Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Binghamton Clothing Fire July 22, 1913 Revisited

All of us are scared of fire. It is an instinctive fear, I believe.  Fire has the power to heat our houses, to cook our food, and to destroy our lives in a matter of minutes. Or, it can scar us terribly, physically or emotionally.  For many of us, fire is part of our deepest nightmares.

Sometimes, those nightmares come true.  In Binghamton, they came horrifically true on July 22, 1913, 105 years ago today.

Many Americans have heard of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of March 25, 2011, that took the lives of 146 workers in New York City as thousands of onlookers watched, helpless, in horror.  Many of the dead were Jewish and Italian immigrant women trying to make a living for their families.

Not as many people have heard of the Binghamton Clothing Company Fire of July 22, 1913, over two years after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. This fire took the lives of 31 workers, again, mostly women, working in a four story building that was destroyed in less than 20 minutes. The fire escape was inadequate and there was no continuous staircase for the workers to escape from.  At least two of the dead, a man, and a woman, died heroically trying to save their co-workers.

I found this blog post with an amazing amount of detail about that day.

The following comes from a post I wrote commemorating the 100th anniversary in 2013.  I am linking to the original post also because, occasionally, someone comments on it trying to find information about lost family or for other reasons.  I don't want those comments to be buried in the hundreds of posts I have published since then.

Many of the dead were buried in a mass grave in Binghamton, at Spring Forest Cemetery.

These two fires, combined, led to badly needed fire safety reform.

It is amazing, in a way, to read the account published in the New York Times on July 23, 1913, and the early, damning results of the investigation into the fire. (note, these two links lead to PDF's which will need Adobe Acrobat reader or similar to read.)

Descendants of  the dead still live in this area and they, the former historian of our county, and firemen, gathered on the 100th anniversary to commemorate it.  To quote from our local paper (I am doing this, instead of linking, as the link in my original post appears to be dead.  I feel this information needs to be shared in honor of the affected families:

The Rev. Charles Connor — whose great-great-aunt Nellie Theresa Connor died in the blaze after saving many of her co-workers — read the names of each victim.
As the crowd bowed their heads, the whine of a lone bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace” broke the silence .. A wreath of white flowers with gold writing that read “100th Anniversary” sat beside a table with black-and-white pictures of the fire’s aftermath.
 Gerald Smith, former Broome County historian, retold the horrific story from a century ago, when more than 100 workers frantically tried to escape the burning four-story brick building.

If you read comments on this blog post, you will see comments from descendants of the victims - a link to history that is thrilling.  Again, it bears repeating that some of my other posts on this topic have comments.  I don't want them to be buried and forgotten.

Never forget that history is the story of You and Me - and we forget history at our peril.  Indeed, quoting again from the local coverage of the 100th anniversary in 2013:
Ricky O’Connor, 16, traveled from Atlanta, Ga., with his father, Kevin, to attend the anniversary. He recalled growing up with stories about his ancestor, Nellie Connor. “I think it’s good that I have a hero in the family I can relate to,” O’ Connor said, standing beside his father and other relatives, including Rev. Charles Connor, who attended from Maryland.“She is the cornerstone of our family,” he added.
This disaster, 105 years ago today, still affects the living.

Day 22 of the Ultimate Blog Challenge #BlogBoost


  1. It's sad that tragedies have to happen before regulations are put in place to prevent more tragedies. And then after time erases memories...

  2. Amazing that there are descendents still living. Such a tragedy.

  3. Off to do some reading now. Fascinating and horrific. May we continue to remember and learn from the past.


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