marks the 100th Anniversary of the Triangle Factory Fire which occurred in a building one block from Washington Square Park. Lack of proper factory safety protocols led to the deaths of 146 workers, mostly young women. There are a number of events commemorating the anniversary Friday; a major one at the original site off the Park. HBO is airing a documentary premiering this evening.
From The Nation:
March 25, 1911, a fire that broke out in a bin holding scraps of fabric at the Triangle Waist Company, just down the block from New York City’s Washington Square Park, quickly spread, fed by cotton garments, tissue paper and wooden fixtures. Though the building that housed the clothing manufacturer was modern and advertised as fireproof, the cramped layout of the factory, a locked exit door, a flimsy fire escape that soon crumpled and inadequate fire department equipment brought a staggering loss of life.
Within a half-hour, 146 workers had died, mostly young Jewish and Italian women, nearly half still in their teens. Two were only 14. More than a third of the victims jumped or fell from upper-story windows trying to escape the flames.
The 100th anniversary of the Triangle Fire is being commemorated by a remarkable array of events. As it does every year, Workers United, the union that represents garment workers, is sponsoring a ceremony at the site of the fire. (The building is now part of New York University.)
Each year a fire department truck raises a ladder to the sixth floor, the highest its equipment could reach in 1911, painfully short of the eighth, ninth and tenth floors, where the fire occurred.
The attention being given to Triangle stands out in a society that rarely remembers anything connected to workers’ lives, struggles or tragedies. Why its prominence?
Triangle commands our notice in part because of the specifics of the disaster. There is something particularly horrifying about being trapped in a fire and plummeting through the air to escape it (so much so that ninety years later, on 9/11, newspapers and television generally refrained from showing images of people jumping from the World Trade Center). That so many of the victims were young and female added a layer of poignancy, as we commonly associate youth, especially young girls, with innocence, making their deaths seem even more undeserved than those of older victims of mining explosions and industrial accidents. And the Triangle Fire took place in the media capital of the country, receiving massive press coverage, including harrowing photographs difficult to forget.
“In the wake of tragedies like Triangle or 9/11, my sense is there are actually quite wonderful things that come out and radiate from that,” she said. “There’s an immediate dropping of day-to-day falseness. You become much more compassionate and humane toward each other in those moments.
“It’s incumbent upon us if we’re going to commemorate the fire,” she added, “to commemorate the spirit of action that grew out of the fire.”
Friday, March 25th, Major 100th Anniversary Event at the Site, NYC:
11:00 a.m. – Music and Procession
12:00 p.m. – Speakers (including NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg) and Ceremony
Location: Former home of the Triangle Waist Company, corner of Washington Place and Greene Street
(one block east of Washington Square Park)
Note: The site of the Triangle Fire is now New York University’s Brown Building of Science.