Identifying the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire victims

TriangleshirtwaistcorpsesThe fire started at 4:40 p.m. It was Saturday, March 25—a workday in 1911.

As flames quickly turned the top three floors of the Asch Building at Greene Street and Washington Place into a “roaring cornice of flames,” dozens of employees crowded the windows and fire escapes.

Half an hour later, when the fire had been extinguished, 146 Triangle Waist Company workers were dead, many burned beyond recognition. The grim task of identifying so many victims had begun.

Triangleshirtwaistcorpsesgreene

Over the next several hours, their corpses were laid out on the sidewalk, tagged, put in coffins, and loaded into wagons.

They were going to Charities Pier, off East 26th Street—nicknamed “Misery Lane” because it was the makeshift morgue where city officials routinely brought victims of lethal disasters.

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“When the wagons arrived, they were met by a team of homeless men dragooned from the Municipal Lodging House, who were assigned to open the boxes and arrange them in two long rows,” wrote David Von Drehle in Triangle: The Fire That Changed America.

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“At midnight, the doors opened. The first in a growing line of friends and family members began shuffling up one long row and down the other. Low voices, slow footsteps, the cry of gulls, and the lapping of water punctuated the heavy silence.

“A faint sulfuric glow fell from the lights hung high in the rafters. They did little  to illuminate the coffins, however, so policemen stood every few feet holding lanterns.

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“When a loved one paused at a box and peered close, the nearest officer dangled his lantern helpfully.

Trianglememorialevergreens“The light swayed and flickered over the disfigured faces. Now and then a shock of recognition announced itself in a piercing cry or sudden sob splitting the ghastly quiet.”

The task of identifying the dead lasted four cold, rainy days. Pickpockets and the morbidly fascinated lined up along with family members.

Within a week, all but seven bodies had been ID’d.

In April, they were honored in a procession (above) and buried together at the Evergreens Cemetery in Brooklyn.

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6 Responses to “Identifying the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire victims”

  1. Victorian Sculptures Says:

    The thing is, the owners of the Triangle shirtwaist company got off with little more than a slap on the wrist, and they opened up a new factory soon after uptown and did the SAME things they did here- locking the exit doors!

  2. ken123 Says:

    Although the (crimminal) factory owners got off lightly, this was the catalyst for a movement toward safer working conditions.

    I find the descriptions of the tragedy haunting and mesmerizing. Some accounts describe the “thud, thud, thud” of human bodies hitting the pavement….eerily repeated at WTC on 9/11.

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Yes, the descriptions are terrifying. A large crowd watched as the mostly young female workers were forced to jump from the ninth floor; many witnesses said the sound of their bodies hitting the pavement was the worst thing they’d ever heard.

  4. Tyler Hill Says:

    Yes the owners walked away free of murder charges. More than 100 years later Albany is still filled with purchased legislators and judicial officials. Sad really.

  5. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    A heartbreaking tragedy. This reads like yesterday’s newspaper – indeed it could be. Now the flaming deaths and acrid smoke spews forth from the haphazzard foreign factories that crank out bargain-priced apparel for Wal-Mart. When will the world ever learn? Is a $5.00 blouse from a sweat shop worth the slave wages and dangerous conditions others must endure? Even Ralph Lauren was guilty of buying his wares from these ‘havens of horror with sewing machines!’

  6. A teenager leads the great rent strike of 1907 | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] few years later, Pauline began sewing shirtwaists in a factory—the Triangle Waist Company, actually, though this was three years before the deadly fire […]

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