Erik McGregor Photography

Erik McGregor is a New York City based artist, photographer and activist.

Memorial for the 107th anniversary of the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory sweatshop fire

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New York, NY – Workers, labor leaders, elected officials, and students gathered in the heart of Greenwich Village today to join families of Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire victims on March 23, 2018; to commemorate 107th anniversary of tragic blaze and recommitting to fight for workplace safety for all workers.

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The commemoration began with a musical tribute from the New York City Labor Chorus, and from the singers of Onsite Opera’s Morning Star. The names of the workers who perished during the blaze were read aloud, and flowers were laid at a makeshift memorial as while a bell tolled, rung by the Fire Department of New York.

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“One-hundred seven years ago, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire struck the labor community and our great City. When we remember the workers who were killed, what we are remembering is the struggle to fight for justice for working women and men. Now today, we remember and honor all of those victims, mostly immigrant women. And in remembering them, we are reminded that New York City continues to be the home for immigrant women. It is their dreams and hopes that we must carry on. As Speaker of the New York City Council, I am committed to the ongoing effort for equality and justice for all,” said New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

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The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911 was the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city, and one of the deadliest in US history. The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers – 123 women and 23 men – who died from the fire, smoke inhalation, or falling or jumping to their deaths. Most of the victims were recent Italian and Jewish immigrant women aged 16 to 23; of the victims whose ages are known, the oldest victim was 43-year-old Providenza Panno, and the youngest were 14-year-olds Kate Leone and “Sara” Rosaria Maltese.

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“On the 107th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy, we continue to remember and honor the lives of the 146 workers who tragically died,” said New York City Public Advocate Letitia James. “While nothing can make up for the lives lost that day, the aftermath of this tragedy led to much needed reforms and protections to ensure that this never happens again. Today we recommit to the fight and demand good jobs, fair wages, and safe work conditions for all workers.”

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The factory was located on the eighth, ninth and tenth floors of the Asch Building, at 23–29 Washington Place in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan. The 1901 building still stands today and is known as the Brown Building. It is part of and owned by New York University.
The Triangle Waist Company factory occupied the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors of the 10-story Asch Building on the northwest corner of Greene Street and Washington Place, just east of Washington Square Park, in the Greenwich Village area of New York City. The building has been designated a National Historic Landmark and a New York City landmark.

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The nowadays Brown Building (former Asch Building) is a ten-story building that is part of the campus of New York University (NYU), which owns it. It is located at 23-29 Washington Place, between Greene Street and Washington Square East in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City, and is best known as the location of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on March 25, 1911, which killed 146 people.

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“Though they perished, they did not do so in vain. They were martyrs to whom we owe much.” said New York State Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon. “The State of New York, and indeed our nation, is today a stronger place for workers because we refused then and we refuse now to allow the tragedy that occurred here to fade in our collective memory.” 

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In the late afternoon on Saturday, March 25, 1911, hundreds of garment workers were finishing up a day’s work when someone dropped a match or burning cigarette on fabric that littered the floor of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Greenwich Village. The fire spread quickly from one heap of cloth to the next, quickly taking over the three-floor sweatshop as its 500 workers, many of them young Jewish and Italian immigrant women – some just 14 years old – rushed for the locked exits.

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Because the owners had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits – a then-common practice to prevent workers from taking unauthorized breaks and to reduce theft – many of the workers who could not escape from the burning building jumped from the high windows. The fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU), which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers.

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Many workers managed to escape, but some 200 became trapped on the eighth, ninth and tenth floors as the fire grew. The FDNY rushed to the scene, but even the tallest ladder couldn’t reach above the seventh floor of the Asch Building. Horrified people watched from below as groups of women, some holding hands, leapt from the building to escape the flames; their bodies piled up on the streets and sidewalks. William Shepherd, a United Press correspondent, described hearing “the thud of a speeding, living body on the stone sidewalk” over and over again.

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The fallout from the fire was monumental. On April 5, some 120,000 workers joined a mass funeral in a rainy Manhattan for the 146 victims; another 400,000 people watched from the sidewalks. Sadness turned to anger after the owners of the factory were acquitted of manslaughter. Over the coming years, a flood of landmark legislation was passed affecting everything from fire safety to factory regulations and labor laws. The progressive reforms started in the city and state before spreading across the country. Sunday marks 107 years since the momentous fire changed the U.S. forever. A memorial at the site is expected to open in spring 2019.

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#CityOfficials #FDNY #fire #GreenwichVillage #memorial #NewYork #NYC #safety #TriangleShirtwaistFactory #Union #UnionWorkers #WorkerRights #WorkersUnited

© Erik McGregor – erikrivas@hotmail.com – 917-225-8963

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