Time has a way of making people forget even the greatest disasters. As the years pass, there are fewer people remaining who actually remember events such as the attack on Pearl Harbor or the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In terms of disasters, many times the memory is kept alive by survivors or their families and friends. For example, we will mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic next April. No survivors remain, but books and films have long contributed to the continuing of the flame of memory. Indeed, no survivors remain from what was known as the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, and that terrible event happened one hundred years ago today in New York City.
At a time when the mayor and governor of New York State both seem to want to lessen the strength of unions (because of what they say are necessary budgetary considerations), the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire is a vivid reminder of why workplace laws and unions were strengthened in the first place. The need for labor laws became dramatized by this event, and even the New York City Fire Department began seriously working on fire prevention as part of the necessary and compelling work that they do.
Those of us who remember September 11, 2001, will recall New Yorkers staring up at the sky and watching an incomprehensible event. Besides the fire and smoke pouring out of the Twin Towers, many people dropped from the sky to the pavement far below that day. They chose to escape a horrific death from fire and smoke by jumping out of windows. The many bystanders witnessed these falls from the sky, stunned by the swiftness of the bodies dropping and the sound of their crushing against the earth.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire was the 9/11 of that time. Many poor immigrants worked in the building in lower Manhattan. It was a Saturday, and the young Jewish and Italian girls working in the shop made female shirts at a business known as the Triangle Shirtwaist Company.