Triangle Shirtwaist Fire’s 100th Anniversary Commemorated
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Thistle Cottage Studio Blog
As the fire raged, workers were trapped in locked workrooms on both floors. The fire began on a Saturday, at 5pm, just before quitting time. Blanck and Harris had agreed to keep only one entrance open, to combat shoplifting. They conveniently escaped the blaze through the skylights on the 10th floor, where their offices were, then jumped across to the next building, and down the fire escape. A phone call from the 8th floor alerted them to the fire, yet, they did nothing to alert the lower floors, nor did they make any effort to unlock the doors. By the time the fire department arrived in their horsedrawn pumpers, the upper floors were fully engulfed, and the ladders only reached up to the sixth floor!
The workers, deparate to escape the flames, kicked out windows, and jumped , and some tried to slide down the elevator cables. Twenty were killed in an effort to descend a rusted fire escape, which twisted and collapsed under their weight. With so many workers jumping at once, the fireman could not safely catch them in their nets. One on the scene reporter recalls, “I will never in my lifetime, be able to forget the sound of a human being hitting the pavement.” Some workers were burned beyond recognition. Seven were not identified.
Harris and Blanck were accused of manslaughter, tried, and acquitted for lack of proof that they knew the doors were locked from the outside. They collected a hefty insurance check, and walked away scot free, into the infamous ambiguity of history.
As a result of the tragedy, thirty new child labor laws, workers rights, and safety regulations were passed into law and enforced across the country. If this is any consolation, these workers did not die in vain.
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of this horrific tragedy, Hope High School, in Providence, RI, will host a memorial on March 25th, at 7pm. The event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served, as well as a scene sampling of the play, that is headed to the Fringe Festival, in Edinburgh, Scotland for two weeks in August, this year. Two full performances are scheduled for April 7th and 8th, at 7pm, in the same theater. For ticket information, please call Hope High School’s main office.
I, (Elsie Collins), would like to thank Ms. Christine Auxier, theater teacher/director at Hope High, for giving me this fabulous opportunity to design the costumes for this play, to the student/actors who helped sew many of them in my studio, and to my 10 year old student and personal costume shop assistant, Miss Erika Rooney for her devotion and hard work!!. Our prayers go out to all of the victims.