The Worst Death Trap, Killing Fourteen Italian Immigrants

1493 Words6 Pages
On March 13, 1900, a tenement building in New York City caught fire, killing fourteen Italian immigrants. The poorly constructed frame building housed three stories of tenement quarters, with ten apartments per floor. The rooms were five by ten feet, separated only by flimsy half-inch thick boards. With just one exit through the entrance of the building, and that only by way of a 42-inch wide stairway, their only escape was destroyed, leaving eleven families of “caged victims beyond help.” People became so desperate that they jumped from upper balconies as the firemen on the scene struggled to control the flames. The top floor proved to be the deadliest, with a victim in nearly all ten rooms. After the arrest of a suspect and an…show more content…
Connected to these changes were rapidly declining sanitary conditions in tenement housing and rising prices. Immigrants came to America with visions of “streets paved in gold” and a chance to rise through hard work. Americans who had lived longer in the country and who harbored rabid anti-immigrant sentiments greeted them with derision and abuse. They saw immigrants as competition in an already dwindling job market, and bearers of the dreaded Catholicism, socialism, communism, and other “foreign evils.” Social Darwinism, in vogue at the time, only compounded the problems of the poor. Darwin’s work in animal dominance was translated into social beliefs that benefitted successful businessmen and capitalist bullies. Social Darwinism claimed that the wealthy were dominant because they were superior, and the poor were so because they were inherently flawed. The effect of this theory was that no help was offered to the poor because they deserved none, and there was no call to level the playing field because the rich had triumphed through natural selection. With more and more people pouring into the major industrialized cities, new arrivals were forced (often tricked) into cheap and dirty tenement housing in the more dangerous areas of town, in order to afford bare subsistence in a society already glutted with humanity and twisted notions about nationality. Tenement fire stories permeated newspaper reports
Open Document