Thursday, March 25, 2010
Unlike the Titanic disaster one year later, the Triangle Fire of 1911 has never been the subject of a major Hollywood blockbuster. When I proposed it back in grad school as the subject of my research--to a class that had already been studying immigrant lit for almost fifteen weeks--no one had ever even heard of it.
146 women died in the fire; almost all were first generation immigrants. The circumstances of their deaths directly influenced future social programs and political practices of the US.
Poet Morris Rosenfeld's memorial as published in The Jewish Daily Forward after the fire:
Neither battle nor fiendish pogrom
Fills this great city with sorrow;
Nor does the earth shudder or lightning rend the heavens,
No clouds darken, no cannon’s roar shatters the air.
Only hell’s fire engulfs these slave stalls
And Mammon devours our sons and daughters.
Wrapt in scarlet flames, they drop to death from his maw
And death receives them all.
Sisters mine, oh my sisters; brethren
Hear my sorrow:
See where the dead are hidden in dark corners,
Where life is choked from those who labor.
Oh, woe is me, and woe is to the world
On this Sabbath
When an avalanche of red blood and fire
Pours forth from the god of gold on high
As now my tears stream forth unceasingly.
Damned be the rich!
Damned be the system!
Damned be the world!
Over whom shall we weep first?
Over the burned ones?
Over those beyond recognition?
Over those who have been crippled?
Or driven senseless?
I weep for them all.
Now let us light the holy candles
And mark the sorrow
Of Jewish masses in darkness and poverty.
This is our funeral,
These our graves,
The beautiful, beautiful flowers destroyed,
Our lovely ones burned,
Their ashes buried under a mountain of caskets.
There will come a time
When your time will end, you golden princes. Meanwhile,
Let this haunt your consciences:
Let the burning building, our daughters in flame Be the nightmare that destroys your sleep,
The poison that embitters your lives,
The horror that kills your joy.
And in the midst of celebrations for your children,
May you be struck blind with fear over the Memory of this red avalanche
Until time erases you.
Source: Stein, Leon. The Triangle Fire. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1962, 145-146.
Image, Detail, History of the Needlecraft Industry (1938), by Ernest Feeney, High School of Fashion and Industry. A mural commissioned by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGW).