Remembering the Triangle Factory Fire, 100 years later


Ida Kornweiser

Job: Operator and sleeve setter

9th floor

Interview: September 16, 1951

NOTE: Louis Nelson's sister

I worked on the 9th floor for a little less than one year at the time of the fire. I was an operator and sleeve setter on section work.

I worked about 4-5 weeks without pay, then I began to make about $3 or $4. a week from the inside contractor who took me up.

I must have been a child at that time because I remember that when the inspector used to come they would push me into the toilet to hide.

I worked in the center of the shop on the side where the windows were. I remember the bell had rung. Everytime the bell rang the girls would go out. We went to the door to leave and all of a sudden somebody was hollering "Fire". Before we had a chance to look around everything was burning. I had bought a new hat on Friday and the hat was in the dressing room. I took one look into the shop and decided to leave my brand new hat in the dressing room. I had my pay money in my hand. I don't know what made me do it but right there I bent over and pushed my pay into the top of my stocking. Then I ran into the staircase hall but the flames were coming up from downstairs. I tried to get through but I could not. There was too much heat. I ran back into the shop. I don't know where it came from but I found a roll of lawn piece goods maybe it wasn't a whole roll. It was white lawn. I wrapped it around and around and around me until only my face showed out. Then I ran right into the fire in the stair way hall. I ran upstairs. I gasped for breath. The lawn caught fire as I ran and I kept peeling it off of me. I kept turning and twisting while I was running because the burning lawn was on me.

I suffered first degree burns.

By the time I passed the 10th floor and got out on the roof, I had left almost all of the lawn in ashes behind me -- one little piece I still held under my arm. That was the arm that got burned.

I remember how, with the help of students, we put boards across from one building to the other. That is how we were saved - during the whole time I didn't get panicky. The way I remember it, I knew every minute, just what I was doing.

They took me to the hospital. I remember how they prepared the bed for me but when they weren't around I sneaked out of the hospital and ran home because my mother was sick and I was afraid of what might happen to her if I didn't come home. My father had already come home to find out if I had also come home, but he kept his worry a secret from my mother.

I remember that on the roof there were a lot of people -- they were screaming and there was a panic.

I covered myself with the lawn and the flames kept pushing us back. The fire escape was never open. Even so, many of the girls were cut off from the fire escape by the fire. I never returned to see the building. I went to work for Bernstein later.

When I was called as a witness I was asked whether the door was open or closed. I answered the door was never open, that there was only one way out because they had to see if anybody was taking anything out of the shop.

The dressing room was like a chicken coop. There was no cot in it.

Mary Leventhal was very young -- in her early twenties -- she was tall, blonde and spoke very well.

The waists had a lot of tucks and we used a lot of lace. The contractor got paid by the length of the stitching. We used to measure the stitches.

They took us down from the other roof and when we came out into the street, there were police all around us. They would not let us pass over to where our building was.

I know that I didn't realize what a terrible tragedy it was at the time. How could I? If I had realized I certainly would not have taken my time to put my money in my stocking.