Item no. 28109
New York
Occupation: Manufacturing: garment
Collection: Cornell University Kheel Center

"The Mournful Song of the Great Fire"

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire on March 25, 1911 has been memorialized in countless forms, and this is the only one employing music.  It was written in Yiddish and sung by Yehuda Horvitz and an English translation can be found at the end of this page.  The song commemorates the deaths of 146 workers--mostly Italian and Jewish immigrant teenage girls.  The building, eight blocks south of Union Square, is now a part of New York University. 

The fire acted as a stimulus for a powerful movement for health and safety regulations, many of which are a direct result of the fire's consequences.  

The song, sung to the tune of a Hebrew prayer,  is featured in the LaborArts exhibit on Union Square.  See also the comprehensive  Kheel Center exhibit about the Triangle Fire and our exhibit honoring those lost in the fire. 

"The Mournful Song of the Great Fire" was donated to the UNITE Archives at the Kheel Center, Cornell University, by Manny Rubenstein of Chicago, and we thank them both for allowing us to use it here.   Photograph of the original document, and translation,  Cornell University ©2003, reprinting prohibited


The Mournful Song of the Great Fire

by Yehuda Horvitz

translation by Dr. Khane-Faygl Turtletaub,  Evanston, IL.

Whoever saw the hellish fire at 33 Washington Place,
A terrible tragedy, something quite new,
Can never forget it, And everyone knows many lives were lost.
They were incinerated In a factory 10 stories high.
There were horrible screams from the onlookers,
Those who were burned alive
And those who choked in the smoke.

What a horrific sight appeared on the
25th of March at 5 o'clock.
There hasn't been such a tragedy for a long time.
Wailing, uproar, and noise.
The fire flamed and blocked their path.
They were found as charred coal
under the destroyed building.
The offerings were roasting and
They couldn't be saved.

Many working girls lost their lives.
Their parents are looking for them now.
Enveloped in frightful flames.
They left their homes healthy.
They prayed to be rescued.
From the fire that broke out. The firemen came and took them down,
But it was already too late.

"Woe is me!" It's no wonder that the screaming
Spread among men and women alike.
That bitter, "Woe is me!" could be heard from
Fathers, mothers and small children.
When they heard the cries for help, They immediately ran
To save the children.
One mother ran up and also met her death.
The fire demanded, "Stay!"

The workers' lives are in danger
In the factory buildings.
One life's at risk.
And there are new victims all the time,
Who leave the world before their time.
Not a year goes by when there aren't
Tragedies every minute.
Because of the crowded rooms
The graves are filled with blood of young people.

With bloody ink the burning deaths
Of 100 are now being recorded.
One hundred roasted and wounded,
Their faces unrecognizable,
Those who survived are in need -
Families without a piece of bread.
How awful is their situation.
Sights such as what occurred
One can see only here in
this Golden Land.

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