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Florence in Words

Triangle Fire

Many friends have written to say I should continue blogging. So, though I still feel as though I were writing into the wind, I am responding with a blog. I said I was expecting two visitors, one from Japan, the other from India, but before I was to see them, my dear friend Janet Zandy flew from Rochester to New York to spend the weekend with me to attend events around the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Factory Fire on March 25, 2011. We attended part of an academic conference on Thursday, and another on Saturday, but the two events that really meant the most to us were not these. On Friday morning at 10 a.m., hundreds of women and men gathered at Union Square, 14th Street for a March of the Shirtwaists down to the building itself from which 146 mostly young girls burned to death or chose to throw themselves from the eighth or ninth floors.
For the occasion volunteers had sewn one hundred and forty-six shirtwaists fastened to bamboo poles, and handed to marchers as they arrived, so that it seemed as though these 146 shirtwaists “marched” down Broadway to the building that now functions as NYU’s Brown Building for its science program.

Triangle Fire Marchers in Union SquareMe and my banner
Triangle Fire Marchers in Union Square
Me and my shirtwaist banner

Drummers led the march of individuals and groups, some carrying union banners as wide as the street. Janet and I carried one Shirtwaist together. Yes, it was very stirring to be part of what seemed eventually to be several thousand people and almost as many photographers. When we got to the building, just a block from Washington Square, we stopped to face a large platform filled with dignitaries, singers, musicians, and an enormous television screen high in the air (as well as many loudspeakers) so all of us—stretching back to Union Square—could see and hear a range of people, from folksingers to the U.S. Secretary of Labor—all truly inspiring.

NYU's Brown BuildingDedication Plaque
NYU's Brown Building
Triangle Fire Dedication Plaque

The next night, we were among the few hundred people at Judson Memorial Church who witnessed the opening performance of a magnificent new oratorio by Elizabeth Swados called “Out of the Smoke.” Some 36 young woman and men sang individually and in groups and acted out and sang about immigrant life in and around sweat shops in 1911, and then, yes, the fire itself. Swados is a genius and her music as brilliant as ever. But this was more than the music, for it had been choreographed, costumed, and directed with meticulous care and creativity, using only long benches as props. The voices as well as the libretto were inspiring.

More of the marching crowd and banners
More of the marching crowd and banners

My dear friend Alida Brill has also written on the Triangle Fire. Read more here:
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