History all around: A fire’s centenary and a birthday

Every year on March 25, New York City firefighters and labor organizers come together at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street to commemorate the deaths of 146 garment workers in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire that occurred in 1911.  The fire killed many young immigrant workers, mostly women, who were trapped on the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors of the building.  Many of these young workers jumped to their deaths, because their escape was hampered by locked doors, not enough stairwells for egress, and only one elevator.  On my morning run today, my friend Anna talked about how this was an early 20th century version of the 9/11 stories that have become so familiar to us in the almost ten years since that massive tragedy.  At the time of the fire, the Triangle Factory at ten stories would have been considered a high rise building.  In fact, the first fire engine to respond had a ladder to fight high rise fires, but it only extended six floors.  Gives a sense of the scope of the tragedy, while also illustrating just how much architectural innovation has occurred in the last 100 years.  To read more about the fire, visit http://bit.ly/fnQvfa

I walk past the former Triangle Factory almost every day.  It’s now an NYU building full of classroom and office space, and it’s one block east from my office building, Pless Hall.  I see the commemoration each year.  Of course, the centenary has brought out a much larger crowd and many more dignitaries.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg was across the hall from my office in a conference room waiting to deliver his remarks on the stage just outside my office building.  I had to show my NYU ID to be allowed down the street to get into my office.  Any footage you see of the events today will feature “the street where I work.”

It’s one of the bizarre things about living in New York.  The city is a collision of so many different kinds of people and events, and its history is rich and expansive.  I find that I sometimes take for granted what’s right in front of me.  On a day like today, which also happens to be my dad’s 65th birthday, I find myself wanting to pay more attention to what’s around me.  For awhile now I’ve been thinking about having the words “Pay Attention” tattooed on my right forearm as a reminder.  I have “Show Your Love” on my left arm, to help me to remember to be nice.  The other arm should remind me to be vigilante. History has happened around us; we walk on it and through it all the time, no matter where we live.  The only way we don’t repeat it is if we actually take the time to pay attention.

In memory of the lost workers of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of March 25, 1911 and in honor of my dad, Joe Salvatore, Sr., on the occasion of celebrating 65 years of personal history.