One hundred and twelve years ago a fire stole 146 lives. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire was one of the worst workplace disasters in American history. The fire was also the turning point in workers’ rights history. And now finally, after many years of waiting, the Triangle Fire Memorial has been unveiled!
Rising nine stories high, the Memorial was constructed on the very building that housed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and the historic fire. It is located at the corners of Greene Street and Washington Place in Greenwich Village.
The Triangle Fire Memorial is a beautiful installation. It wraps around the building like a ribbon and tells the story of the fire in the languages of the victims, English, Italian and Yiddish. The names of each of the victims is listed backwards along with their ages. Backwards so when the sun shines through, the name is projected through to read on the sidewalk below. Mounted plaques also list the many legislative and historic workplace changes the fire inspired.
When I heard the Triangle Fire Memorial Unveiling Ceremony was occurring I knew I needed to attend. I felt like after spending so much of my life researching and writing about these women, I needed to be there in person to honor them. Little did I know just how special attending the event would become.
For starters, I soon discovered that part of what makes this memorial so special is it’s not only a memorial to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory victims, it’s also one of the only memorials dedicated to workers in the country. As a result, the event was being attended and honored by trade unions and labor organizers from all over.
If you know me, you know my dad was a steamfitter and proud Local 638 member. So I knew this would be right up his alley. Sure enough, we soon discovered his union would be attending the event with a banner and buttons. If you’ve even been fortunate enough to meet my dad, you know he’s someone that goes all in. He’s a networker and manages to make amazing connections.
A day or two before the event, my dad called and told me we’d not only be meeting up with the steamfitters at the event, but he’d also arranged for us to march in the parade from FIT downtown to the Brown Building. So we did. Shirtwaists waving and all. Then the magic continued.
We arrived at the event and met up with Local 638 business agents, Charlie Pellegrino and David Johnsen. It turned out the Brown Building recently began construction and Local 638 steamfitters were currently working on the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors, the VERY floors where the fire occurred!
David Johnsen is a very kind man. And apparently he could see what an absolute nerd I am. Because next thing I knew he was taking us on a tour of the historic floors. Now, I’m sure many have traversed these fateful floors over the years, but what was truly amazing about these particular circumstances was with the construction they were ripped down to the studs. That meant the original brick walls that were probably there in 1911 were what I saw today. I touched the original walls of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory! Then he brought us up to the roof where Max Blanck and Isaac Harris crawled across a ladder to safety.
I will be forever grateful for this day. It was a historic day where this beautiful memorial will now eternally commemorate the stories of these women. I also got to meet many of the amazing people from the Remember the Triangle Coalition who have worked tirelessly over the years to make this all happen. And I got to walk side by side with my dad and many other amazing tradespeople and workers currently building and working in our cities today. What a truly glorious day.
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