A permanent memorial for the victims of the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire will finally become a reality today. This morning in Greenwich Village, New York officials including Governor Kathy Hochul, representatives of the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition, members of various labor unions and the FDNY, and family members of fire victims will gather at the spot where more than 140 women lost their lives in 1911. You can watch the dedication ceremony virtually on this live stream!
The Triangle Fire Memorial has been years in the making. The Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition held an international competition to design a memorial in 2013. Out of the nearly 180 submissions sent in, the jury selected a winning design from Uri Wegman and Richard Joon Yoo. Wegman and Yoo’s design called for participation from the local community.
Attached to the corner of the Brown Building, the structure that housed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory (now part of the NYU Campus), the memorial is made of a textured stainless steel ribbon meant to evoke the appearance of mourning ribbons that were traditionally draped on buildings at times of public grief. Etched onto the ribbon are patterns and textures from fabric swatches donated and sewn together by New Yorkers.
In March 2019, dozens of participants gathered at F.I.T.’s John E. Reeves Great Hall with their fabrics and sewing supplies. Together they added their own personal touches to a 2-foot wide, 300-foot long ribbon. Some of the participants were descendants of fire victims who embroidered their ancestors’ names or sewed a photograph onto the ribbon. All of the pieces of fabric and stories that volunteers shared were documented and will be stored at the Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation & Archives at Cornell.
In addition to the fabric textures, the steel ribbon of the memorial will also contain the names and ages of the 146 fire victims. These names are cut into the ribbon overhead and reflected by a darkened reflective panel on the street level at hip height. Along the lower edge of the reflective panel, visitors can read testimonies of survivors and eyewitnesses to the fire. A second phase of the installation, expected to be completed this winter, will expand the steel ribbon to the window sill of the 9th floor.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire was one of the most pivotal events in New York City’s labor history. On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the top floors of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on Washington Place in the old garment district. The tragedy of the fire was multiplied by the unsafe conditions of the workplace. Employees inside the factory, mostly young, immigrant women, found themselves trapped behind locked doors, meant to prevent them from taking breaks or stealing blouses. This forced the women to attempt to escape through the windows, where many plunged to their deaths, desperately trying to avoid the flames.
The horrific scene of the fire was immortalized in photographs and eyewitness accounts from some of the thousands of onlookers who watched helplessly that day. The first memorial to the event took place on April 5, 1911, when a crowd of over 100,000 marched up Fifth Avenue. This memorial doubled as a call to action for labor reform. The new memorial does the same. While honoring the victims of the past, it reminds onlookers of the work that still must continue to ensure safe and fair labor conditions for workers worldwide.
See more images from the dedication ceremony in the gallery below!