Triangle Fire Memorial coming to Greenwich Village this fall

Remembering the Triangle fire victims
Descendants of the victims carry sashed blouses with the names of their relatives at a March 2023 memorial.
File photo/Gabriele Holtermann

Officials will unveil this fall the long-awaited Triangle Fire Memorial at the site of one of the deadliest blazes in New York City history, in Greenwich Village.

The infamous inferno broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist sweatshop on March 25, 1911. The blaze, caused by a cigarette that had been carelessly thrown into a fabric scrap bin, quickly swept through the factory, which occupied the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors of the Asch Building.

The “Triangle Fire” killed 146 garment workers — nearly all immigrant women, many of whom were forced to jump from the building — in the span of just 15 minutes, making it the deadliest fire New York City would experience until the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center.

The high-profile blaze galvanized the labor movement and a series of reforms designed to prevent similar tragedy. Organizers of the coming memorial hope the new monument will help keep the legacies of those who perished alive.

“This beautiful memorial will help us remember the workers who lost their lives because of employers’ greed, shining a light on this dark history and reminding us of the need for collective action,” said Mary Anne Trasciatti, president of the Triangle Fire Coalition. “Outrage in the aftermath of the tragedy changed labor and fire safety laws and these changes continue to protect us more than 100 years later. We are honored to partner with New York University and to have gotten so much support from the labor movement and others in the community for this project.”

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in progress on March 25, 1911.Public domain

More than a decade ago, the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition held an international design competition for a permanent memorial to the victims of the fire, the site of which is now on the campus of New York University. The winning proposal, by Uri Wegman and Richard Joon Yoo, was chosen by a jury, out of nearly 180 submissions.

According to the coalition, the memorial has been made possible with a generous grant of $1.5 million from the State of New York, and by funding from foundations, labor unions, and thousands of other supporters.

Labor union representatives say the blaze had a lasting impact on those who live and work in the Big Apple — and beyond.

“The Triangle fire resonates so significantly with my union, Workers United, because it was Local 25 of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union, the predecessor of the current Local 23-25, that was trying to organize the factory at the time of the fire and one reason that the factory bosses locked the doors was to keep the union organizers out,” said Edgar Romney, secretary-treasurer of Workers United and long-time organizer of the union’s annual Triangle Fire commemoration. “The story of the Triangle Fire rings true for our members, many of them immigrants, like those in 1911. We are grateful that the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition spearheaded the building of this memorial that remembers the past and highlights the importance of organizing to gain dignity, respect, and safety at work.”

Horse-drawn wagons carry the coffins of the Triangle fire victims after the March 25, 1911 disaster.Public domain

“With the unveiling of the poignant Triangle Shirtwaist Memorial, we will honor the brave workers whose lives were tragically lost in one of the darkest chapters of our labor history,” added New York State Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon. “May this memorial serve as a powerful reminder of the enduring importance of workplace safety, the need for robust labor protections, and the unwavering commitment to ensuring the well-being and dignity of every worker in New York State. Let us honor the memory of the Triangle Shirtwaist workers by advocating for fairness, equality, and justice in the workforce for generations to come.”

The memorial will be unveiled and formally dedicated on Oct. 11 of this year, during a ceremony set to start at 11:30 a.m. near the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street.

“A vital part of our nation’s history, the Triangle Fire stirs our passions, ignites our anger, and reminds us of what collective action can do to protect workers’ rights,” said Trasciatti. “We feel this power as we look at the newly built Triangle Fire Memorial.”