23-29 Washington Pl, Manhattan, New York City (aka 245 Greene Street)

Shirt Waists for sale
This is a rambler of a post and for that I apologize upfront.  It is important to read it. It has to do with society and our workplace checks and balances.  It has everything to do with how we work and perhaps where some of us think we are headed.

The address in the title is for the Brown Building, now part of NYU in the city.  It was origianally called the Asch Building after the building's owner Joseph Asch.  

"The Asch building was designed by architect John Woolley. According to owner Joseph J. Asch, it was fireproof. And by the standards of the time, it was true. No law required fire escapes, fire sprinklers, or outward opening doors. All of this was up to the discretionary power of the Building Superintendent.

Against the objections of the superintendent, the architect asked for and obtained an exception to the rule that required three enclosed staircases for the 10,000 square feet of the building's floor space. He was allowed to put in place only two staircases, claiming that the fire escape ladder in the rear would serve as third staircase and therefore as a means of egress in case of fire. This would eventually prove to be tragically wrong".

On this date, at 4:40pm in the year 1911, fire broke out on the upper floors of the Asch Building. 146 women workers were trapped on the upper floors.  Of the doors available for exit, both opened "in" and the crush of those trying to get out - well you can imagine.  Management locked one of the two as well so no one would steal a $1.00(retail) shirtwaist.

"A large crowd of bystanders gathered on the street, witnessing 62 people jumping or falling to their deaths from the burning building.  Louis Waldman, later a New York Socialist state assemblyman, described the scene years later:
One Saturday afternoon in March of that year — March 25, to be precise — I was sitting at one of the reading tables in the old Astor Library... It was a raw, unpleasant day and the comfortable reading room seemed a delightful place to spend the remaining few hours until the library closed. I was deeply engrossed in my book when I became aware of fire engines racing past the building. By this time I was sufficiently Americanized to be fascinated by the sound of fire engines. Along with several others in the library, I ran out to see what was happening, and followed crowds of people to the scene of the fire.
A few blocks away, the Asch Building at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street was ablaze. When we arrived at the scene, the police had thrown up a cordon around the area and the firemen were helplessly fighting the blaze. The eighth, ninth, and tenth stories of the building were now an enormous roaring cornice of flames.
Word had spread through the East Side, by some magic of terror, that the plant of the Triangle Waist Company was on fire and that several hundred workers were trapped. Horrified and helpless, the crowds — I among them — looked up at the burning building, saw girl after girl appear at the reddened windows, pause for a terrified moment, and then leap to the pavement below, to land as mangled, bloody pulp. This went on for what seemed a ghastly eternity. Occasionally a girl who had hesitated too long was licked by pursuing flames and, screaming with clothing and hair ablaze, plunged like a living torch to the street. Life nets held by the firemen were torn by the impact of the falling bodies.
The emotions of the crowd were indescribable. Women were hysterical, scores fainted; men wept as, in paroxysms of frenzy, they hurled themselves against the police lines".
So 146 women were either burned alive or jumped to their death.  I won't even mention some similarities to current/past events.   Unions really got tough on this sort of thing and the thuggery of sweatshops started to change - not fast, not thoroughly, but the seeds were in the wind.

Now I think of that fella Gov. Walker in Wisconsin who is making his living bashing unions.  I'm not saying that management now reflects management practices then as locking one of two doors doesn't seem likely in this day and age.  This is management gone crazy and allowed to do so because it was unopposed.  Unions and management can be a "check and balance" and not just good and evil. Perhaps the good Governor might wish to think about this.

He probably won't.

If you have a picture or anything to add to this, please go here....just want to see how we react.



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