Shakespeare said ,“Men of few words are the best men.”  If this be so, then doth Friday Fictioneers offer thee the opportunity to be one of the few, the proud, the best men (allowing for “men” to stand for the generic “people.”)  Each FF story is approximately (or exactly) 100 words, yet what grand tales therein be told!!  Joineth us or readeth only, if those so chooseth.  And now, forsooth!  On to the story.

When words are scarce they are seldom spent in vain.
~Shakespeare
copyright Claire Fuller

copyright Claire Fuller

Helen

March 26, 1911

Dearest Mary,

I grieve to tell you that Helen perished in a fire at the factory last night.  When she didn’t come home, Mother was frantic.  After hours in the cold, looking at burned bodies, she identified Helen, then fainted.  Thankfully, a kind policemen helped her.  He even gave her $2.

The factory was a scene from hell.   Over 140 died.  The doors were locked and many girls jumped to try to escape.  No one knows yet how the fire started but people are very angry.

I’m sorry to give you such bad news.

Your loving Father

****************************************

On March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory did burn. As the work day ended, the girls who worked 12-hour days 7 days a week in this sweatshop under terrible conditions, heard the cry of “Fire.” From my reading, it appears likelly that one door was locked from the outside to prevent theft, while the other opened inward. Approximately 600 workers tried to escape and, in a horrible precursor to 9-11 ( note the date of this fire was 1911), many girls flung themselves from windows or down elevator shafts trying to escape. The death toll reached 145 and I’m sure there were many injured as well.

You can read more about the fire, maybe the most famous of the factory fires at this time, at http://www.history.com/topics/triangle-shirtwaist-fire and http://www.historybuff.com/library/refshirtwaist.html. The fire was instrumental in bringing about new laws to protect factory workers. In a bizarre twist, exactly 79 years to the day after this fire, another tragic fire occurred in New York City at the Happy Land Social Club in the Bronx. 87 people were killed, making it the most deadly fire in the city since 1911.

According to the History Buff source mentioned above, a policeman really did give a mother $2, a large amount in those days.

Comments
  1. wmqcolby says:

    WHOA! Strong story …. LOVE IT! Reads almost like a ballad.

  2. That was a very touching story, but I like the way you told it. Thanks for the link, I will read more.

  3. You and I had similar story ideas this week using the Triangle Shirtwaist fire as a basis. I love your approach. A touching and sad story indeed. Well done!

  4. Joe Owens says:

    What a creative way to share a historical event with everyone.

    • Thanks a lot, Joe. I’m glad you liked it. I found it interesting that the date of 1911 was so similar to 9/11 and that many people in both instances tried to escape by jumping. Both terrible tragedies.

      janet

  5. A sweatshop burning.. You captured it so well. And in third world countries it still happens. I’m glad I didn’t go down that route myself, it was one of my first thoughts. I like the letterform .. It works so well, and the detail of the 2 dollars added another dimension.

  6. Sandra says:

    You got the voice absolutely spot-on with this Janet. A chilling tale, well told.

  7. Amy says:

    I appreciate how you convert that part of the history in a few words…

  8. vb holmes says:

    So difficult for a father to write of such a horror. You did a good job imparting information on the fire within the format of a personal letter. Well done, Janet.

  9. DCTdesigns says:

    I love that you used the triangle fire for your story. As an ex-east coaster I knew instantly the time and place but was swept into the moment in the gentile way you wove history.

  10. This was a horrible incident. You did a great job incorporating it in your story.

  11. So very sad. We often forget how far we have come and how much better we have it then generations past.

  12. How terrible, but I love how you worked something historical into the piece and the letter form works so well.
    The $2 seemed a little out of place though. Strangely upbeat for someone informing their daughter of her sister’s death.

    • Since that was something that actually happened, I thought I’d include it. I’m sure the father would have thought it odd enough to mention in the letter, not as something great, but unusual, for such it must have been.

      Thanks, Carol, for taking the time to comment as well as read and like.

      janet

  13. FireBonnet says:

    Wonderfully told! I remember reading about that fire… how horrendous. Your letter is very well done.. it reminds me of the style of letters I’ve read by my own ancestors. I think letter form is a wonderful approach to telling a story. (perhaps I see a letter blog in my future… 😉 )

  14. kz says:

    such a sad powerful story. the letter form was very effective.
    it gave me chills when i found out this was a based on true events, horrifying, thanks for the link.

    • kz, I’m glad the letter form worked. I wanted to do something slightly different this week. I guess having someone die isn’t unique for FF, but at least it was a different form. 🙂

      janet

  15. Dear Janet,

    I knew almost immediately where this was going. Tragic story or, rather, tragic slice of history well served up in letter form.

    Shalom,

    Rochelle

  16. Sarah says:

    Chilling! I loved it, though, especially the format in which it was told. There’s always something so exciting about reading letters.

  17. Wow! Janet, I never read any of the stories before I write mine (I don’t even check to see how many have submitted yet)… how truly haunting that we chose such similar stories. I am really familiar with this tragedy, but that’s not what I had in mind with mine. Just the same, the similarities are striking! I added an intro to mine… as my story seemed to be other worldly guided today. Finding your story just gave me goosebumps all over again! I really like that you put it in letter form. Great job!

    • I never read other stories first, either, and I’m even careful about not reading Rochelle’s while I’m getting the link set up. There was another story about this same fire this week, that could have been from Helen’s point of view. That’s interesting, too!

      janet

  18. Perry Block says:

    Yep, I’m very familiar with the sad story. It was interesting to hear it told in a first person context as you’ve done. (Makes you so tense you almost want to smoke!)

  19. draliman says:

    Great story and I loved your telling it as a letter. I can imagine in those days people were practically locked in with no way to easily escape.

    • It appears that they were literally locked in, one of the causes for so many deaths. But the building had none of the safety features that building now are required to have. It’s a blessing that more people didn’t die.

      janet

  20. Sarah Ann says:

    Thanks for the history behind your story. I think you’ve nailed the bereft father imparting information not yet able to recognise or feel his loss.

  21. sandraconner says:

    A great job on revisiting history with an up-to-date version. It boggles the mind, doesn’t it, that greed can induce such extreme measures of inhumanity to our fellow man.

  22. Helena Hann-Basquiat says:

    Horrible tragedy. I think this kind of situation was used as the plot background for a ghost story called The Kingdom, which Stephen King later adapted into Kingdom Hospital.
    Worth checking out, darling.
    I’m not writing this week, but I’d love it if you’d drop by my blog for a second anyway, I posted a big announcement today

  23. Linda Vernon says:

    What a horribly tragic tale. I remember my mother had a letter from the 1800’s reporting to a relative that someone had died and it had a black edges. I think this letter would have had black edges.

  24. JackieP says:

    I remember reading somewhere about the shirt factory. I used to read old stories a lot when I was younger. I went with fire this week too, but in a whole different direction. Great story janet. Tragic, but great writing.

  25. I enjoyed reading your story which was sad but both done well and a memorial to tragic fires of the past.

  26. camgal says:

    Loved the strength and compassion I felt as I read the letter from Father to daughter…nicely done and anger of the people clearly voiced- well done.

  27. Subroto says:

    Sad story. Unfortunately it still happens around the world.

  28. hugmamma says:

    Sweatshops are poverty’s enemy in the guise of a savior.

  29. Wow Janet this is such a powerful story. Conditions such as you describe still exist in some countries with owners getting their workers to work longer for less, working conditions are no consideration. I enjoy this as sad as it was.

    • It’s a shame because I think it could be a win-win situation with workers in a safe environment and getting paid a good wage for their country and the company still making enough money to keep everyone working. However, the outsourcing makes it difficult for Americans looking for work. So many interconnections these days.

      janet

      • Exactly, especially in the clothing trade, not so long ago a building collapsed in Bangladesh Désh killing scores of sweatshop workers, it’s still happening.

  30. Such a sad story, Janet. Doubly so because it is all real.

  31. I want to say “Great Story!” but, knowing how true this one is, I can only say “Well written!”

  32. storydivamg says:

    Interesting although tragic soundbite from history. I like the way you tell the story in the format of a letter.

  33. Bryan Ens says:

    Great bit of historical fiction. You told the story so well!

  34. claireful says:

    I love the style of the father’s letter, so blunt, and yet so touching. How do you give such awful news in a letter? Wonderfully written.

    • Claire, I can only imagine (thank goodness) although now a parent would undoubtedly call. I tried to get the slightly more formal flavor of the speech of the day, but 100 words is very limiting for this sort of thing.

      janet

  35. Janet,
    what a touching story, especially since it’s based on real life. There were probably many such letters as this, just as painful to write as to read.
    -David

  36. atrm61 says:

    What a horrible fate to befall someone-my heart broke for the family here-well written:-)

  37. Bastet says:

    In Italy we celebrate Women’s Day on the 8th of March and this fire is always remembered, not only because of the awful conditions with which workers generally had to pass their days but the the fact that sweat shops and these harrowing conditons in particular were usually work places for women and often young girls. The horror of locking the women in their work place was common through-out the world, and sometimes still happens to this day in the so-called developing countries that our industries make their profits off and gives us our cheap clothes…and in our own developed countries where clandistine sweat shops can still be found.

  38. unspywriter says:

    You’ve captured the human side of that awful tragedy. Well done.

    Here’s mine: http://unexpectedpaths.com/friday-fictioneers/family-ties/

  39. viveka says:

    Wow, what a sad story …. a real story … and strong reality for those that made such massive lost.
    I wonder how much a life is worth today .. not much more .. at times. Very powerful post.

  40. rgayer55 says:

    I saw a program about this on PBS recently. You did an excellent job making it personal.

  41. Tragic. Thank you for weaving such a well-worded, moving tale based on an equally sad event. Very well done

  42. A sad story beautifully told. We don’t learn from these things, do we. These places still exist.

  43. Fantastic storytelling and references…also loved that you didn’t reveal the name of the author of the letter. It’s the small details for me 🙂

    Thanks again for commenting on my first attempt at Friday Fictioneers. I’ve quickly assessed that this group expects a lot but gives a lot in return. I may already be hooked 🙂

    Thanks again

    Steven

    • Steven, I’m pleased you liked my story and presentation. FF is not only a great group of writers but a wonderful group of people as well. You can get as little or as much feedback and help as you want and it’s very addictive. Good to have you on board.

      janet

  44. And these sorts of stories are doomed to be repeated, decade after decade. A great response, well told.

    • Thanks, Freya. There are certainly less of these types of places around these days. It would be nice to think that they’d go away completely, but human nature being what it is, I rather doubt it.

      janet

  45. Wonderful, Janet. It’s even more heart wrenching when written as a letter. What a horrible event you captured in such a small space.

  46. AnnIsikArts says:

    Your character’s letter came across as brutal and blunt, which is exactly the right emotional tone. I have experienced this. News like that is brutal, like a physical blow and you captured that. Well done. Ann

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