Friday, March 25, 2005

Anniversary of a Tragedy

Today marks the 94th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire that killed 146 employees.
One girl climbed onto the window sash. Those behind her tried to hold her back. Then she dropped into space. I didn't notice whether those above watched her drop because I had turned away. Then came that first thud. I looked up, another girl was climbing onto the window sill; others were crowding behind her. She dropped. I watched her fall, and again the dreadful sound. Two windows away two girls were climbing onto the sill; they were fighting each other and crowding for air. Behind them I saw many screaming heads. They fell almost together, but I heard two distinct thuds. Then the flames burst out through the windows on the floor below them, and curled up into their faces.

The firemen began to raise a ladder. Others took out a life net and, while they were rushing to the sidewalk with it, two more girls shot down. The firemen held it under them; the bodies broke it; the grotesque simile of a dog jumping through a hoop struck me. Before they could move the net another girl's body flashed through it. The thuds were just as loud, it seemed, as if there had been no net there. It seemed to me that the thuds were so loud that they might have been heard all over the city.
Eyewitness Account by UP Reporter William G. Shepherd

For an excellent account of the tragedy, read David Van Drehle's Triangle: The Fire That Changed America.


Meanwhile, back to the present:

Three immigrant janitors will file a lawsuit today against two supermarkets in the Bronx, accusing them of endangering their lives by locking them in at night, with the fire exits blocked or padlocked.

The janitors, who worked the late night shift scrubbing and waxing floors, accuse two C-Town supermarkets of false imprisonment and negligence.

The janitors' lawyers said they were filing the lawsuit partly out of frustration that government regulators had not done more to crack down on stores in New York that lock in their late-night janitors.

"We're bringing this lawsuit because it's outrageous that this practice is going on," said Amy Carroll, a lawyer with MFY Legal Services, a nonprofit law office serving low-income New Yorkers. "We should have learned our lesson with the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire that locking in workers is unconscionable. This lawsuit seeks to hold these stores accountable and to change a practice endemic in the industry."