In the Triangle Shirtwaist Tragedy, Echoes of 9/11
In New York City, you are always walking past a story.
A beaming stranger on the subway. A building going up or coming down. A commemorative sign: the site of Manhattan’s slave market; the site of a battle; the site of a fire.
For a long time, the composer Julia Wolfe often walked past the site of the old Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, the Brown Building by Washington Square Park where 146 workers were killed in a 1911 fire. Until 9/11, this was the most fatal workplace tragedy in American history. There was the street to which some jumped to their deaths, preferring that fate to burning; the still-standing building, now owned by New York University, the same school at which Wolfe directs the music composition program. And there was a small plaque outside, posted by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, noting the fire’s legacy: “Out of their martyrdom came new concepts of social responsibility and labor legislation that helped make American working conditions the finest in the world.”
The ways in which those conditions still fall short have consistently interested Wolfe, a 2016 recipient of the MacArthur
AFTER THE FIRE: People line up to identify the bodies of victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.