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.
The 100th anniversary comes as public workers in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere protest efforts to limit collective bargaining rights in response to state budget woes. Labor leaders and others say one need only look to the Triangle fire to see why unions are crucial.
"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.
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Monir Hossain, a local journalist at the scene, told The Associated Press the blaze broke out on the two upper floors during lunch break. A gate on a stairwell was locked, trapping people inside the factory, which mainly produces T-shirts for international brands, he quoted witnesses as saying.