Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Di korbones fun Essex Street fire - August 19, 1902 - by Max Zavodnik (The victims of the Essex Street Fire)

Click this image, the first page of the 4-page penny songsheet, for a larger view.

There have been several penny songs citing this lyricist/singer, Max Zavodnick, about whom I found this tribute. He writes, "sing with the melody from Di shlekhte tsayt" -- a song I can't find, so no recording...

If you look at this picture of, basically, a horse pulling a wagon with a giant pot of water on it, it's easy to see why fires raged so freely in the early 20th century. And I read that at least at this tenement house the fire escape landings were made of - wood. !!

This 35 Essex Street fire predated the gruesome Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911. It can be found online, many national newspapers ran this wire story:

August 19, 1902 - something exploded in a furniture store on the ground floor of a double tenement at 35 Essex Street today and before the fire was under control, two women and three children had been burned to death and a man and a woman carried to Gouverneur hospital, suffering painful injuries. Many others were badly burned. [The two others later died.]

At the bottom of this post is the article that ran in the New York Times the next day, entitled "Five Lives Lost in an East Side Fire - Thrilling Rescues Amid Scenes of Intense Excitement - Baby Thrown Into a Net From the Fifth Floor - Crowd Wails and Weeps as Bodies are Carried Out."

So here is what Max Zovodnik wrote:

Who hasn't heard of the hellish fire at 35 Essex Street?
A terrible disaster, it won't be forgotten.
Many lives lost, they were burnt up in a 5-story house
The terrible cries of those who had to see it,
The burned people and those suffocated by smoke.

A terrible picture suddenly seen right in middle of the day,
Another such calamity hasn't recently been seen, the lamentation, the noise, the cries,
The fire flared up and barred the way out
Under the ruined house's debris the victims were roasted
And they couldn't be saved.

Many children lost their mother, now they're little orphans.
A mother and her dear child were swallowed up in terrible flames
They begged to be saved from the fire, poor things,
The firemen came and brought them down, but it was too late.

Who suffers this sort of misery if not the poor?
They peddled to make a living, they tried, for their children.
When they heard the cries, they ran quickly to save the children
A mother ran up and she, too, met death,
The fire said to her: "Stay."

In the tenement houses one is always in danger
Lives are at risk
And all the while new victims leave this world before their time
Not a year passes when there aren't these catastrophes, at any minute
Graves are filled by people from these narrow rooms
With young human blood

Now the deaths of seven people are written in the color of blood
Wretched orphans are left behind and have no place to go
Everything burned in the house, not a cent do they have
Their condition is so bitter
Such images as this one can only see right here in the golden land.

Ver es hot nor gezen dem helishn fayer in 35 Esseks Strit
A shreklikher umglik ersht nor a nayer fargesn vet men dos nit.
File lebns farlorn, zey zaynen farbrent gevorn
In a hoyz 5 shtok di hoykh
Di shreklekhe geshrayen fun di velkhe hobn tsu gezen
Di farbrente un dershtikte fun roykh.

A shreklekhe bild hot zikh bavizn in mitn heln tog,
Nokh aza umglik iz lang nit gevezn fun yomer, gepilder un klog.
Der fayer hot geflamt, un hot fun zey di veg fartsamt
Af koyl hot men zey gevunen farbrent.
Unter di khurve farshotn hobn zikh di opers gebrotn
Un retn hot men zey nit gekent.

Fil kinderlekh hobn farlorn zeyer mamen, yesoymimlekh zaynen zey atsind.
Ayngeviklt iz geven in shreklikhe flamen a muter mit ir libe kind
Zey hobn zikh gebetn men zol zey nebekh retn
Fun dem fayer vos zey hot geshen
Di fayer layt zaynen gekumen un hobn zey aruntergenumen
Es iz ober shoyn tsu shpet geven.

Ver laydet di yesurim fun azelkhe zakhn, az nit di oremelayt?
Zey hobn gepedelt a lebn tsu makhn far zeyere kinderlekh hobn zey getrayt
Vi zey hobn derhert dem gevald, zenen zey gefloygn bald
Di kinderlekh tsu retn zey
A muter iz arufgelofn
Un hot oykh dem toyt getrofn
Der fayer hot ir a zog geton: "Shtey."

In di tenent heyzer iz men shtendik in makones
Mitn lebn iz men ayngeshtelt
Ale vayle frishe korbones geyn avek umtsaytik fun der velt
Es geyt nit avek a yor vos es kumt do nit for
Umglikn a yede minut
Fun di enge kheydrim vern ongefilt di kveyrim
Mit yungenke menshlikhe blut

Mit blutike tint vert yetst farshribn der toyt fun zibn perzon,
Finstere yesoymim zenen farblibn un hobn zikh nit vuhin tsu ton.
In hoyz ales farbrent un hobn keyn sent
Vi biter iz zeyer tsushtand
Azelkhe bilder vos geshen ken men nor zen
Ado in der goldene land.

Click for a large view of the New York Times article:

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