It was 1911, March 25th: the day of the worst disaster in New York City industrial history, when a fire in a building in Greenwich Village killed 146 workers.
From October 9 till March 29 they will be remembered by the exhibition “Collective Ribbon”, presented by NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò and the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition.
Curated by Richard Joon Yoo and Uri Wegman, co-designers of the Triangle Fire memorial, the exhibition shows the incredible process behind the Memorial that will be unveiled on October 11.
A long ribbon of hundreds of pieces of fabric sewn together by people from all walks of life along rows of sewing tables: a tapestry of personal fragments, stories and memories of the Triangle Fire. The exhibition offers a glimpse into some of the stories and exchanges that unfolded during the making of the ribbon, and the role of the ribbon as a communal act of commemoration, linking the present to the 1911 Triangle Fire tragedy.
Most of the victims of the tragedy were young women of Italian and Jewish descent: 123 young women – and 23 men. They died from the fire, the smoke or by jumping to their fate trying to escape: the stairwells and exits were locked, a common practice of the time to ensure workers did not take unauthorized breaks.
We don’t know the ages of them all – but the oldest may have been Providenza Panno, 43 years old, and the youngest probably were 14-year-olds Kate Leone and Rosaria “Sara” Maltese – who had arrived in the US from Italy just four years earlier, in 1907.
The factory building still stands at the corner of Greene Street and Washington Place in Greenwich Village.
From our perspective these persons, with their dreams, long hours of unregulated work and tragic deaths, changed forever the future conditions for other workers. That tragedy led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards, and union struggles for better working conditions in garment factories.
The Memorial will be a moving, permanent reminder of that tragedy – at the very site of the historic fire. Stretching nine stories high, the ribbon will be installed on the building that housed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. It tells the story of the fire in the languages spoken by the victims: English, Yiddish and Italian.