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Disasters, calamities, tragedies, or catastrophes—no matter what we call them, these events happen on a regular basis, and more recent occurrences tend to cancel out memories of the older ones. However, the March 25, 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City has not been forgotten, as its 100-year anniversary last spring prompted public media to recall the horrific event. Perhaps it was because many of the deaths resembled those of the disaster on Sept. 11, 2001, when trapped victims jumped or fell to their fate rather than perish in the flames.

The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center were, by far, the worse of the two disasters, resulting in far more deaths and far greater destruction. It was the Triangle Factory fire, however, that led to the greatest changes of the early 20th century as politicians began to look more closely at the sweatshops and child labor that were rampant across the nation. Ultimately, however, very little has changed. Eighty years later, on Sept. 3, 1991, 25 people were burned to death and 49 injured in a Hamlet, N.C. chicken processing plant where, as in the Triangle fire, exits were either locked or blocked.

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