Sometimes, those nightmares come true.
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, one hundred years ago yesterday, and over two years after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. This fire took the lives of 31 more 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.
Many of the dead were buried in a mass grave in Binghamton.
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.)
Descendents of the dead still live in this area and they, the former historian of our county, and firemen, gathered yesterday to commemorate the anniversary. To quote from our local paper (I am doing this, in addition to providing a link, because our paper charges for online subscriptions and 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 descendents of the victims - a link to history that is thrilling.
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:
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.
Do you have a family link to the history of your local area?