New York, NY – The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the tragedy in lower Manhattan that claimed 146 lives on March 25, 1911, left surviving relatives grieving and still keeping the memories alive 108 years later.
The company owner had locked the doors where the workers were, claiming they did so to prevent theft. When the fire started, they were unable to get out, and when firefighters arrived, their highest ladder was too short to reach the trapped workers. Many threw themselves out the window to try and escape the flames and died on the sidewalk below. LaborPress learned their stories from several of the families.
Senator Serphin Maltese said, “It was my grandmother Caterina and two aunts, Lucia and Rosaria who perished in the fire. We were one of two families that lost three people in the fire. My grandfather bade goodbye to his wife and two daughters that morning and never saw them again. He lived within walking distance from the factory, on 2nd Avenue between 2nd and 3rd Street. He didn’t pass away until 1945.”
Maltese is President of the Triangle Fire Memorial Association that was formed about thirty to forty years ago and is largely made up of family members who wanted to keep the memories alive. His brother, Vincent Maltese, is Chairman of the Board. “Originally we were a group that had a common loss. Aside from the unions others weren’t involved.” Maltese said that the unions have been key, in the last twenty-five years, to bring publicity to the fire and the loss of life. “It was the biggest loss until 9/11,” he added.
“When computers came into use it became easier to get information and to get the word out,” he says. And, “because I was in public life, I was able to get annual Albany and New York commemorations.”
Suzanne Pred Bass is the great-niece of two who were in the fire. “[I had] two great-aunts in the fire. One died, one survived. Of the two, Katie, who was sixteen, survived by grabbing an elevator cable at the right moment and made it down. Her oldest sister, Rosie Weiner, did not make it down. She was nineteen. Both were on the ninth floor, where 145 of the 146 who died were.”
Ruth Bobry, who herself became a small business owner working in textiles, is the grand-niece of Nettie Dryanski, who died in the fire. “My grandmother’s sister perished in the fire at twenty-one years old. She came from Poland and was only here two to three years [before she died]. She came alone to send money to her family back in Poland. Her younger sister, who was seventeen to eighteen years old, came here to join her, and was absolutely devastated. She was here about six months or so before the fire happened. She was sent upstate in New York to recover; people upstate opened their homes,” she says.
“I think about [Nettie] a lot in the sense that she didn’t get to live her life,” she adds.