|Horse Drawn Fire Truck En Route To Fire|
The Chicago Sunday Tribune headlines read "New York Fire Kills 148", "Rescuers Are Helpless While Scores Plunge Down Ten Stories", and "Few Are Saved In Nets".
The San Francisco Chronicle ran the following headlines: "148 Meet Death In A New York Factory Fire", "Girls in Panic Leap to Death or Perish in the Flame of Fire Trap", and "Sickening Scenes Witnessed By Big Crowd In Streets".
The Library of Congress website Chronicling America provides several other newspaper articles that were printed over the next year as the investigation and eventual manslaughter trial against the co-owners Isaac Harris and Max Blank concluded with them being found not guilty.
The Triangle Waist Company had approximately 500 employees on their books at the time of the fire. Most of the workers were young female immigrants, some as young as 14. Of the 146 victims, 129 were women and 17 were men between the ages of 15 and 43. Employees in the clothing industry would work approximately 9 hours during a weekday, and 7 hours on Saturdays and were usually paid "per piece". Needless to say, working conditions were harsh and unsafe at best. As a result of the public outcry and wave of sympathy for working women the Factory Investigating Commission was established, which went on to draft new legislation which mandated improved working and safety conditions for factory workers.
Of the 146 victims, several victims remained unidentified at the time of their burial. There were buried together in a quiet ceremony which observed Jewish, Catholic and Protestant rites, since the faith of the deceased was unknown at that time. In the weeks that followed several of these victims were identified as families came to realize their loved ones were not among the injured. Until February 2011, six of the these victims were unidentified.
Though I personally have no family members that were involved in this tragic event in New York, I was touched by the story a year ago when I watched a documentary online one day. Of my four grandparents, only my Grandpa Fred Arntz would have been living when the fire broke out. He would have been 3 years old, and I can only speculate that the story found its way to the newspapers of Harbor Beach sometime soon after and was watched by the community members if not my great grandparents with some interest over the next year.
Remember ... don't pass up opportunities to interview your older family relatives about major events that happened during their lifetimes. After all, the best story is "the rest of the story" according to Paul Harvey ... which could surprise you by becoming a part of your story.
Love and Aloha,