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100 years later, remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

amny

amny Photo Credit: Courtsey of Kheel Center

With the national debate over workers’ unions at feverish heights, the city Friday will pause to remember the 100th anniversary of the Triangle shirtwaist factory fire, the tragedy from whose ashes emerged the modern labor movement.

On March 25, 1911, 146 people died in a blaze that became the city’s deadliest workplace tragedy, a grim distinction it held for 90 years, until Sept. 11, 2001.

The victims were mostly young Jewish or Italian women, and their horrific demise — many had no choice but to jump to certain death — spawned workplace rules and launched the workers’ rights movement.

The Triangle Waist Company, housed in the top three floors of the Asch Building at 23-29 Washington Pl., produced shirtwaists, or garments for women.

The factory lacked automatic sprinklers while its owners prevented their workers from unionizing, which could have ensured better conditions.

Though the cause of the inferno was never discovered, the blaze started on a late Saturday afternoon on the eighth floor and quickly spread.

On the ninth floor, managers had locked exits to stairwells to prevent theft, so most workers there faced death either in the flames or by leaping. A rickety fire escape had collapsed, and firefighter’s ladders were too short to reach the higher floors.

In 1929, New York University acquired the structure, and the top floors now house laboratories.

Even a century later, the disaster still haunts many New Yorkers, especially descendants of the victims.

amNewYork spoke with relatives, for whom the tragedy’s echoes are never far away.


 

Here are a few events Friday where you can honor the fire’s centennial:

Centennial Procession of 146 Shirtwaists and Sashes
When: Meet at 9:30 a.m.
Where: Union Square
What: Procession leaves at 10:30 a.m. and goes to the official commemoration at the Brown Building.

Official Commemoration
When: 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Where: 23-29 Washington Pl.
What: Descendents of victims, politicians and garment workers will honor the victims.

Hebrew Free Burial Association Memorial Ceremony
When: 9 a.m.
Where: Mount Richmond Cemetery, 420 Clarke Ave., Staten Island
What: Ceremony honoring the 22 victims buried at Mount Richmond.

100 Years After: The Triangle Fire Remembered and Rethought
When: 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Where: Cooper Union Great Hall, 7 E. Seventh St.
What: Music, poetry and speeches about the fire. 

For more info and listings, go to Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition.

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