The Triangle Fire – One Hundred Years Later
Anniversaries of older, tragic events are usually the only time those events play into the public consciousness. Other than that, they are rarely thought about, discussed or even remembered.
This week a vast amount of attention has been devoted by newspapers, PBS, HBO and news stations in New York that are marking the 100th anniversary of The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in which 146 people, mostly young immigrant girls, perished.
The details of the March 25th, 1911 conflagration which are summed up best by Cornell University’s Industrial and Labor Relations School web site are heartbreaking. Many of these girls who died on that Saturday, were under 25 years of age and in many cases helping to support their families at home in their new adopted country or sending money back to relatives in Italy, Russia and Poland.
The fire ended up changing labor laws in the United States. In one of the best books of its kind, labor historian Leon Stein wrote The Triangle Fire (1962) J.B. Lippincott & Co.. Stein had the advantage of being able to interview many survivors and witnesses of the fire. His book is a riveting account. I highly recommend it.
A most interesting side note is that there were unknowns who could not be identified and were never claimed by any family member from the city morgue and were buried in a mass grave at The Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn. Almost 400,000 spectators lined the route of the funeral procession in New York City in a driving rain on April 5 1911.
Recently researcher Michael Hirsch identified the remaining six unknown victims. The related story in a New York Times article is a fascinating study, explaining how one man’s dogged persistence solved a 100 year old mystery.
Two years ago I had asked two of the most sensitive, dedicated workers at the Evergreens Cemetery, assistant superintendent Anthony Salamone and cemetery worker and historian Donato Daddario, with DNA technology, could the unknown victims be identified? They replied that it might be possible, but there was no reason to do it and the cemetery did not have the authority to undertake identification. Also what difference would it make 98 years later? Apparently it does make a difference.
Here are some photos from that day and the aftermath. (click to resize)