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New Yorkers to commemorate 100th anniversary of Triangle blaze

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Written by KAREN MATTHEWS, Associated Press   
Wednesday, 23 March 2011 11:13
Triangle Shirtwaist Co. occupied the top three floors of what is now the Brown Building at 23-29 Washington Place in Manhattan. The 1900 neo-Renaissance style building has been designated a National Historic Landmark. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license. NEW YORK (AP) – It was a warm spring Saturday when dozens of immigrant girls and women leapt to their deaths – some with their clothes on fire, some holding hands – as horrified onlookers watched the Triangle Shirtwaist factory burn.

The March 25, 1911, fire that killed 146 workers became a touchstone for the organized labor movement, spurred laws that required fire drills and shed light on the lives of young immigrant workers near the turn of the century.

“This is a story that needs to be told and retold,” said Cecilia Rubino, the writer-director of From the Fire, an oratorio inspired by the Triangle fire. “We don't have that many moments in our history where you see so clearly the gears of history shift.”

To mark the centennial, hundreds of theatrical performances, museum exhibits, lectures, poetry readings, rallies and panel discussions are taking place nationwide. Two documentaries have aired on TV; PBS' Triangle Fire premiered Feb. 28 and HBO's Triangle: Remembering the Fire on Monday.

Descendants of victims and survivors of the fire will gather Friday for a procession to the site in Manhattan's Greenwich Village. The building now houses New York University classrooms and labs.

Suzanne Pred Bass, a Manhattan psychotherapist and theater producer, is the great-niece of Katie Weiner, who survived the Triangle fire, and of Rose Weiner, who did not.

Bass ticked off the reasons why people remain fascinated by the Triangle fire after 100 years.

“It's the youth of these women,” she said. “It's the tragedy, it's the changes it spawned and it's the immigrant experience.”

The fire started at end of the workday and raced from the eighth floor to the ninth and 10th. As hundreds of workers – mainly Jewish and Italian immigrant women and girls, the youngest 14 – tried to escape, they found a crucial door apparently locked.

“They were panic-stricken,” said Eileen Nevitt, whose grandmother Annie Sprinsock survived. “It was hellacious, and they ran for their lives the best they could.”

Firefighters rushed to the scene and raised their ladders, which reached only to the sixth floor. The fire was under control in 18 minutes – too late.

At the trial later that year of Triangle owners Max Blanck and Isaac Harris on manslaughter charges, survivors testified that their escape had been blocked by a locked door on the ninth floor. Some said the door was kept locked to prevent theft.

Katie Weiner said she felt for the door, which she could not see in the smoke, and turned the knob.

“I pushed it toward myself and I couldn't open it and then I pushed it inward and it wouldn't go and I then cried out, ‘The door is locked!’” she testified.

Meanwhile, the elevator shuttled up and down carrying as many workers as could cram into it. Weiner joined the crush for the last elevator but was pushed back. She testified that she grabbed the elevator cable and threw herself in, landing on girls' heads. She was the last person out of the burning building.

The jury heard from 155 witnesses before returning a verdict of not guilty.

“I believed that the door was locked at the time of the fire,” one juror said. “But we couldn't find them guilty unless we believed they knew the door was locked.”

Workers' advocates continued to blame Blanck and Harris, who had resisted a union drive in 1909.

Blanck's granddaughter Susan Harris said she is saddened when people demonize her grandfather, who died before she was born

“It's really important for them, I think, to have a villain,” she said.

Blanck and Harris were on the 10th floor when the fire started and were able to escape to the roof. But several of Susan Harris' relatives died in the fire, including Jacob, Essie and Morris Bernstein, members of Blanck's wife's family who worked at Triangle.

Harris lives in Los Angeles but is spending March in New York to take part in Triangle commemorations. An artwork she created to honor the fire victims – made of antique shirtwaists and handkerchiefs – will be displayed at the New York City Fire Museum for a month.

One witness to the Triangle workers' death plunges was Frances Perkins, who later became the first female Cabinet member when President Franklin Roosevelt appointed her secretary of labor. Perkins was having tea nearby and heard the commotion. She ran to the scene as the first body hit the ground.

“That fire is the event that changed her life and that really changed the course of American history,” said Kirsten Downey, author of a book about Perkins, The Woman Behind the New Deal.

Perkins was appointed to the Factory Investigating Commission, convened in response to the Triangle fire, and the panel held hearings all over New York state before drafting 20 laws aimed at improving workplace safety. Some of the new laws required fire drills, set occupancy limits in buildings and required exit signs to be clearly posted.

“Policies that were enacted because of that fire permeate American workplaces now,” Downey said.

Days after the Triangle fire, 100,000 mourners marched in a funeral procession through the streets of New York, while another 250,000 lined the route. Their grief built support for the right of garment workers to unionize.

“It created a strong garment workers union,” said Bruce Raynor, president of Workers United, the 21st-century heir to the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. “It helped to really start the modern labor movement.”



Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-ES-03-22-11 0349EDT

Triangle Shirtwaist Co. occupied the top three floors of what is now the Brown Building at 23-29 Washington Place in Manhattan. The 1900 neo-Renaissance style building has been designated a National Historic Landmark. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 March 2011 15:35

Cafe owner's antique decor pays homage to town's heritage

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Written by JOHN HUTHMACHER, Hastings Tribune   
Tuesday, 22 March 2011 12:49
Edwin Perkins invented Kool-Aid in Hastings, Neb., in 1927, the same year the OK Café opened. Owner Patrick Randolph displays vintage Kool-Aid packets along with other antiques at the café. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers Archive and Dan Morphy Auctions. HASTINGS, Neb. (AP) – As one who has lived here all but two years of his life, Patrick Randolph is proud to call Hastings home.

Randolph, 67, and his wife, Mary Jo, own the OK Café. It is one of many local business ventures he has tackled over the years.

An old railroad man by trade, he worked for the Union Pacific Railroad, 1965-80, as a brakeman and yardmaster. So when he bought the OK Café in 1975 at its former location by the old viaduct, he felt right at home in his new surroundings. When the restaurant moved to its current location in 1988, he began to hear just how much customers missed the old railroad ambiance the former location provided.

It was through these comments from customers that his interest in antiques was piqued. His collection, much of which he has on display inside the restaurant, is his way of paying tribute to the pioneers who helped define the city's identity through the years.

“I've always been interested in antiques because they kind of tell a story,” he said. “And we're all part of that story. When people come in, they say, ‘I remember that’ or ‘I had one of those,’ and that's part of their history.

“So I put pieces in here that are recognizable that people can see and connect with. There's a piece of equipment that farmers used to catch chickens with; farming equipment, (cattle) dehorning stuff. ... Other items represent occupations: Army, National Guard, city workers and telephone line equipment.”

His framed Kool-Aid packets are of personal significance, as he grew up across the street from Frank Perkins, brother of Kool-Aid inventor Edwin Perkins.

“We lived at 214 W. Fifth St., and Frank always came through with Kool-Aid and stuff like that,” he said. “There were 10 of us kids, and we were always doing chores for him. We always had our supply of Kool-Aid.”

His antique collection isn't confined to the restaurant, however. There are pieces of antique furniture in his home, as well. And antique vehicles, including a 1957 Porsche and 1957 Harley-Davidson motorcycle. But mostly, his best stuff is on display for all the world to see at the restaurant, which he says has been a hub for special meetings between city and state officials and other prominent citizens of the community for decades.

“This restaurant was started in 1927,” he said. “This is the third location. It's basically a Hastings institution.” As such, he said he really hopes to see it go on indefinitely. His beloved antiques which include a G scale locomotive from Germany that totes some 60 cars advertising area businesses around on two tracks that circle the cafe's interior, have become part of that institution.

“Basically what I did was I went out and saw the antiques that I thought would represent something of the past and brought them in and made them the final decor,” he said. “Very seldom do I add anything now unless somebody else brings something in.

“I hope the cafe goes on forever doing the same thing. And being an asset to the community of Hastings, not just the owner.”


Information from: Hastings Tribune,

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-CS-03-20-11 0103ED


Edwin Perkins invented Kool-Aid in Hastings, Neb., in 1927, the same year the OK Café opened. Owner Patrick Randolph displays vintage Kool-Aid packets along with other antiques at the café. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers Archive and Dan Morphy Auctions.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 22 March 2011 13:14

Rare 1918 memoir reveals lawmakers’ opinions on suffrage

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Written by SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press   
Monday, 21 March 2011 12:53
This banner came from the estate of American suffragette Alice Paul. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers and Cowan’s Auctions Inc. HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Cheryl Dunson knew she had found something special when she saw the small black notebook, covered in a plastic sleeve, inside a cardboard box of old memorabilia at the Connecticut League of Women Voters.

Recorded inside, in meticulous blue script, were the memoirs of a suffrage leader who interviewed members of the all-male Connecticut General Assembly more than 90 years ago on whether women should be granted the right to vote.

Dunson, the league's president, and her fellow members had no idea the book existed until she discovered it a year ago in their Hamden offices when she was searching for items to help mark the state league's 90th anniversary. The notebook, dated July 1, 1918, offers a rare glimpse into the views of Connecticut's state legislators two years before the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, granting men and women equal voting rights.

“I think it is an incredible time capsule showing the debate regarding one of the most basic rights of our democracy and it's a right that many women in particular take for granted today,” Dunson said.

“I don't think they have the knowledge to know what these women did, how they struggled, how they worked, how they kind of weathered the kind of personal attacks against their integrity and their intelligence,” she said. “To me, it's an incredibly inspiring story and I think it's one that all women should be aware of.”

The Connecticut League of Women Voters, which traces its own roots to a suffrage organization, is donating the book to the Connecticut State Archives for safekeeping. A reception is planned Wednesday at the State Library in Hartford.

The ringed book, which is only slightly worn, has lettered tabs that the author, who identified herself as (Mrs. R.) Gladys Bragdon, used to organize the interviews.

In one entry, she describes how World War I influenced men's thinking about allowing women to vote. Some suffrage activists compared the fight for democracy abroad to theirs back at home.

“After a long but pleasant interview, he admitted that he had seen the light since the war and wished to be recorded as favorable, though not a crusader. Formerly an anti,” Bragdon wrote of one lawmaker.

In another entry, she writes: “He's always been opposed but he's open minded now. Try again. By all means, be considerate because he's fearfully busy with war orders.”

Bragdon also references that some women did not support the suffrage movement.

“Anti just now but may change his mind. Has rabid anti wife,” she wrote. “Poor man.”

While it appears the legislators were courteous to Bragdon, many were unwilling to take a position on suffrage. In one instance she writes: “Indifferent. Will do as wife says but doubts if wife knows or cares anything about public affairs or politics.”

Bragdon then writes in parenthesis, “People say his wife is afraid to say (her) soul's her own.”

The interviews came at a time when suffragist activists across the country were pursuing a two-pronged approach to win the vote. While continuing their long-running efforts to pass women's suffrage laws state-by-state, they were also seeking support for a federal constitutional amendment that needed ratification by at least 36 states.

“I think she was trying to gauge the General Assembly's attitude toward it just in case Congress approved it and the legislators of the states had to approve it,” said State Archivist Mark Jones.

Between March and August of 1920, two years after Bragdon submitted her report, the Connecticut Women's Suffrage Association heavily lobbied state lawmakers to ratify the federal amendment but Republican Gov. Marcus H. Holcomb, who opposed women's suffrage, refused to call a special session of the legislature, arguing the state constitution required there to be an emergency.

The State Archives has numerous letters that were sent to Holcomb at the time, some from across the country, either urging him to stand his ground or to call legislators in for a vote.

“This book will just add to that,” said Jones, who said Bragdon's writings will be kept in an acid-free box and stored in a vault at the state archives for researchers to review. “This little book is going to give us a richer idea of what legislators in Connecticut thought about the suffrage movement.”

After the 36th state ratified the 19th amendment, Holcomb reversed his decision and called a special session. Connecticut first voted to ratify the amendment on Sept. 14, 1920 and later reaffirmed its support. Jones said the turnabout came after the women's suffrage association threatened to begin endorsing political candidates.

In 1921, five women were elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-ES-03-20-11 1302EDT

This banner came from the estate of American suffragette Alice Paul. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers and Cowan’s Auctions Inc.
Last Updated on Monday, 21 March 2011 15:26

Bloomington Auction Gallery to sell newly found Lincoln documents

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Written by SCOTT RICHARDSON, The (Bloomington) Pantagraph   
Friday, 18 March 2011 07:52
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (AP) – A man may be in line for a $50,000 payday after he opened a box he got for free at an estate sale and discovered three legal documents signed by Abraham Lincoln.

Bloomington Auction Gallery auction manager Jason Penny said one of the Lincoln documents could fetch $12,000 to $20,000 when it's sold at an auction that begins at 5:30 p.m. Eastern on Friday, March 18.

LiveAuctioneers will provide Internet live bidding.

For comparison, another legal document signed by Lincoln brought $15,000 at a recent Springfield auction, Penny said.

Bids on the new discovery will be taken live at 300 E. Grove St. and by phone and via the Internet. The other two documents will be sold later. All three were found in a box that apparently went unsold at a Peoria estate sale, according to Penny.

“They were going to toss it,” he said.

Penny declined to name the man who offered to take the box and later realized the potential value of its contents. Penny said experts at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield authenticated the signature of the document, which dates to 1846 – about a month after Lincoln was elected to the U.S. Congress.

A Tazewell County judge had appointed Lincoln as guardian ad litem to handle the affairs of the heirs of a man named Bailey, who died before the sale of two lots he owned was complete.

Guy Fraker, a Bloomington lawyer and Lincoln scholar who is writing a book, Lincoln's Ladder to the Presidency: the 8th Judicial Circuit, said the document is from the heyday of Lincoln's law career, which extended from 1837 to 1860, when he was elected president.

Fraker said similar discoveries are rare, but they do happen because many original legal documents Lincoln signed were taken from courthouses by people doing research or who wanted souvenirs after his assassination.

“It is great that these are found and preserved. We really all own them in a sense,” he said.

In monetary terms, the documents' value depends on condition and rarity, Penny said.

“Whenever they do come up (for sale), there are a lot of people who want to get their hands on them,” he said. “You're talking about a part of history. He was a major figure in American history. Not everyone can say they have a piece of history.”

Seven years ago, while arranging an estate sale of a Bloomington man, the Bloomington Auction Gallery discovered a Lincoln document stuck unceremoniously in a pile of papers due to be cast away, Penny said. The winning bid was $10,000.

Penny said it was another example of how people need to be aware of what they have before discarding anything.

“That just makes prices what they are today,” he said. “So many of these documents are lost over time, it only boosts the price.”

View the fully illustrated catalog for Bloomington Auction Gallery's March 18 sale and sign up to bid absentee or live via the Internet at:

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-CS-03-17-11 0503EDT




Last Updated on Friday, 18 March 2011 09:46

More bidders saying yes to contents of abandoned storage units

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Written by VIC BRADSHAW, The Winchester Star   
Friday, 18 March 2011 07:07

WINCHESTER, Va. (AP) – It's 10 a.m. on a Thursday. Temperatures hover around freezing. A light breeze makes the cold bite.

Despite the miserable weather, upward of about 200 people have assembled – outdoors – at Apple Blossom U-Store-It to take part in a modern-day treasure hunt.

Years ago, auctioneer Brian Hash said, five or six people was a good turnout for a self-storage auction sale. Thrift store owners and flea market entrepreneurs were the main buyers.

The 23 storage units up for sale – two to three times the norm – is one reason so many people have gathered on a cold March morning. But the A&E Network reality show Storage Wars likely deserves most of the credit.

“Most of the auctioneers I talk to through (the Virginia Auctioneers Association and National Auctioneers Association) credit it to the TV series,” said Hash, who founded Hash Auctions nearly 17 years ago and is serving as the VAA's president this year. “People have started to pay attention and come out to buy units, because it's kind of like a treasure hunt. People wonder what's in the boxes back there that they can't see.

“I saw the same thing when Antiques Roadshow came on. There was an explosion of people buying things at auction.”

Storage Wars follows four competing California storage-unit buyers and pronounces a winner each week based on who got the best value out of the units they bought. The show premiered in December, and a late-January episode drew 3.3 million viewers.

The units are sold because renters have fallen behind on their payments. The facility owner obtains a lien on the unit and, after paying the auctioneer, keeps the proceeds from the auction.

Sales rules vary, but commonly the lock is cut off the unit and the door is opened. Buyers can peer into the unit but are not allowed to enter it or touch items.

Sometimes what's revealed is an empty space. Sometimes its boxes that can contain valuable merchandise or junk. Antiques, furniture, guns, heavy equipment – you name it, it's been sold.

In October, Hash threw open the door on a unit at Apple Blossom to unveil an MG sports car that was far from being in running condition but had value for restoration or parts. He heard that a unit full of antiques recently sold for $27,000 in Manassas, Va.

In past years, when attendance was lighter, facility owners seldom came close to recovering what was owed on the units. The increased interest has helped push up auction prices, industry officials said.

As a result, buyers looking to turn a profit on a unit are finding margins narrowing.

“If you've got an outlet (for sales) and you watch what you buy, it's money there to be made, but you've got to work for it,” said Ronnie Miller, 55, of Haynes Drive outside Winchester. “You can make a little money, and sometimes you can lose a lot if you're not careful about what you bid on.”

Miller, who seeks units with items he can resell for a profit to supplement his disability income, doesn't have a good outlet. But he knows folks who will buy antiques or tools from him, consigns items to auction, and sells other merchandise at yard sales.

He's bought units he didn't break even on, but he's also had some good finds, including an antique tigerwood table and a new big screen TV still in the box.

“Sometimes you get a good storage unit,” he said, “and sometimes it's bad. It's a gamble that you take.”

Thillai Sandstrom regularly rolls the dice on units. She estimates that 80 percent of the merchandise she sells in Aha!, the antiques and thrift store she owns in Gerrardstown, W.Va., come from storage auctions.

She attends sales in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, buying units and sometimes approaching other buyers to let them know she'd consider buying items they're not interested in.

“All the time I look to buy cheap because people come here looking for good stuff and good prices,” said Sandstrom, 46, who moved to America from Brazil five years ago and opened Aha! in the house next to hers 10 months ago. “I need to all the time do my best when I buy.”

Not everyone is looking to turn a buck at storage sales, though.

Joan Nicholas of Augusta, W.Va., said the Apple Blossom sale was her first storage auction. She and her husband, Bill, like to attend auctions to seek bargains.

She bought one Apple Blossom unit with the goal of giving Bill something to do.

“My husband likes to putz with things,” said Nicholas, 52. “It keeps him busy.”

She wasn't successful in that that effort, but she said the purchase wasn't a bad one. Tools that weren't visible until she started going through the unit prevented it from being a bust.

Michael T. Scanlon Jr., president and CEO of the Self Storage Association, an international industry trade group based in Alexandria, Va., said self-storage properties have generally held their own through the recent recession. Industry growth has slowed from thousands of new businesses a year to hundreds, but there's still growth.

Changes in lifestyle – retirement, marriage, divorce, death – drive the use of self-storage units, he said. Moving once drove rentals, but that's fallen off in the weak economy.

Defaults by renters have been up since 2008, Scanlon said, but the change hasn't been significant.

“It's been tapering off since (January),” he said. “I think the worst of it was in 2009.”

Apple Blossom's owners know the economic difficulties their customers are facing and have tried to work with them, said Laurie McClary, a partner in the business with her brother, Bobby Kirk.

Their father, Jerry, built the 600-plus unit facility in the mid-1990s, and Helen Kirk inherited it when her husband died four years ago.

She turned it over to her children a year later, meaning they took charge of the business just as the economy soured. The number of people behind on their bills and number defaulting on payments has risen significantly, she said.

“We've worked with people the very most that we can,” said McClary, a Middleburg, Va., resident who was a commercial real estate agent in Loudoun County before going full-time at Apple Blossom. “It's typical for places to have auctions once a month, but we've been having them every eight or nine months.

“We have to change that. It gets to be a ridiculous amount money (owed) that you can't hope to recover.”

Hash said some auctioneers do as many as two storage sales a week, though it's a minute segment of his business.

The big buyer at the Apple Blossom sale was Chris Hansen, president of CIE Surplus. He was the high bidder on five units, spending $4,500 for them.

His company buys and sells used assets, but federal government property is its forte. The storage auction was something he did on a whim to remind him of when he bought and resold units as a student at Old Dominion University.

“It was more for nostalgia,” the 35-year-old Leesburg, Va., resident said of his return to the storage auction scene. “I was overwhelmed by the amount of people there.”

CIE Surplus sells most of its items on its website, its auction site or eBay. But the Apple Blossom units didn't have a lot that was conducive to Internet sales, so he said most of what he bought will be taken to Hash's auction center for resale.

“It's not going to be as worthwhile as the surplus business,” Hansen said of searching for bargains at storage auctions. “But it was a good exercise, and I got some neat stuff out of it. Sometimes it's nice to mix up the day.”

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-ES-03-16-11 2014EDT




Last Updated on Friday, 18 March 2011 07:18
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