25 March 2014

Remembering Annie

On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the eighth floor of the Triangle Waist Factory in Greenwich Village. Locked doors and a single fire escape that quickly collapsed left many workers trapped with no way out. Within 18 minutes, 146 lives were lost, a majority of whom were Jewish and Italian immigrant women under the age of 23. Until 9/11, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire was the worst workplace disaster in New York history. The result of the tragedy was public outrage and the passing of legislation that put in place workplace safety measures, some of which we still observe.

Today on the anniversary of the tragic event, events were held in the city to remember the victims. In addition to a memorial service at the site of the fire, dozens of volunteers across the city wrote the names of the victims in chalk outside their former homes. I was fortunate enough to get to participate. I was given the name of Anna "Annie" Altman, who had immigrated to America from Russia with her sisters just five years earlier. At 16 years old, she was one of the younger victims of the fire and from her injuries it is known that she was one of the ones who jumped to their death. 

There are no photos of Annie to know what she looked like and when I arrived at her address, 33 Pike Street, which is down near the Manhattan Bridge, there was no home either (a school stands in its place instead). 

I picked a section of the sidewalk on the block where she had lived and wrote the words you see in the photo at top (not very well either; I need to practice my chalk writing). A cop started to yell at me but then suddenly left me alone. Maybe she saw someone last year chalking Annie's name.

After I finished, I stood on the spot for a moment and then walked down the block, trying to imagine what the area would have been like when Annie lived there. The Manhattan Bridge, so prominent in the background, would have only been a couple of years old at the time. Was she awed by its size? Did she have dreams of leaving her neighbourhood, of doing bigger and better things? I soon hopped on the subway and went to work but have been thinking about her and the other victims all day. Poor little Annie, may you rest in peace.

To get involved next year, visit the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition site here

All photos by Michele.

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