HBO: The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Set your DVR's tonight to watch the new HBO documentary, Triangle: Remembering the Fire.

It's been 100 years since the March 25, 1911 infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Fire on the lower East Side of New York which killed 146 garment workers, most of them young, female Jewish and Italian immigrants. Many were burned alive on the upper floors of the ten story building, others jumped to their death. So many of these deaths were unnecessary -- caused by unsafe working conditions. The stairways were narrow, doors were blocked, the fire escapes were faulty and the sprinklers were inadequate. [More...]

It took only 18 minutes for the building to burn. The Triangle Fire was the worst workplace disaster until 9/11.

The country was outraged. Garment union membership soared, and New York legislators promised reform.

Some of the fire victims were never identified because they were burned beyond recognition. The film's producer, Michael Hirsch, also a amateur genealogist and a historian, has for the first time identified them.

The day the six unidentified victims were buried was the culmination of the city’s outpouring of grief; hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers turned out in a driving rain for a symbolic funeral procession sponsored by labor unions and other organizations, while hundreds of thousands more watched from the sidewalks.

A century later, names and even circumstances have finally been attached to those “unknowns.”

The documentary emphasizes the victims. As Laura at Daily Kos writes,

It vividly, forcefully puts the humanity of the Triangle workers in front of us. Much of it is told by descendants of the fire's victims and survivors, and augmented by photos of the victims. It takes hold of you, all their beautiful serious faces—teenagers working 60 or 70 hour weeks, recent immigrants struggling to get ahead. And after the fire, their families were left struggling to identify them from the smallest remnants, seemingly inconsequential possessions that survived.

The care this documentary shows for the workers of the Triangle company is exquisite, so much so that finally the list of the fire's victims is complete.

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    Perfect timing for a class I'm teaching, (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by jeffinalabama on Mon Mar 21, 2011 at 07:49:52 AM EST
    but I don't have HBO! Darn! I'd love this in my social stratification section.

    You can find the recent PBS special (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by Towanda on Mon Mar 21, 2011 at 11:33:07 AM EST
    on the tragedy, latest in the classic "American Experience" series -- and, of course, you always can count on those documentaries.  Having read a lot on this event, I can recommend the PBS work, which includes background about the Strike of 20,000 and other activities prior to the fire, too.  I will watch HBO's to see how it holds up by comparison.

    The aftermath, the impact, also always is important, so I'll see how this one does in conveying that this event was the 9/11 of its era, with the recency of photo transmission that sent the horrible sight of burning bodies flung nine stories and burnt bodies on sidewalks and bodies to be identified in the massive makeshift morgue -- all seen all across the country.  

    And I'll be watching as well to see how well this one covers the impact on one woman who was nearby so went to see the sight and was forever changed:  Frances Perkins, who called this the start of the New Deal.  You'll know that she changed careers then to lead FDR's landmark commission on workplace laws, at last, for New York State.  And then, of course, she continued that crusade for FDR when she became the first woman ever in a Presidential cabinet, the longest-lasting member ever in a Presidential cabinet, and the Labor Department building in D.C. is named for her today -- and so, in a sense, for the almost 150 women and girls whose lives were not lost entirely in vain.

    Or you can tell the tale and at least show students the website by Columbia University in commemoration, as the building houses its classrooms today (I have taken the tour), and there are some brief videos on Youtube, too.  And there is this result as well in terms of what the tragedy meant for the women garment worker's union -- one of my favorite public service commercials ever.

    Yeh, I have been rereading Triangle and am psyched for this centennial that may help to educate more people today to the tragedy as a turning point for the labor movement, the suffrage movement, and more -- all lessons of the past all too timely again today, when too many have been unlearned, so more tragedies await us.


    I saw maybe the last 40 (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by brodie on Mon Mar 21, 2011 at 12:11:07 PM EST
    minutes of the PBS doc -- well produced as usual, and provided a good overview of the tragedy, especially for those of us who weren't very familiar with this history before.  

    It's the kind of program one would expect would be a regular feature on, say, The History Channel.  But, no, they're too busy showing Alaska State Troopers, The Ax Men and Pawn Stars.

    Look forward to the HBO documentary, which hopefully will cover more ground than PBS was able to.

    Btw, that psa you cite looks like something that might have aired in primetime back then -- and I think I heard similar radio psa's for "the union label"; very familiar tune I might have heard both on tv and radio.  (also -- I'm 100% behind the content and message, but, man, those clunky 70s clothing styles.  And the frumpy hairstyles -- more the awful 1950s.)


    RE: Triangle broadcast (none / 0) (#6)
    by Bouwerie Boy on Mon Mar 21, 2011 at 02:09:39 PM EST
    The film will also be broadcast on CNN at 11 PM on Saturday, March 26.

    TY. I'll record it then! (none / 0) (#10)
    by jeffinalabama on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 07:29:50 AM EST
    Why the labor movement (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by getoffamycloud10 on Mon Mar 21, 2011 at 03:57:03 PM EST
    haven't been all over this for the past six weeks in an effort to show just where the Koch Bros and teabaggers want to take us back to remains a mystery.

    i learned of this event from my mom, (none / 0) (#2)
    by cpinva on Mon Mar 21, 2011 at 07:51:07 AM EST
    who grew up in brooklyn, and herself eventually worked in the garment district, as a designer. i've often thought it would make a great movie, not just a documentary. it has a compelling cast of characters, and a storyline that fiction can't beat.

    you're being redundant: (none / 0) (#8)
    by cpinva on Mon Mar 21, 2011 at 05:07:06 PM EST
    cultural Visigoths in the GOP

    True, but you're being (none / 0) (#9)
    by getoffamycloud10 on Mon Mar 21, 2011 at 08:41:06 PM EST
    more than a bit unfair to Visigoths in comparing them to gops.