It happened almost a hundred years ago, but the human horror and social ramifications reverberate yet today. This coming Friday is the 100th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, and HBO is premiering an excellent documentary tonight -- Triangle: Remembering The Fire -- about this early 20th-Century workplace tragedy which focused attention on the unsafe conditions for many toiling in New York City at the time. It was a shocking news story -- a hundred and a half women killed in a fiery inferno, and many more wounded -- that opened the eyes of the nation to the lamentable plight of factory workers exploited in sweatshops, and not just in New York, of course.
Triangle: Remembering the Fire premieres tonight at 9pm and encores many times over the next few weeks, and it's a must-watch, not only for history buffs but for anyone interested in the history of organized labor and its roots in America. It's a story as old as time -- greed over fair and ethical practices -- and it's a battle that's still raging here and in many other places. The lessons learned -- or not learned -- from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire echo today in the repercussions from the BP Oil Spill or Hurricane Katrina, decisions made to cut corners or goose production or just forget that accidents will happen and we must be mindful of them.
PBS had their own "Triangle Fire" documentary on American Experience a couple of weeks ago, and though it seemed to have fallen below the radar somewhat, the special is available for viewing online at the PBS website if you missed it. The New York Times compared the two specials in an article when PBS ran their version; you can read it here (hurry before they start blocking you out!).
We're hoping America might turn away from their wretched addiction to so-called "reality" shows to watch something truly real for a change. 146 people died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, and attention must still be paid.
For more information on the fire, you can visit -- in addition to all the links in the previous paragraphs -- Cornell University's The Triangle Factory Fire website, the Famous Trials Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Trial website, several features on NPR about the Fire from Labor Day in 2003, an article from the AFL-CIO website, and this great article from the New York Public Radio station WNYC about the Fire and many events and exhibitions in the city which are commemorating the anniversary. These are just a small sampling of the many websites with great info about the Fire and its lasting implications.