Discovery of the Trial Transcripts
What follows are digital scans, partially retyped, of the extant trial transcripts of People of the State of New York v. Isaac Harris and Max Blanck, the criminal case against the owners of the Triangle Waist Company that followed the 1911 fire.
Origins of the Project
The project to scan these records and make them available on the Web originated in a conversation between Richard Strassberg, director of the Kheel Center, and David Von Drehle, who was visiting the Kheel Center at Cornell University doing research for his subsequently published history, Triangle: The Fire That Changed America published by Grove Press
Searching for the Original Transcripts
In the course of his research elsewhere, Mr. Von Drehle was able to locate two of the four volumes of the original court transcripts, long thought to be missing. It was likely that at least three sets of these transcripts originally existed-the copy of record maintained by the Court, the prosecuting attorney's copy, and the defense attorney's copy. The transcripts in government hands apparently are no longer in existence. The partial set of carbon copies of the original transcript Mr. Von Drehle located, were included in the professional papers of Max D. Steuer, the attorney for the defense, which are housed at the New York County Lawyers' Association. These transcripts were critical to Mr. Von Drehle's research, as were the notes on them and a portion of the second volume housed in the Kheel Center that was a gift of Leon Stein, author of an 1963 history of the fire, The Triangle Fire (available in reprint from Cornell University Press). All the transcripts were in an advanced state of deterioration due to the poor quality of the paper on which they were created.
Collaboration with NYCLA
Following his conversation with Mr. Von Drehle regarding the transcripts' physical condition, Strassberg contacted Ralph Monaco, then librarian of the New York County Lawyers' Association, to suggest a cooperative project to conserve the available portions of the transcripts and make them available on the Web as part of the Center's Triangle Fire exhibit. The association's original copies would then be returned to them along with a set of the scans of both the association's copies and the Stein copy of the transcripts.
Library Preservation Staff Steps In
Mr. Monaco, the Board of the New York County Lawyers' Association, and especially Mr. Monaco's successor, Nuchine Nobari, cooperated fully in facilitating the publication of these transcripts. They transferred their copies to Cornell, where the University Library's Department of Preservation staff carefully removed the volumes' crumbling covers and created special conservation boxes for the transcripts themselves. The Lawyers' Association and Stein transcript copies were subsequently scanned by Cornell University Library's Digital Consulting and Production Service (DCAPS) to produce good TIF digital facsimile images of the transcripts. The originals of the transcripts were returned to the Association on September 27, 2004.
Creation of the Digitized Copy
Because of the advanced state of deterioration of the original transcripts and the difficulties inherent in scanning the 1911 manually typewritten transcripts, the subsequent OCR manuscript scan, also done by DCAPS, was only about 60% successful. This flawed product was then proof read and corrected by the Kheel Center's editorial assistant and manuscript arranger, Patricia Leary, whose painstaking effort resulted in a virtual reconstruction of the OCR scan into a fair digitized copy of the original transcript. It is this version of the transcript that resides on the ILR-Digital Commons thanks to the efforts of Mary Newhart and Fran Secord.
Also to be acknowledged, with appreciation, is the contribution of Linda Fisher of the ILR Web Studios, who continually searches for ways to improve the Triangle Fire exhibit and who made the necessary design changes and links in it to accommodate the trial transcripts. Finally, this segment of the Triangle Fire exhibit, as well as virtually all the other elements in the exhibit that are regularly updated, has greatly benefited from Patrizia Sione's considerable editorial and technical skills in her role as the Kheel Center's coordinator of the Triangle Fire exhibit site. Dr. Sione is the Center's Reference Archivist. The Kheel Center sincerely thanks all those whose efforts have resulted in this important addition to our Triangle Fire exhibit.
Director, Kheel Center, 2005