“The stairway from the ninth floor had ended with no exit to the roof. There was only a shaky fire escape, which had melted in the heat. Those trying to make their escape via that exit, 25 in all, had fallen to their deaths in the alley below. Scores more followed, but found no way out.
“When they were unable to get through the flames, the only choice before them was the open air of the windowsills. The horse-drawn fire engines, with rolls of newly invented fire hoses onboard, had arrived, and firemen were unwinding their hoses, stretching them out on Greene Street. But it was too late for many as the fire billowed in cascades of flames.
“Girls had begun to leap from the windows of the ninth floor, some embracing so they might spend their last moments on Earth in each other’s arms rather than face their fates alone. Some jumped with their eyes closed, others with their hair and clothes already burning.
“At first, the falling girls had seemed like birds. Bright cardinals, bone-white doves, swooping blackbirds in velvet-collared coats. But when they hit the cement, the terrible truth of the matter was revealed. Their bodies were broken, dashed to their deaths right before those who stood by helpless.”
—Excerpted from The Museum of Extraordinary Things (2014, Scribner) where novelist Alice Hoffman describes the real-life Triangle Shirtwaist Fire that occured in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village on March 25, 1911. Nearly 150 garment workers, most of them young immigrant women, lost their lives because the locked exits impeded their evacuation.