Newark's Worst Fire Nov. 26, 1910

by Jule Spohn


Today, November 26, 2010, marks the 100th Anniversary of the worst fire in Newark's history. On that date 26 women who worked at making nightgowns for the Wolf Muslin Undergarment Co of New York were trapped on the 4th floor of the factory at 216-220 High Street, on the SE corner of Orange Street, died in the fire, including three sisters of the Gottlieb family. Forty more women were injured as well as three Newark firemen in the fire. It is possible that there were others who perished but who were never found or identified. Some of the victims were burned to death and even more died jumping to the ground to escape the flames.

The fire started at 0930. There was a fire house directly across the street - Engine Company #4 - but the fire spread so fast that the firemen were hardly able to be of any use.

Newspaper accounts of the day estimate that somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 people came from everywhere to see the site. The fire made headlines across the country.

The women and girls were of German, Italian, Anglo-Saxon, Irish, Polish, and Eastern European descent. They were Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish. They ranged in age from 16 to 60 and most lived in Newark or nearby Essex County.

No one was ever held liable for the deaths or destruction from either a criminal or civil standpoint.

As a result of this fire, and the March, 1911, fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Co., just off of Washington Square in lower Manhattan, where close to 150 garment workers, mostly women, were killed, some of the most significant workplace reforms in American history came into effect.

This morning I attended a "Commemorative Ceremony" on the spot. The old fire house has been closed for a number of years and has been used as a Fraternity House by a Fraternity from NJIT. The Fraternity Brothers were kind enough to allow the old fire house to be used for an indoor reception today. Many of the Firemen there today, or their fathers, or their Grandfathers, had worked in this old Firehouse over the years and they had some very interesting stories to tell about this place. The members of the Newark Fire Dept's Pipe & Drum Corps were there as well as members of Newark's political hierarchy. "Prayers For The Dead" were said by a Catholic Priest, a Protestant Minister, a Jewish Rabbi, and the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Later-Day Saints. Before and after the ceremony there was a reception in the old Fire House for those in attendance and visitors.

During the ceremony the names of the 26 women who died that day were read aloud and a "clang" from the Fire Dept's bell rang out as each name was mentioned. At the end of the ceremony people were asked to each pick up one of 26 roses and place them on a certain spot in the middle of the now vacant lot to remember the dead.

The property is now owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of the Later-Day Saints and they are in the process of building their new church on that spot. The church has been very supportive of today's events and has allowed a Memorial Plaque to be placed on the front of the church, when it is completed, to commemorate this tragic event. The plaque will say what I have just relayed above about the fire as well as listing the names of the 26 women who died that day.


Click here for further information on the fire.


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