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Triangle Shirtwaist Centennial

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23-29 Washington Place, New York, NY

Triangle Fire Centennial Commemorations At 4:47 pm on March 25th 1911, a tragic sweatshop fire broke out on the 9th floor of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. 146 people, mostly Italian and Jewish immigrant women died, many plunging to the deaths. The tragedy galvanized the American labor movement. I was pleased to be counted present exactly 100 years later, at 4:47 pm, March 25, 2011 at the site of the tragedy near Washington Square when performance artists Annie Lanzillotto and Lulu Lolo led the crowd in ringing hundreds of bells in honor of the 146 who died. Our featured story on City of Memory chronicles that moment when the bells were ringing at the spot where the bodies fell and the tears continue to fall. At the ceremony earlier that day, a speaker called the event a “tragedy of miscommunication.” Someone in the audience shouted back, “it was a tragedy of profit and greed.”Brian Jones, host for the Centennial’s evening event in the Great Hall at Cooper Union, observed that those “fires of greed” are still burning. He described how in front of the Asch building the names and ages of the women who died were chalked -- many, he noted, were teenagers. Young people, he said, have led most of the world’s movements for social change -- although, as we know, he added, the young can often get out hand. Just then the evening was disrupted by a group of college students, crying “I have something to say!” and “Let her speak!” Suddenly Clara Lemlich (March 28, 1886 - July 25, 1982), who had galvanized the fledgling labor movement in Cooper Union’s same Great Hall in 1909, took the stage in the person of actress Caitlin Belforti. She asked the audience to raise one hand and put the other over their hearts and repeat a line that helped usher in the labor movement in America: "If I turn traitor to the cause I now pledge, may this hand wither from the arm I now raise" The night was filled with moments like these. Later, impassioned speaker Cecil Roberts, head of the United Mine Workers Union, revved up the full house at Cooper. “Ghandi marched, Jesus marched, Dr. King marched, Moses marched -- and Moses didn’t send Pharoah a fax or an email -- he marched to see the Pharaoh!” I was proud to be counted present as well for the beautiful dramatic oratorio, From the Fire, composed by Elizabeth Swados, written and directed by Cecilia Rubino, with assistance from Celine Robinson. It ended with the lines, One hundred years from now Lizzie will be remembered Sadie will be remembered Alta will be remembered Fanny will be remembered. . . One hundred ears from now People will still carry within them The stubborn dreams of those shirt waist makers The girls who dared to strike The girls who dared to stand Their hands will reach out forever to you One hundred years from now they will be remembered As you remember them now. One hundred years from now. The evening program at Cooper ended with the audience singing “You can’t scare me, I’m sticking to the Union” and Solidarity Forever. As I began filing out, I ran into Ruth Sergel who worked for more than three years to create the event. “Ruth,” I said, “that was so beautiful. And you hardly received the credit you deserve for this magnificent work.” “Well,”she said, I guess I forgot my tiara.” On that night at Cooper in 1909, Clara Lemlich forgot her tiara too.

Credits: Bells and Rosewater Ritual performed by Annie Lanzillotto and Lulu Lolo along with Carmelina Cartei, Rosette Capotorto, Audrey Kindred, Rose Imperato, and Maria Grace LaRusso. Filmed by Molly Garfinkel and Steve Zeitlin. Edited by Lee Eaton. Text by Steve Zeitlin. (2:02)