Triangle: The Fire That Changed America
Triangle is a poignantly detailed account of the 1911 disaster that horrified the country and changed the course of twentieth-century politics and labor relations. On March 25, 1911, as workers were getting ready to leave for the day, a fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York’s Greenwich Village. Within minutes it spread to consume the building’s upper three stories. Firemen who arrived at the scene were unable to rescue those trapped inside: their ladders simply weren’t tall enough. People on the street watched in horror as desperate workers jumped to their deaths. The final toll was 146 people—123 of them women. It was the worst disaster in New York City history. Triangle is a vibrant and immensely moving account that Bob Woodward calls, “A riveting history written with flare and precision.”
Bargaining, pp. 47-53, and Levine: Women’s Garment Workers. A chastened Robert Cornell … American, Dec. 25, 1909. . . . Cornell quietly resumed … Call, Feb. 5,1910, reported that Cornell sentenced Sophie Gabrilovitz to five days in the workhouse for shouting “scab.” Aspecial “strike extra” … Call, Dec. 29, 1909. The eight-page paper included stories explaining the strike in Italian and Yiddish. … “howintelligent, well-dressed. .. “Call, Dec. 28,1909. Severalbold … American, Dec. 30, 1909.
Square, I discovered that I lived just a block from the scene, and that the building still stood. I used to pause on Washington Place as I walked past the former Asch Building and look up, and wonder what, precisely, had happened. Enough wondering eventually produced this book. In my Notes on Sources, I explain at length my debt to Ralph Monaco and the library staff of the New York County Lawyers’ Association; also to the ghost of Leon Stein and the keepers of his papers at the Kheel Center of
ne’er-do-wells of Greenwich Village and surrounding precincts. When his case was finally called, Sklaver tried to explain that he had done nothing wrong, but the magistrate wasn’t interested. He levied a two-dollar fine and moved on. A week later, hired thugs went after Joe Zeinfield, chairman of the Triangle strike committee. In a replay of the attack on Clara Lemlich, downtown gang leader Johnny Spanish took a couple of his men—including the veteran East Side brutalizer Nathan Kaplan, known to
is now preparing to call a general strike. In order to prevent this irresponsible union in gaining the upper hand . . . let us know as soon as you possibly can if you would be willing to form and join an EMPLOYERS MUTUAL PROTECTION ASSOCIATION.” As November ebbed, then, a full-scale confrontation was inevitable, grand and awful, between the defining forces of downtown New York: the workers and the bosses. 3 UPRISING Clara Lemlich’s moment finally arrived, nearly three months after she
seemed stunned to find himself back at the Triangle under such shocking circumstances. At least one of the victims lying dead on the sidewalk, Beryl “Ben” Sklaver, had been hauled to jail by Capt. Henry’s men—the same sidewalk on which Capt. Henry had reluctantly arrested the wealthy activist Inez Milholland. Other corpses, like Becky Kessler’s, were those of workers who had walked the picket line under the disapproving gaze of Dominic Henry and his men. This realization—that these bodies, and