Remembering the Triangle Factory Fire, 100 years later


Dora Appel Skalka

Job: Blouse Maker

8th floor

Interview: July 31, 1957

I worked at the Triangle Shop for nine weeks before the fire. In all of that time I used the Greene St. elevator and sometimes the other elevator but I never went down by staircase.

I came up to work with my girl friend named Pauline and I worked together with her. I remember on the day of the fire she said to me let's stop early today and let's go home earlier. We got paid at a quarter to four and I said why should we lose an hour work but she would not listen. She went home early and left me to work alone. Usually we went home together and what we would usually do was that she would go to the dressing room and pick up my clothes and her own clothes and while she was in the dressing room, I would put both work baskets on the machine tables and our chairs into the baskets. This is the way we had to leave our machines at night. This time because she went home earlier I decided to stop earlier too and because she wasn't there to get my things. So I went to the dressing room earlier than I usually did. I was at the door of the dressing room and was about to go in when I heard screaming in the back of me.

I turned around and saw that the fire was already burning at the cutting table. My machine was in the first row next to the cutting table and if my girl friend did not go home earlier, I am sure I would have been one of the first victims.

But I was standing at the door of the dressing room with two or three other girls and we ran to the door of the Greene St. staircase. It was closed. All around me there was hollering. In a split second the place filled up with black smoke. I remained at the door. I did not move. I could not holler. I thought to myself at least I want to die by the door.

I don't remember exactly how it happened but somebody opened the door from the outside. It was either a fireman or policeman who smashed in the door which was always locked. He grabbed us and told us to go down the staircase and he took us down to the 6th floor and left us there. He must have gone back upstairs.

When I finally came downstairs in the lobby they were crying and hysterical but they would not let us out. There were maybe 20 or 30 people in the lobby. Some were crying and hysterical but they would not let us out. When we finally got out of the lobby into the street I could see why - because there, smashed on the sidewalk, were the beautiful faces of those who were my neighbors at the machines. We would not stay there. An around were ambulances, pushcarts, fire engines.

At that time I lived at 149 Broome St. I remember I walked home and I did not know how I was even walking. I remember I came to my house - walked upstairs - went into the apartment and then I went into the bedroom and threw myself across the bed. My girl friend who was my next door neighbor came running into the house and while I was lying on the bed I could hear how she was hysterical asking if I was home. I called to her that "I was in here, don't cry" and she was with me until 2 or 3 in the morning. We were both crying.

Our family had a friend at that time - Louie Salt - who came into the house and asked for me by my first name and in the mix-up he thought I had not come home. He ran like a crazy man to the morgue to look for my body. He came back in the middle of the night and he could not talk. On Sunday he came back again and when he saw me, we both began to cry again.

I could not work for a long time after that. I remember when I went back to work, I went to work in a shop on Prince St. on the 4th floor. Soon the shop moved to 22nd St. on the 12th floor. It was a good job with nice people but I said to myself I would have to leave the job because every time I looked out the window, I thought I saw smoke coming up and I would stop working and I would sit at my machine like a stone. The foreman would come by and look at me. I had a new friend in that shop who asked me what was the matter at that time and I told her I would have to leave the job and I told her why. My friend said don't be silly and she took me over to the window and showed me that the smoke was coming from a luncheonette across the street.

I was called before the District Attorney and I was asked if I saw that the door was opened. I know the door was always locked. They never called me again.

I worked in the Bijou Waist Co. until the strike which lasted 5 months. Then I went to work in another place on Grand St. One day my friend said let's take a newspaper and look for a job. We came to the Triangle shop. We were taken up to the 10th floor and I asked where was the chairlady- I didn't know they had a strike.

Bernstein, the manager called everbody into one big room. We packed the room and he spoke to one after another and he kept saying "down, down, down" because they were not good enough workers for him. When he came to me and my girl friend, he asked us if we could make a whole waist. I could not make a whole waist but with straight faces we said yes we could. So he took us down to the 8th floor and told the forelady to give the girls some waists to make. The forelady's name was Lena. When we were finished, Bernstein and Lena looked over our work and they were satisfied. He asked us how much we wanted. In the Bijou we made $7.50 a week so here we asked for $9. Later we were both sorry because we should have asked for $10.

I had to punch a clock and it is true that every time we left the shop we had to show our pocketbooks that we were not stealing anything. The company held back a week's pay all the time.

My machine faced the cutting table. It was in the first row. I lost my coat and scarf in the fire. I remember that I began to go to the fire escape when I heard screaming. I knew there was a fire escape but then people began to holler that the fire escape had broken down. I wanted to run back into the shop but it got dark from the smoke in a split second.

Those who got to the door first were some who were already lined up at the clock to punch out.

I remember that when I got to the lobby I wasn't wet from the firemen's water. The bodies were falling already but not the firemen's water.