Six people were honored at a memorial and awards ceremony on Friday March 25 to mark the 111th anniversary of the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in Greenwich Village, in which 146 people died.
The ceremony took place at the Christ the King campus in Middle Village.
The Triangle Fire Memorial Association was formed in 1955 to help keep alive the memory of those lost in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire. Each year they sponsor memorials, ceremonies and projects that encourage people to remember the tragedy and its victims.
Vincent C. Maltese, chairman of the board of the Triangle Fire Memorial Association, told the crowd that he lost his grandmother and two aunts in the fire. He shared the story of his grandfather and the pain he felt losing his loved ones.
“I would like to take a moment to remember my grandfather,” Maltese said. “It illustrates many of today’s immigrants who have come to the United States, the land of opportunity, to settle.”
All of the victims of the fire were Jewish and Italian immigrants and mostly young teenage women.
Maltese’s grandfather came from Italy to be a cobbler and after a year his family – his wife, three daughters and two sons – passed through Ellis Island to join him. Her youngest daughter, Maria, died shortly after falling ill on the boat bound for New York.
“Four years later, his wife and two daughters went to work on the morning of March 25, 1911,” Maltese said. “He never saw them alive again.”
Maltese, after sharing his own family history, said he was grateful to those who still honor the many lives lost.
“We are here not only to commemorate the 146 victims, but to honor six people who have carried forward the tradition of the Triangle Fire and go to honor the memory of those who have disappeared,” said Maltese. “We believe we carry the message, not just for those who have been lost, but for those who find their way to America as the land of opportunity.”
The first winner, Amy Koplow, a family member of a Triangle Fire victim, was recognized for her work as a Triangle Fire history teacher and for her service as executive director of the Hebrew Free. Burial Association (HFBA). She was also a faculty member at CUNY Queens College and SUNY Albany.
“On the anniversary of someone’s death, in our faith, it’s customary to say their name and talk about the deceased,” Koplow said.
Koplow then spoke the names and ages of the 22 victims, 18 women and four men, all immigrants, buried by HFBA on Staten Island.
Councilman Robert Holden and State Senator Joseph Addabbo presented honorary citations to the recipients. Addabbo said it is important to remember the tragedy that changed our lives.
“These children should never have been in this situation,” Addabbo said. “The victims of the Triangle Shirtwasit factory fire did not die in vain and are still remembered over a hundred years later. Thanks to this tragedy, we now have safer working environments.
The second laureate, Dr. Fedele Vero, lost his aunt, who was 15 at the time of the Triangle fire. Vero was recognized for his service in the effort to remember the tragedy.
Other winners included Stefanie DeFronzo, Donna Ferraro, Michael Lewis and Genevieve Spanarkel.