After 113 Years, a Permanent Memorial to the Victims and Legacy of the Triangle Factory Fire
Nearly 113 years after the tragedy, the long-awaited public memorial to the victims and legacy of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire was dedicated Wednesday in front of a crowd numbering in the thousands at the site of the historic fire in New York City. The Triangle Fire Memorial is now a permanent element on the very building that housed the Triangle Factory, at the corner of Greene Street and Washington Place in Greenwich Village.
This fire took the lives of 146 mostly young, immigrant women workers in 1911, and outrage over the incident was the impetus for changes in labor and fire safety laws that continue to protect us today. The Triangle Fire Memorial tells the story of the fire in the languages spoken by the victims: English, Yiddish and Italian, and is one of the only memorials in the United States dedicated to workers.
“I’m grateful to the Triangle Fire Coalition for bringing us together today to honor the important legacy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire,” said Acting United States Secretary of Labor Julie A. Su, speaking at the ceremony. “Over a century later, the impact of the Triangle fire still reverberates – not only due to the measure of its tragedy, but also because of its powerful role in galvanizing the American labor movement, and inspiring workers to stand up and demand the right to have their voices heard. As we honor all those who lost their lives on that day, we here at the Labor Department and across the country also recommit ourselves to the never-ending fight for workers’ rights.”
The Memorial was revealed to the public for the first time Wednesday morning, with a private viewing before the ceremony offered to more than 125 family members of the fire's victims. Visitors were presented with a textured, stainless steel “ribbon” twelve feet above the sidewalk, on the building's southern and eastern facades. The names and ages of the 146 victims are cut into this ribbon and mirrored in a dark reflective panel at hip height. As visitors traverse the length of the memorial, the names of the victims overhead appear in the reflective panel, as if written in the sky. Testimonies of survivors and eyewitnesses to the fire are etched as a single line of text along the lower edge of the reflective panel, inviting the visitor to look down into the reflection and discover the names of the victims and their stories.
A second phase of the installation, to be completed this winter, will expand the steel “ribbon” to the window sill of the 9th floor, where many victims jumped to their deaths. The ribbon will project from the corner of the building, recalling the signs that once hung there as well as mourning ribbons or bunting that are draped on buildings at times of public grief.
In addition to Acting Secretary Su, other speakers included Governor Kathy Hochul, NYS Commissioner of Labor Roberta Reardon, NYC Council Member Gale Brewer; representatives of the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition, Workers United/SEIU (ILGWU), the New York City Central Labor Council AFL-CIO, SAG-AFTRA, New York University, the American Society of Safety Professionals, and the FDNY. Musical and artistic performances included the New York City Labor Chorus, Singer Jameel McKanstry, Cellist Lori Goldston, and Poet Janet Zandy.
Read more here, and find coverage of the memorial and event from the Associated Press, NY Times, CBS NY, ABC 7, Vogue, Time Out NY, The Washington Post, The Nation, The Forward, The Amsterdam News, Newsday, Untapped New York, La Voce di New York, Work Bites, Gothamist, Hyperallergic, Telemundo and the Rick Smith Show (at 1:28). You can also view our photo album here and stream the full ceremony here.