Tomorrow is the 95th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. The fire, at the corner of Greene and Washington just East of Washington Square Park, claimed the lives of 146 garment workers, mainly young women from the Lower East Side. The building now houses the NYU science labs, but at the time it was being used as a sweatshop. When the fire broke out, it quickly spread through all the flammable fabrics piled up in the factory. The owners of the shop had locked one of the two existing exits, preventing many of the women from escaping. The single fire escape soon collapsed under the weight of people trying to get out of the building, and many of those that were left inside were forced to jump from the upper floors. No one survived the fall. [Read an eyewitness account of the fire.]
The owners of the building escaped criminal charges for the deaths, but did have to pay civil penalties. The American Labor Movement was already in full swing by 1911, but in the aftermath of the fire, it gained a lot of support. This led to the development of many of the labor protections we currently enjoy in the United States-- perhaps the only good thing to come out of the tragedy. [Cornell has a good online exhibit about the fire and subsequent labor reforms.]
Mayor Bloomberg is presiding over a memorial ceremony outside the building at noon today (we're not sure why the memorial is a day early, but that's what we've been told.) If you're down by NYU, walk over and pay your respects-- we're going to try to be there.