Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remembering... and a tie to Flesh and Blood So Cheap

September 11th has become a very sad day in American history. It is a day of remembrance. While I sometimes get very, very frustrated with the way that politicians will try to tie this day to blind patriotism, I try never, ever to forget the people who lost their lives eleven years ago. Not only were there the people who died trying to escape the two towers that had been hit, but there were also many rescue workers who sacrificed themselves to help save others. This is a day, one of many, unfortunately, around the world (because we Americans sometimes forget that others in the world have suffered similar, or even worse, days in their history) that should remind us that HATE is something that truly does kill.
It is sort of serendipitous that I just recently finished a book that dealt with another American tragedy and discussed not only how it transpired, but also how it has shaped history and US workplaces since it occured.
Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy
by Albert Marrin
On March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City burst into flames. The factory was crowded. The doors were locked to ensure workers stay inside. One hundred forty-six people—mostly women—perished; it was one of the most lethal workplace fires in American history until September 11, 2001.

But the story of the fire is not the story of one accidental moment in time. It is a story of immigration and hard work to make it in a new country, as Italians and Jews and others traveled to America to find a better life. It is the story of poor working conditions and greedy bosses, as garment workers discovered the endless sacrifices required to make ends meet. It is the story of unimaginable, but avoidable, disaster. And it the story of the unquenchable pride and activism of fearless immigrants and women who stood up to business, got America on their side, and finally changed working conditions for our entire nation, initiating radical new laws we take for granted today.

With Flesh and Blood So Cheap, Albert Marrin has crafted a gripping, nuanced, and poignant account of one of America's defining tragedies. (description from
It was extremely interesting to learn more about a tragedy that I'd heard of, but never really researched.  The fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory (a sweatshop in New York City) was one of the most devestating fires in US history.  It was the largest loss of life in New York City's history until the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. 
This book discusses how the conditions came to be such that when the fire broke out on the top the floors of this building that all of the workers on one floor and about half of the workers from another floor were unable to escape the building safely and thus lost their lives.  It talks about the horrible working conditions that used to be found in the US for immigrant workers until the creation of unions.  It also goes on to discuss how working conditions in the US have been improved through the actions following this tragedy and how in other parts of the modern world there are still plenty of sweatshops and similar fires have claimed hundreds of lives. 
In my timely reading of this book, I cannot help but connect the Triangle Fire to the 9/11 tragedy.  In both cases far too many people lost their lives.  It also made me curious about what other major (non-natural disaster related) tragedies occured in the US's history.  I picked out just a few more (from the fairly long list available at wikipedia) and wanted to highlight them today, as well.
In chronological order:
1865 - The Sultana sinks due to a boiler explosion, killing approximately 1700 people.
1889 - A dam burst in Jamestown, PA causing a huge flood that killed 2209 people.
1911 - The Triangle Fire in NYC kills 146 people.
1912 - The Titanic sinks after hitting an iceberg, killing approximately 1500 people.
1941 - The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii kills 2403 US citizens and 55 Japanese pilots.
1944 - The Hartford Circus Fire in CT kills 168 people.
1995 - The bombing in Oklahoma City kills 168 people.
2001 - The terrorist attacks in NYC and two other sites in the US caused 2973 US deaths, as well as the deaths of 19 hijackers. 
Today is a day to remember, to pass on the ideals of tolerance and safety, and to consider our place in the larger world. 

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