Series Blog

Archive for February 2011

Discovering My Grandmother's Triangle Fire Story

Three years ago, my knowledge of my paternal grandmother, born Annie Sprinsock, was at best sketchy. A Russian-Jewish immigrant to New York City, she lived a tragically truncated life marked by recurrent bouts of melancholia until her death at the young age of 34 in 1929. My father, deeply pained by her untimely death, rarely spoke of her to my brother and me when we were children -- except to say that she had been at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on the day of the infamous fire.

B’nai B’rith and the Triangle Fire

In the aftermath of the Triangle Fire the New York lodges of America’s oldest Jewish philanthropy, B’nai B’rith (Sons of the Covenant, now known as Children of the Covenant), swiftly raised over $1,200 (the equivalent of almost $18,000 today) for a victims’ fund organized by prominent philanthropist and B’nai B’rith lodge member Jacob Schiff.

By 1911, B’nai B’rith had been an internationally recognized charity for over 60 years. In an era marked by progressive social reform, it reached out with educational, legal and spiritual support to the immigrants of the Lower East Side and beyond.


Nautical Discovery Sheds Light on the Hazards of 19th Century Whaling

Almost two centuries ago, the Two Brothers, a Nantucket whaling ship, sank 600 miles off the coast of Honolulu. Last week, officials from the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument -- one of the world's largest ocean reserves -- reported that marine archaeologists had discovered the 1823 wreckage along with artifacts including harpoons and try-pots, were used to liquefy whale blubber into oil.

A typical vessel of American whaling's "golden age" in the 19th century, the Two Brothers was captained by George Pollard, who was no stranger to shipwrecks. Three years before sinking Two Brothers, Pollard had captained the infamous voyage of the whaling ship Essex. The tale of the Essex, recounted in the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE documentary Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World, was the inspiration for Herman Melville's classic novel Moby Dick.