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