Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, 1911

On this day in 1911, the eighth floor of the Asch building in New York City caught fire and spread, killing 146 workers, most of whom were young female immigrants.

The top floors of the building, where the fire began, belonged to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Many lives could have been spared if not for the factory owners’ negligence. The factory itself was a fire hazard, with fabric scraps piled high. To make matters worse, owners Max Blanck and Isaac Harris locked the doors of the factory from the outside, thus providing the workers with no safe escape in case of a fire.

Even the tallest ladder could go no farther than the sixth story of the building.

Luckily, women on the tenth floor were able to jump onto the next building, but those on the eighth and ninth floors were left with one functional elevator and a rusted fire escape. The elevator did in fact save around 150 workers before it stopped running; however, fewer than 20 workers safely made it down from the fire escape before it rusted and collapsed. All the other workers faced a tragic choice: jump or burn.

Many jumped.

Many didn’t.

The burned interior of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, where many died of the fire or smoke inhalation.

Here is United Press reporter William Shepherd’s eyewitness account of the horrifying incident:

I was walking through Washington Square when a puff of smoke issuing from the factory building caught my eye. I reached the building before the alarm was turned in. I saw every feature of the tragedy visible from outside the building. I learned a new sound–a more horrible sound than description can picture. It was the thud of a speeding, living body on a stone sidewalk.

Thud-dead, thud-dead, thud-dead, thud-dead. Sixty-two thud-deads. I call them that, because the sound and the thought of death came to me each time, at the same instant. There was plenty of chance to watch them as they came down. The height was eighty feet.

In the end, 146 people died, making it the worst disaster in New York City until September 11. The public was angered by the treatment of the workers and the consequent tragedy. Frances Perkins, who crusaded for better working conditions, said of the fire:

There was a sense of public guilt… Moved by this sense of stricken guilt, we banded ourselves together to find a way by law to prevent this kind of disaster

Following the fire, factory reform laws were passed in New York, and safety regulations were put in place that saved countless lives.

Further Reading:

Argersinger, Jo Ann E.. The Triangle Fire: a brief history with documents.

Burns, Ric, James Sanders, and Lisa Ades. New York: an illustrated history.

Downey, Kirstin. The woman behind the New Deal: the life of Frances Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor and his moral conscience.

Gorman, Robert F.. Great events from history.

Marrin, Albert. Flesh and blood so cheap: the Triangle fire and its legacy.

Marsico, Katie. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire: its legacy of labor rights.

Stein, Leon. The Triangle fire.

Tyler, Gus. Look for the union label: a history of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. .

Von Drehle, David. Triangle: the fire that changed America.

Chinua Achebe dies, 2013

Though I normally write out about past historical events on the day they occur, today I am writing about something that happened today that I feel is historically relevant.

Today, influential Nigerian author Chinua Achebe died in Boston at age 82.

Photo courtesy of

Achebe is best known for his 1958 novel Things Fall Apart as well as his 1975 article  “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness”  which criticizes Joseph Conrad’s famous novella Heart of Darkness for its racism. Achebe is recognized as the “Father of African Literature” and has influenced such writers as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Toni Morrison.

Like many others, Achebe has influenced me too. I read Things Fall Apart last year and found it to be an stunning and heartbreaking depiction of an Igbo man’s struggle to maintain his cultural identity in the face of European colonialism. It is truly a modern masterpiece that should be read by all, as its message is still very relevant.

And now, some words of wisdom:

Nobody can teach me who I am. You can describe parts of me, but who I am – and what I need – is something I have to find out myself.
― Chinua Achebe

Articles for further reading:

Happy Birthday, Bach!

Let me start out by saying that so many interesting things happened today! Otto von Bismarck became Chancellor of the German Empire (1871), the Butler Act prohibited the teaching of evolution in Tennessee (1925), Charles Lindbergh received the Medal of Honor for the first trans-Atlantic flight (1928), Martin Luther King led 3,200 people on a civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama (1965), and that’s not even all.

But I had to address one event in particular: Johann Sebastian Bach was born today in 1685!

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Johann Sebastian Bach was born during the Baroque period in Eisenach, Germany to a musical family. As a child he learned how to play the violin, harpsichord, and organ, and was a skilled soprano until his voice changed. He had a religious education which affected his life and his work.

The final aim and reason of all music is nothing other than the glorification of God and the refreshment of the spirit.
― Johann Sebastian Bach

Bach’s parents died by the time he was 10, so he lived with his eldest brother, Johann Christoph, for a few years until Bach received a scholarship to a school in Lüneburg. While at Lüneburg, he met local organist George Böhm and discovered French instrumental music, both of which influenced him greatly.

At age 18, Bach received his first job as a musician at Duke Johann Ernst’s court in Weimar. After that, Bach held positions in Arnstadt, Mühlhausen, and Cöthen.

Finally, Bach ended up at Leipzig, where he lived and worked for the last 27 years of his life.

During his life, Bach was better known for his organ playing than his composing. Today, we remember him for such works as Toccata and Fugue in D minor, the Brandenburg Concertos, the Well-Tempered Clavier, and Mass in B minor.

I think that if I were required to spend the rest of my life on a desert island, and to listen to or play the music of any one composer during all that time, that composer would almost certainly be Bach. I really can’t think of any other music which is so all-encompassing, which moves me so deeply and so consistently, and which, to use a rather imprecise word, is valuable beyond all of its skill and brilliance for something more meaningful than that — its humanity.

-Glenn Gould, Canadian pianist known for his interpretation of the keyboard music of Bach

And now, let me share my favorite piece of Bach’s work, Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major (my favorite is Prelude).


What is your favorite masterpiece by Bach?


Ovid, 43 BCE

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I am the poet of the poor, because I was poor when I loved; since I could not give gifts, I gave words. –Ovid

On this day in 43 BCE (Before Common Era), Ovid was born in Sulmo (now Sulmona) in Italy to a wealthy family. After working in the legal field for a brief time, he became a poet. Some of his early works include the Amores (Loves) and Heroides (Heroines).

Around 8 CE, Ovid was banished to Tomis -which is part of modern day Romania- for unknown reasons. Ovid wrote that the reason for his exile was “a poem and a mistake.”

Ovid’s most famous masterpiece is Metamorphoses, which is a single narrative poem of 15 books written in dactylic hexameter. It references over 250 different myths, which are connected by their common theme of transformation, or metamorphosis. One of the stories, Pyramus and Thisbe, shares a similar plot to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Thisbe, by John William Waterhouse, 1909. Photo courtesy of

Despite attempts to return to Rome, Ovid died in Tomis at around 60 years of age.

All things change; nothing perishes. ― Ovid

References: (I found the above quotations from this website, but there are so many other good ones. Click on this link to read them all.)

Sydney Harbour Bridge Opens, 1932

The Sydney Harbour Bridge behind the iconic Sydney Opera House. Photo is by Sam Abell and for

In 1815, architect Francis Greenway proposed building a bridge that would connect the northern and southern shores of Sydney Harbour in Australia. Over a century later, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or the “Coathanger”  as locals fondly call it, finally opened.

True story: At the official opening, Premier Jack Lang was supposed to cut the ribbon. However, Captain Francis De Groot of the New Guard political party cut the ribbon with his sword first because he thought that only a member of the Royal Family should open the bridge. De Groot was detained and the ribbon was retied so that Premier Lang could officially cut the ribbon and open the bridge.

De Groot cutting the ribbon at the Sydney Harbour Bridge opening. Photo courtesy of


St. Patrick’s Day Greetings!

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You’ve heard I suppose, long ago,
How the snakes, in a manner most antic,
He marched to the county Mayo,
And trundled them into th’ Atlantic
-William Maginn

Today is the feast day of Saint Patrick, as well as the anniversary of his death. While he is best known for driving the snakes out of Ireland, this is merely legend.

Saint Patrick can, however, be credited with spreading Christianity throughout Ireland. Perhaps he was so successful because he combined rituals of the nature-based pagan religion of many Irish people with his Christian teachings. For example, it is said that Saint Patrick combined an image of a sun (an important Irish symbol) with a cross to create the Celtic Cross. In addition, there is a popular legend that he used a shamrock to teach the principle of the holy trinity (The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). Continue reading