Six people were honored during a memorial and awards ceremony on Friday, March 25, to mark the 111th anniversary of the tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Greenwich Village that killed 146 people.
The ceremony took place at the Christ the King campus in Middle Village.
The Triangle Fire Memorial Association was formed in 1955 to help uphold the memory of the victims of 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, the executive chairman of the Triangle Fire Memorial Association, told the crowd that he lost his grandmother and two aunts in the fire. He told the story of his grandfather and the pain he felt when he lost the people closest to him.
“I want to take a moment to think about my grandfather,” Maltese said. “He is an example for many of today’s immigrants who have come to settle in the United States, the land of opportunity.”
All of the victims of the fire were Jewish and Italian immigrants and mostly young teenage women.
Maltese’s grandfather came from Italy to become a shoemaker and after a year his family – his wife, three daughters and two sons – joined him via Ellis Island. His youngest daughter, Maria, died shortly after falling ill on the ship bound for New York.
“Four years later, on the morning of March 25, 1911, his wife and two daughters went to work,” Maltese said. “He never saw her alive again.”
Maltese, after sharing his own family story, said he was grateful to those who still honor the many lives lost.
“Not only are we here to commemorate the 146 victims, we are here to honor six people who continued to develop the Triangle Fire tradition and we go and honor the memory of those lost,” said Maltese. “We believe we carry the message not only for those who have been lost, but also for those making their way to America as the land of opportunity.”
The first honoree, Amy Koplow, a family member of a Triangle Fire victim, was recognized for her work as a lifelong teacher of Triangle Fire history and 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, according to our beliefs, it is customary to give their name and talk about the deceased,” Koplow said.
Koplow went on to give the names and ages of the 22 victims, 18 women and four men, all immigrants, buried by the HFBA in Staten Island.
Councilor Robert Holden and State Senator Joseph Addabbo presented the honorees with citation. Addabbo said it was important to remember the tragedy that changed our lives.
“These children should never have been put in this situation,” Addabbo said. “The victims of the Triangle Shirtwasit factory fire did not die in vain and will be remembered more than a hundred years later. Because of this tragedy, we have safer working environments today.”
The second prizewinner, Dr. Fedele Vero, lost his aunt who was 15 at the time of the Triangle Fire. Vero was awarded for his service in commemorating the tragedy.
Other award winners were Stefanie DeFronzo, Donna Ferraro, Michael Lewis and Genevieve Spanarkel.