Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS
Members of the Triangle Factory Memorial Association with the 2018 honorees at Christ the King High School on March 25.

On the 107th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, family members of the victims honored their legacy during a March 25 ceremony in the CNL Center at Christ the King High School in Middle Village.

The annual gathering — hosted by former state Senator Serphin R. Maltese, now chairman of the Christ the King Board of Trustees and president of the Triangle Fire Memorial Association (TFMA) — honors the 146 victims of the March 25, 1911, fire that led to significant changes in American labor laws. Most of the victims were Jewish Italian immigrants who were treated poorly, worked long hours in unsafe conditions and were locked inside the factory during their shifts.

Maltese’s grandmother Caterina Maltese, 38, and his two aunts Rosarea, 14, and Lucia, 18, were killed in the fire. Maltese and his brother, Vincent C. Maltese, founded the TFMA with the families of other victims in 1955, and every year they have connected with more relatives of victims who appreciate their efforts to memorialize the tragedy.

“This year there are more events going on than in the last 10 years,” Maltese said. “I think maybe we’re part of it, but we are accomplishing the remembering and honoring of the 146.”

The ceremony included musical performances from the Christ the King Concert Chorus with musical director and 2012 honoree Heather Arzberger, a poetry reading by 2018 honoree Paola Corso and a solo acting performance by playwright and 2012 honoree LuLu LoLo Pascale.

Constance Del Vecchio Maltese, an artists and the wife of Serphin, also unveiled at the event a new painting of Serphin’s grandfather, Serafino Maltese. Constance previously memorialized Caterina, Rosarea and Lucia Maltese in a painting that hangs inside the CNL Center.

Constance Del Vecchio Maltese and her painting of Serafino Maltese. Photo: Ryan Kelley/QNS

Constance Del Vecchio Maltese and her painting of Serafino Maltese. Photo: Ryan Kelley/QNS

The 2018 honorees use a variety of mediums, but they have all dedicated time to researching and memorializing the fire in their own way. Corso, who descends form an Italian immigrant family, wrote a book of poems about the fire titled “Once I was Told the Air Was Not For Breathing.”

Professor Edvige Giunta was born in Sicily and currently teaches English at New Jersey City University. She has organized and participated in commemorations, panel discussions and lectures about the fire, and she is committed to including it in the curriculum of her courses on immigrant literature, women writers and Italian American literature.

Sondra E. McGill, 23, is the granddaughter of Serphin and Constance and will carry on the family’s legacy by serving as the curator of the TFMA. She said that as a victim’s family member, she recognizes the importance of her connection to the fire.

“I think in a tragedy like this, it’s important to see the victims as people and not just see it as an abstract concept,” McGill said. “And I think the performances today were a great example of that.”

John M. Perricone, the vice chairman of the TFMA, was also recognized as an honoree. The Ridgewood native is a former president of the 104th Precinct Community Council, former board member of the Citizens for a Better Ridgewood civic association and currently serves on the staff of Queens Borough President Melinda Katz.

Two more academics honored were Dr. Adrienne Andi Sosin and Dr. Daniel Levinson Wilk, who both serve the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition. Sosin has contributed to several research publications and has taught at Adelphi University, the City College of New York and Pace University. Levinson Wilk writes about the modern service sector in 19th- and 20th-century U.S. history, and his moving acceptance speech connected this historic fire to the modern-day tragedies still plaguing America.

“I wish that it didn’t take huge disasters to get our attention,” Levinson Wilk said, after reading the numbers of people killed in several other mass tragedies. “I wish we remembered some of the other smaller things more often.”


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