The seamstresses were just getting off work that Saturday, some of them singing a new popular song, “Every Little Movement (Has a Meaning of Its Own),” when they heard shouts from the eighth floor just below. They saw smoke outside the windows, and then fire. As David Von Drehle recounts the ensuing catastrophe, in his award-winning book “Triangle,” just a couple minutes later the ninth floor was fully ablaze.
The fire engines that rushed to the scene did not have ladders that reached to the ninth floor. The fire escape — which didn’t reach all the way to the street anyway — was not built to accommodate more than a few people and soon collapsed. The stairwell that led to the roof was already burning, and after a few minutes was consumed by flames. The other stairwell led down to the street, but the door was padlocked from the outside so that the men and women who worked at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company would be compelled to use just the one stairwell or the two elevators to exit, lest any of them elude inspection and make off with leftover scraps of cloth.