Six individuals were honored during 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 was held at Christ the King campus in Middle Village.
The Triangle Fire Memorial Association was formed in 1955 to help perpetuate the memory of those lost in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Each year, the association sponsors memorials, ceremonies and projects that encourage people to remember the tragedy and its victims.
All of the victims of the fire were Jewish and Italian immigrants and mainly young woman in their teens.
Former State Senator Serphin Maltese 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 those closest to him.
“I’d like to take a moment to remember my grandfather,” Maltese said. “He exemplifies many of the immigrants of today that have come to the United States, the land of opportunity, to set up their homes.”
Maltese’s grandfather came from Italy to be a shoemaker and after a year, his family — his wife, three daughters and two sons — came through Ellis Island to join him. His youngest daughter, Maria, died shortly after getting sick on the ship to New York.
“Four years after that, his wife and his two daughters went to work on the morning of March 25, 1911,” Maltese said. “He never saw them again alive.”
Maltese, after sharing his own family history, said that he is grateful to those still honoring the many lives lost.
“We are here not only to commemorate the 146 victims, but to honor six people that have progressed the Triangle Fire tradition and go and honor the memory of those lost,” Maltese said. “We believe that we carry out the message, not only for those who were lost, but to those who find their way to America as the land of opportunity.”
The first honoree, Amy Koplow, a family member of a Triangle Fire victim, was awarded for her work as a lifelong teacher of Triangle Fire history and service as an executive director of the Hebrew Free Burial Association (HFBA). She has also been a faculty member at CUNY Queens College and SUNY Albany.
“On the anniversary of someone’s death, in our faith, it is customary to speak their names and talk about the deceased,” Koplow said.
Koplow went on to speak the names and ages of the 22 victims, 18 women and four men, all immigrants, buried by HFBA in Staten Island.
Council member Robert Holden and state Senator Jospeh Addabbo presented citations of honor to the honorees. Addabbo said that it’s important to remember the tragedy that changed our lives.
“Those children should never have been in that 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. Because of that tragedy we have safer work environments today.”
The second honoree, 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 honorees included Stefanie DeFronzo, Donna Ferraro, Michael Lewis and Genevieve Spanarkel.