New book about the Triangle Fire.
18 April 2022
"On Saturday, March 25, 1911, at 4:40 p.m., as the workers prepared to leave with their pay in hand, an alarm bell sounded at the Triangle Waist Company...The factory was located on the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors of the modern Asch Building (now the Brown Buildings). Workers produced shirtwaists, an iconic item of clothing for the 'new' American woman inspired by the Gibson Girl, created by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson..."
This is a fairly sedate introduction to the Triangle Fire in 1911 New York City that wound up killing 146 workers, the vast majority of them women, and a lot of them teenagers. This, however, might come nearer the mark of what the terrible fire was actually like:
"...the Triangle fire was impossible to ignore. It assaulted the senses of middle- and upper-class New Yorkers. People saw smoke, bodies plunging out the windows, to be smashed on the ground below, firemen standing around helplessly with broken nets. They heard fire bells, screams from the victims, gasps from the gathering crowd, and the awful sound of bodies hitting the pavement, recorded with stunning clarity by [William Gunn] Shepherd: 'THUD-DEAD, THUD-DEAD, THUD-DEAD.'" (pp. 5 and 7.)
Both of these descriptions of this workplace disaster come from the introduction to a new anthology of essays titled Talking to the Girls: Intimate and Political Essays on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, edited by Edvige Giunta and Mary Anne Trasciatti (and published by New Village Press). Here's the neat trick, though: the essays are not so much about the fire as they are about how the fire affected its survivors, victims' families, and countless labor activists since 1911. At first glance (especially if you're not fascinated by the Triangle Fire, as I always have been) that sounds like it might not be real exciting--but it is. Giunta and Trasciatti have both referred to this collection as a "labor of love" that they've been working on for years, and it shows. There's a wide variety of stories here--from artists who have written about and agitated for the Triangle Fire to not be forgotten and who themselves are now being gentrified out of their New York homes (which used to be tenements), to labor activists who worked with Chinatown's striking garment workers in the 1980s, to Frances Perkins's grandson, to a wide variety of people who either remember elderly relatives' stories about surviving the fire or who find out much later in their lives that their elderly family members were somehow touched by the fire or worked for the Triangle Shirtwaist company but then never, ever talked about it.
I've written a much fuller review of the book over at The Progressive, but I thought it was a really neat book and you should know about it. Also, if you've not read much about the fire to begin with, I can highly recommend both David von Drehle's Triangle: The Fire That Changed American and Leon Stein's The Triangle Fire.