Remembering the Triangle Factory Fire, 100 years later


Isidore and Celia Saltz Pollack (Mr. and Mrs. Pollack)

Celia's Job: Operator
Isidore: Executive Board member of Local 60 for 15 years

Celia: 8th floor

Interview: July 25, 1957

Celia: I worked at Triangle for about a year before the fire. I started first to work for a contractor in the shop and I made about $3 a week. There were lots of inside contractors in the shop - each one hired his own girls. We did not know the prices for the work, only he did and only he paid us. I worked up from $3 until I was making as much as $10 a week.

About a week after I was working for 6 months, I went to Bernstein who was the manager and I told him I had enough of working for a subcontractor. I told him I wanted to work for myself so he gave me a sample I should sit down and show him what I could do. My work was very good and when Bernstein saw what I could do he said allright you could start to work for yourself. That was when I took up my sister Minnie to work with me. She was only about four months in the country.

I remember I sat near the back door and the elevator. The door was locked. I remember also how on that day there was a lot of singing and happiness in the shop because it was the end of the week and we got paid. We were soon all going to go home.

When the fire started I was sitting at my machine. I looked up and saw the fire near the cutting tables but I did not think it was so terrible. What was terrible was that the fire spread in a split second. The one thing that I thought was that I have to run to the door. I even forgot that I had a sister working with me.

All around me the others were screaming and hollering. The door was locked and I pushed over to the door of the elevator. When the elevator stopped on our floor, I was swept into it by the pushing crowd. I lost my sister and I didn't know where she was.

When I came outside, I first realized how terrible the fire was. I saw bodies falling all around me. I don't remember what happened after that. When I came to myself I was in a restaurant and my sister and some other people were sitting around me helping me. Later when I asked my sister how she got out she told me that somebody opened the door lock and that was how she got down. Many from the 8th floor were saved but the elevator came up only once.

I was an operator and I was about 18 years old. Two years earlier I came from Russia.

Bernstein was a short stocky man and he knew how to do his job as manager.

When I began to work for myself I was soon making as much as $20.

The door was always locked. We had to open our pocketbooks when we went home.

I never knew that there was a fire escape.

While all the others were screaming around me I could not say a word. I was so scared all I could do was hold on to my sister. When I got into the street I kept crying for my sister. Even then I could not understand everything that was happening but on the 8th floor I saw death staring me in the face.

I never went back to see the building and nobody ever asked me to come back to work there.

I had a third sister who worked on the 9th floor. A few months before the fire I told her to go away and find another job.

I told her it was no good for all of us to work in one place.

Our machines were very close together.

We worked on bundles of 2, 2 1/2, or 3 dozen blouses. They were very good shirts. When I began to work for myself I joined the backs to the fronts. We also made the tucks on the fronts.

The cutters took up less than half of the floor but we never went near them because somebody would think that we were looking to take something.

I never walked down the staircase. I always used the elevator.

My sister Minnie used to tell us that she climbed over dead people when she was running down the staircase from the fire but how could there be dead people. We used to laugh at her - she was only 14.

**NOTE: Stein explained to the Pollacks that Minnie may have been telling the actual truth inasmuch as she ascended a darkened stair case on which there must have been many fainting and injured women. This was a revelation to the Pollacks after 47 years.

Everything would have been alright if the doors would not have been locked.

A lot of us were very young like children at that time. When the inspectors would come we would hide in the baskets or big boxes. I looked young too and Bernstein would tell me to get up from my machine when the inspectors came.

On the night after the fire I was sick. The whole night people came to knock on our door. I had no mother and I lived with my father and two other sisters. My father was up the whole night to tell people we were alright. For a long time after that I was afraid even to walk in the streets. Finally I did go back to work in another shop. I worked in the industry about 6 years.

Isidore: I saw firemen holding the nets. I saw how some of the bodies falling down were on fire. I marched in the funeral but she stayed away. She (Celia) was nervous for a long time afterwards.

Isidore: As long as I live I will not forget how on May 1 we marched with Winchevsky to the building.

I remember both of us in the 1909 strike.

I worked for Bloom & Newman and we were a lot of strong men in the shop. We picketed at Traingle and many of us were stuck with hat pins.

I was working in a shop on 18th St. and 6th Ave. and somebody came running into the shop and hollered there was a fire in Triangle. We all ran to the fire. I wasn't even keeping company with her (Celia) but that night I visited her to see if she was alright.