Remembering the Triangle Fire
Date of publication: March 16, 2011
Source: The Nation
Author: Joshua Freeman
On 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. Forums about the fire are being held in New York, Philadelphia, St. Paul, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and the City University of New York is sponsoring a conference on the fire and its legacy. HBO and PBS are airing documentaries. At least six Triangle-related plays and four musical theater pieces are being performed in cities across the country, including one composed by five-time Tony nominee Elizabeth Swados. Concerts, an art exhibit, a poetry contest and a forty-hour fast are being staged to mark the centennial....