Feb 22, 2011

100 Years Later, We Know Their Names

There's a haunting story in yesterday's Times about a researcher who has finally managed to compile a list of all 146 people killed in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire 100 years ago. The haunting part of it is that nobody had managed to do so earlier. I had no idea that until now there were at least 6 people who died in the fire but had never been identified. A researcher named Michael Hirsch has spent the last few years combing at least 30 newspapers from the early 20th century, correlating missing person reports and death notices with public records, charity reports, and descendants' stories to compile the most accurate and complete list to date of those who died in the fire.

This story is a harsh reminder of the anonymity of immigrants' and poor people's lives in early 20th century urban America. All of those who died had relatives and friends in New York at the time who knew they were missing after the fire, but their bodies were burned beyond recognition and their disappearances weren't tracked, even with the enormous amount of publicity that the fire received at the time. Plus, the relatives' grief may have prevented earlier positive identifications. The Times mentions one family who put a notice about a missing relative in the Forward, the Yiddish newspaper, saying that "We believe that he survived the fire, but from great fear and being upset he went mad and is wandering the streets."

It's tragic that it took so long to find these names, but better late than never, I suppose.

No comments:

Post a Comment