Remembering the Triangle Factory Fire, 100 years later


Celia Walker Friedman

Job: Examiner

9th floor

Interviewed: August 8, 1957

Returned to industry after fire for a period of about 5 years until her marriage.

When I worked in the Triangle shop all the other girls looked on me like I was a real "yankee". When we came to this country I was only 5 years old and by the time I went to work in the shop I spoke with a real American accent. In the Triangle Co. I am sure that the girls thought I was American born.

I worked on the 9th floor as an examiner. My job was to look over the work to see that it was made correctly - if it wasn't correct I got it back to the Operaters for fixing. I worked at the last table on the floor. In front of me were the rows of machines running in the same direction as my table. I could see clear across the shop. Way down in the front were the windows. I don't know if it was Washington or Greene Sts. To my left on the other wall were the windows to the other street.

On the day of the fire I had gotten my clothes. I stood at my table ready to leave. I looked across the shop. In front of me I saw flames on the outside of the windows shooting up. The flames were climbing up from the 8th floor. I was scared and it seemed to me that even before I could move, everybody in the shop started to scream and holler. The girls at the machines began to climb up on the machine tables maybe because it was that they were frightened or maybe they thought they could run to the elevator doors on top of the machines. The aisles were narrow and blocked by the chairs and baskets. They began to fall in the fire. I know now that there was a fire escape in back of me but I ran to the elevator because that was the only place to run to.

NOTE: Mrs. Friedman learned, apparently for the first time, from Stein, of the tragedy on the fire escape.

The door to the stairway was completely blocked by the big crates of blouses and goods. The fire crept closer to us and we were crowded at the elevator door banging and hollering for the elevator. The first time it came up, the girls rushed in and it was crowded in a half a second. The elevator driver struggled with the door and finally closed it and went down with the screaming girls. I was left with those who didn't make the first trip. Then the elevator came up a second time. The girls were all squeezing against the door and the minute it was opened they rushed again. This time I was sure I would be lucky and get in. I rushed with the other girls but just as I came to the door of the elevator it dropped down right in front of me. I could hear it rush down and I was left standing on the edge trying to hold myself back from falling into the shaft. I held on to the two sides of the open door. Behind me the girls were screaming and I could feel them pushing me more and more. I knew that in a few seconds I would be pushed into the shaft and I made a quick decision. Maybe through panic or maybe through instinct I saw the center cable of the elevator in front of me. I jumped and grabbed the cable. That is all I remember.

My next thing I knew was when I opened my eyes and I was lying on my back and I looked up into the faces of a priest and a nun who were trying to help me. I was in St. Vincent's Hospital. Everybody thought I was going to die. They found me at the bottom of the shaft. I had saved myself by my jumping. Others had fallen down the shaft on top of me and I suppose I was found by the firemen when they were removing the dead. I have often wondered how I was saved. I was very lucky. By sliding down the cable I was far enough away from where most of the bodies landed on top of the elevator cage as they fell down the shaft. My head was injured and I had a broken arm and a broken finger. I had a large searing scar down the middle of my body, burned by the friction of the cable which had cut through my clothing. In the hospital, later, I was shown a large ripped piece of fur and fabric.

One of the nurses said she thought it was wonderful that I had enough presence of mind when I jumped to wrap something around my hands in order to save them and to be able to hold on to the cable. I know it was not presence of mind or courage. I think the right word is vanity. This was a new muff that I had bought after saving for it many weeks and fire or no fire, something in me made me hold on to it even while I jumped to save my life. I don't know how long I stayed in St. Vincent's but when I was well the Red Cross came with my clothing which they got from my family and took me straight to the mountains for a rest. At the same time, the Red Cross paid my family $10 a week for 10 weeks. I never got a dime's worth of help from the company.