Tuesday, March 25, 2008


It’s the anniversary of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Co. sweatshop fire in the Asch Building, which still stands at 29 Washington Place (the NYU goliath calls it the Brown Bldg). It was a Saturday, closing time, back before the five-day week. Some 600 workers toiled away there fabricating shirtwaists, a then-fashionable dress-style, in the top three stories of the ten-story building. Many were young women, immigrants or the children of immigrants, lots of them still in their teens. The fire started on the 8th floor. There was one elevator: it crashed from the weight; there was one external fire escape: it too collapsed from the weight of the fleeing. Some of the exits were locked. There was no sprinkler system and the fire fighters weren’t equipped to reach that high. One hundred forty-six died, 30 of them jumping to their death on Greene St. Assistant cashier Joseph Flecher later said he saw "my girls, my pretty ones, going down through the air. They hit the sidewalk spread out and still."

I was writing about this for work the other day, while I was listening to Billy Bragg singing his anthems live on the radio, and I started to cry.


Gerry Gomez Pearlberg said...

I'm moved.

"History is so terrible and there is so much of it"—a quote I read years ago who knows where.

"What is there I have not forgot/or will forget" wrote James Schuyler in one of my favorite poems.

I have memorized little in my life; memorization never was my style, but the quote about history has stayed for years, and this snippet on the sorrow of Triangle restored it to the forefront of my mental hard drive.

Thew said...

Resistance begins in memory.

amarilla said...

I am crying now.