There they were, their somber faces staring out at us from shadowy black-and-white photos in Monday’s edition of The New York Times: four of the six immigrant victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire, finally identified after dying in obscurity ten decades ago. March 25th marks the 100-year anniversary of the tragic Greenwich Village factory fire that claimed the lives of 146 men and women and prompted the creation of empowering organizations like the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.
We here at the Brooklyn Gal have always been fascinated by old-timey New York City so we were quite moved by this haunting NYT article. And we tip our hats to Michael Hirsch, an amateur genealogist, historian and co-producer of HBO’s upcoming documentary Triangle: Remembering the Fire, who tenaciously researched sundry documents, including census records, death certificates and ethnic publications to solve this longtime puzzle of lost identity.
Sure, we wonder what the fashions on the street were like back in 1911 – perhaps bustle- or hobble-skirts, crisp shirtwaists, like those churned out by the Triangle and sturdy black lace-up granny boots – but what we really ask ourselves is what would have become of these oppressed workers (and their descendants) had they been given the chance to live full, happy lives?
So as we walk the city blocks in the weeks to come, we vow to say a silent prayer for the recently named men and women and the other victims, too, all of whom lost their lives trying to scrape a living together in the promised land of downtown Manhattan.