Memo Pad: Commemorating a Catastrophe... NYT Poaches Ian Adelman...

March 25 will mark the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, New York's deadliest workplace disaster until 9/11.

COMMEMORATING A CATASTROPHE: March 25 will mark the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, New York’s deadliest workplace disaster until 9/11. On March 21, HBO will air “Triangle: Remembering the Fire.” But first, PBS’ American Experience will tonight offer the documentary “Triangle Fire,” about the tragedy that claimed the lives of 146 people, most of them young immigrant women. The fire, a seminal event in U.S. labor history, played an important role in shaping modern laws. “I hadn’t quite understood how much the story intersects with issues of our country such as labor history, women’s rights and immigration,” said Jamila Wingot, who directed and produced the film. “I decided to focus on the girls’ stories and use them as a lens for the larger thematic issues. It’s chilling because they were so young. Some girls were as young as 10.”

Wingot relied on oral histories about the event as well as “The Triangle Fire” by Leon Stein, the grandson of a onetime Triangle seamstress. Workers at Triangle earned $2 a day for working 14 hours in a factory, on Washington Square Park, that was considered modern at the time. It was nonetheless a fire trap, especially since bosses locked one of the doors to prevent “thievery.”

After the fire, there was outrage. City and state politicians convened blue-ribbon committees to investigate. From that came legislation to protect workers with regard to fire safety, sanitation, hours and wages and more. “I wanted the film to end on a darker note,” Wingot said. “I wanted to remind people of the fire and the fact that the [legislation] happened on the backs of 146 people.” — SHARON EDELSON

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