Originally published in the Forverts, December 29, 1911
The Triangle Bosses Are Freed—Jury Deliberates For One and A Half Hours—Over One Hundred Relatives Of The Victims Gather On The Street—But Dozens Of Police And Detectives Don’t Permit Demonstrations—“You’re Murderers” Shouts Out One Brother Of An Immolated Girl, Racing Over To The Triangle Bosses With Clenched Fists—He Collapsed—Stirring Scenes Under The ‘Bridge of Sighs’
Held For 25 Thousand Dollars Bail And Additional Complaints
Isaac Harris and Max Blanck, the two bosses of the Triangle Waist Company were freed late yesterday afternoon. After deliberating for one and a half hours, the jury declared them not guilty in the deaths of 147 immolated workers in their factory 9 months ago.
The court-room was half empty when the Jury delivered its verdict. By the Judge’s decree only close friends of the accused and others who were closely connected to the case. In the halls and around the court building out on the street, however, stood hundreds of people, mostly relatives and friends of the victims. They awaited results of the long trial and when the decision was made public many of the masses wept silently. The police expected worse. They assumed that the agitated men and women would incite a riot and dozens of police and detectives were there on location on ‘crowd control’ duty. The Judge also feared releasing the bosses through the front door. God forbid they might be attacked by those gathered outside. Immediately following the verdict they were taken to his private room where their wives, children and friends were waiting. They all shook hands and embraced and policemen were especially assigned to take them out a back door and accompany them to the Worth Street subway station.
A bit of trouble broke out when the bosses were out on the streets and a young man ran towards them with hands raised up screaming: “Not guilty, ha!, not guilty! You’re murderers! Murderers!” He made no move to attack the bosses. He yelled for a few more seconds and then burst into tears. The police immediately surrounded him and in that confused state, he was walked over to steps under the ‘bridge of sighs’ connecting the court building with the tombs. There he fell and began screaming hysterically again, this time he didn’t mention the bosses. “My sister, my unforgettable Lana!” He keened and fell faint.
Dozens surrounded him. A few who knew him said he was from among those who had lost a younger sister in the fire. An ambulance was sent but it took a long to arrive, and meanwhile those around revived him. Again he began wailing and fell faint. This lasted until a doctor finally arrived and he was taken to Hudson Street Hospital. There he was calmed a bit and when he appeared to return to his natural state, he was sent home.
The case went to Jury at ten minutes after three. Twenty minutes after four they sent word saying that they had reached a verdict. Soon afterwards they returned to the courtroom, all of them appearing quite pale, and took their seats. The Judge rose from his chair.
“Before the Jury presents the verdict,” the Judge said, “I want everyone in this room to be warned, that they are not to make any kind of demonstration. Everyone must remain completely quiet.”
The foreman of the Jury, Leo Abraham, then stood up and answered to the question of guilt: “we find the accused not guilty.” Jury members Charles Wember and Abraham then called out: “that’s right, we all voted for this verdict.”
The Judge then graciously thanked the Jury and directed them to a back door, apparently fearing the crowds out in the streets would attack them. Newspaper reporters immediately encircled them posing various questions. They refused to respond. Evenutally it became known, that they had to vote three times before they could reach a unanimous verdict. The first time, eight voted ‘not guilty’ and two ‘guilty’ and two abstained. The second time eleven voted ‘guilty’ and one ‘not guilty.’ The third time all were unanimous in voting ‘not guilty.’
The Jury was composed of the same class of people as the bosses, all were business and sales people, rent collectors and buyers. Here’s a list of their names and occupations:
Leo Abraham, 164 West 147th Street, real estate man and rent collector.
Anton Sherman, 233 West 115th Street, cigar dealer.
William E. Lyon, 347 West 142nd Street, salesman.
Harry L. Lerer, 82 West 90th Street, painter boss.
Charlie Wember, 3485 Broadway, buyer.
Abraham Wexler, Hotel Majestic, real estate dealer.
Joseph Jacobson, 605 West 151st Street, traveling salesman.
William Akerstram, a clerk for the Manhattan Storage & Warehouse Company, 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue.
A.S. Boyce 122 East 24th Street, bookkeeper.
Victor Steinman, 723 East 160th Street, shirt manufacturer.
H. Uston Hiers, 1338 Fulton Ave. Bronx, coffee importer.
Morris Boyce, 201 West 110th Street, decorating boss.
Before the Triangle bosses left the court, Assistant District Attorney Bostwick alerted the Judge that an additional six indictments were still held against the bosses and that they should remain under that same 25 thousand dollar bail that was current until the end of their trial. Bostwick reiterated that he would be prosecuting the bosses again and the Judge accepted his request. The bosses remain under a high bail.
There is, however, doubt, as to whether they will again be prosecuted. Their lawyer, Max Steuer, is certain they will not be bothering the bosses anymore with additional trials.
The Judge’s Speech
The Judge’s speech, which lasted over one hour, favored the accused. He warned members of the Jury not to convict the bosses before being “convinced beyond any doubt” regarding three facts: 1) that the door was locked 2) that the bosses knew the door was locked and 3) that the girl, Margaret Schwartz, for whose death the bosses stand accused, was burned to death because of the locked door.
“What caused the death of Margaret Schwartz?” the Judge said, “Did she die because the bosses locked the door and kept it locked? Was the door locked the entire time from the outset of the fire until the girl was immolated?
“As the accused are indicted for a serious charge, first degree manslaughter, do not convict them unless you find the door was certainly locked. If you are absolutely certain the door was locked and the bosses knew about that, you must be certain that the locked door caused the death of Margaret Schwartz.”
In speaking of possible factory fires, the Judge stated the bosses are not obligated to take into account extraordinary situations to which their workers may be exposed.
Bostwick’s Strong Speech Against The Bosses
The speech that Assistant District Attorney Bostwick gave for the plaintiff made a deep impression on all impartial people who were in the courtroom. When he finished, everyone understood that the Jury could not possibly return any verdict other than ‘guilty.’
Bostwick reviewed the evidence brought by both plaintiff and accused. He showed that each witness for the accused was either employed in the Triangle Shop or had business with it. He had analyzed the statements of the girls who said they had managed to exit through the Washington Place door, and had proven they had lied.
“The plaintiff has examined over 100 witnesses, young women, who all swore the door was locked. Are they all liars? Did they all take a false oath?
But would we to then erase all that these living witnesses have told us, we would have mute witnesses convincing us the door was locked.
“Observe these burnt door frames and consider them well. Note the long white lines marked on their sides. Those are the areas that weren’t burnt or smoke stained because they were closed and protected from fire and smoke.”
“And we have another mute witness. The locked lock. We’ve determined here that this lock could not belong to any other than the Washington Place door. The lawyer for the accused tried to prove through the use of ‘experts’ that the lock was nailed to the bit of door after the fire. That’s ludicrous. If you are people of reason you will acknowledge this is the lock from the ninth floor door.
“But why was the door locked? Did the bosses have a reason to do this? They wanted to protect their workers. Harris himself said on the witness stand six girls stole several waists from him.”
Bostwick then showed a piece of railing from the Washington Place stairs that was clean and not melted. “These stairs had no fire nor smoke on them, because the doors on that side were closed and didn’t enable the fire to break through.
“Look at the tables in the shop,” Bostwick explained further, showing a photo of the shop as it appeared before the fire. “See how the tables and machines were placed in the shop. How could the girls have escaped? The windows and fire escapes were clearly blocked by the tables. The shop was full of rags that hadn’t been cleaned up in nearly three months. There was also at that time in the factory, one hundred thousand waists. Each floor was packed full of flammable material.
“And the bosses knew the danger. They already had five previous fires in their factory, and two of those fires were extremely large ones as well.
“The lawyer for the accused also said that this year was a bitter one for Harrris and Blanck. Let me assure you it has also been a bitter year for Margaret Schwartz and her family and for the 146 other victims and their families. And this year was so bitter for them only because the two accused wanted to save a few dollars a week by not employing a watchman at the Washington Place door.
“I have fulfilled my duty” Bostwick concluded. “Now do yours.”