Izzy had decided to make his last delivery of fabric trimmings by way of Washington Place in the hopes of running into Miss Fannie Lipsky on her way home from work. He was just rounding the corner of Greene Street on his bicycle when he heard what sounded like an explosion in the Asch Building. He looked up to see a puff of smoke, then heard a commotion. He stopped his bike in time to see a bundle of dress goods come out of an eighth-floor window. A bystander remarked they must be trying to save the best cloth. But in its descent, the unraveling falling bundle revealed it was not a bolt of cloth at all, but a girl.
Izzy stood still for a moment and clutched the handlebars of his delivery bike, trying to comprehend what was happening. He stared at the girl, not believing she was dead, yet knowing she was. For a brief moment, all the world was silent in Izzy’s head as he walked over to where the delicate girl lay as still as a fallen branch. He placed his cap gently on her anguished face and began to chant Kaddish, the ancient recitation for the dead. “Yitgaddal, veyitgaddah, shmeh rabba . . .”
Then he heard the racket: policemen yelling at bystanders; firemen, abandoning ladders that only reached to the fifth floor, were struggling to open their safety nets to catch the terrified girls standing on the windowsills; other firemen, their hoses aimed at the upper windows, braced themselves not to be unbalanced by the pressure of the avalanche of water; and girls, singly and in two’s and three’s screaming as they surged out of the burning building.
As a crowd gathered where the body had hit the ground, horses pulled at their tethers, and the wagon drivers stood to quiet them. The screams and the whinnying brought Mrs. Lena Goldman out of her restaurant on Greene Street. At first, she too thought someone was throwing bolts of cloth out the window, until one fluttered open and she saw legs. Another girl came tumbling down, then another. Mrs. Goldman, who knew many of the girls as customers, tried to process the scene. She watched in horror as groups gathered on the sills of the ninth-floor windows. Some would pause, as if to rethink what they were doing, then jump with arms entwined. Some tried to jump feet first, others seemed to float for a moment before beginning their fatal descent.
“Mein Gott,” she said, “it’s raining children.” Izzy looked up through the smoke and water torrents and saw men, women, and girls leaning out of smoke-filled windows in between the neat lettering proclaiming “Triangle Waist Factory.” He ran to help, grabbing a corner of a blanket that some men were holding, but they yelled, “Get outta here, kid, you wanna get killed!” and when Izzy persisted in holding on, they kicked him out of the way.