March 25th is the 100th Anniversary of one of the saddest events in U.S. labor history, the Triangle Shirt Waist Company Fire. Some say this tragedy had the biggest impact on New York of any event until 9/11.
This story has always resonated with me. It’s so said that all these young women, mostly recent immigrants, died so tragically. Mainly, because the doors were locked and they couldn’t escape down the stairs. Many jumped to their death.
This event led to many changes in public safety and labor laws. It’s a reminder that laws and regulations are necessary.
Unfortunately, it always seems to take a tragedy to drive change in America…
This article in today’s New York Times shows how one woman is trying to keep the memory alive:
“I GREW up with this story, and I’ve always wanted to do something about it,” Ruth Sergel said. “It’s like a black hole in your heart.”
In 2004, Ms. Sergel started doing something about the story she grew up with: the Triangle Waist Company fire, which killed 146 garment workers in 1911, almost all of them Jewish and Italian immigrants. She had just read a book about the fire, to distract herself from worrying about the premiere of a short film she had directed at the the Tribeca Film Festival.
At the end of the book, “Triangle: The Fire That Changed America,” was a list of names and addresses of the victims, and Ms. Sergel was moved to discover that many had lived within blocks of her apartment on East Third Street. Eager to do something about the story that had created a black hole in her heart, she hit upon what she called “the schmaltziest idea.”
On March 25, the anniversary of the fire, she and a few dozen friends put her idea into action: they divided up the names and addresses, and fanned out across the Lower East Side, the East Village and Little Italy, armed with sidewalk chalk. In front of each building where a victim had lived, they chalked a name, age and cause of death — in white, green, pink and purple, often with drawings of flowers, tombstones or a triangle. They chalked, “Pauline Horowitz, Age 19, Lived at 58 St. Marks Pl., Died March 25, 1911, Triangle Factory Fire.” And “Albina Caruso, Age 20, Lived at 21 Bowery, Died March 25, 1911, Triangle Factory Fire.”
That first year, they chalked 140 names, plus the word “unidentified” six times, in front of the old factory building, just east of Washington Square.
“After you chalk one or two names, something starts to happen,” said Ms. Sergel, 48, an artist who cobbles a living from grant to grant. “Chalking helps reveal a hidden geography of the city. If there are two victims across the street from each other, you wonder, ‘Did they walk to work together? Did their families console each other?’ The whole rest of the year you associate those buildings with that person.”
via In a Tragedy, A Mission To Remember – NYTimes.com.