BY KELLY MARIE MANCUSO
Community leaders, activists and residents gathered at Christ the King High School in Middle Village on Wednesday for a moving tribute on the 104th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.
The ceremony — hosted by former state Sen. Serphin Maltese, now president of the Triangle Fire Memorial Association — honored the 146 victims of the tragedy that took place on that day in 1911 in Lower Manhattan. Most of the victims were Italian and Jewish immigrant women and adolescent girls working to support their families.
The former senator’s family was personally affected by the tragedy. His grandmother Caterina, 38, and her two young daughters, Rosarea and Lucia, were among the 146 victims who perished in the blaze. Caterina left behind a husband, Nonno Serafino Maltese, and two young sons, Paul and Vito.
The family’s grief was compounded by the fact that Caterina was initially buried in a mass grave at the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn along with six other unknown victims of the tragedy. Nonno Maltese was able to identify his late wife through her wedding ring. She was disinterred and laid to rest with her daughters at Calvary Cemetery.
A monument was later donated by the Maltese family to honor the 36 other Triangle fire victims buried at the cemetery.
Former Sen. Maltese reflected upon the impact the Triangle Shirtwaist fire had on his childhood: “We never realized as kids the enormity of the tragedy. We were always cautioned by our mother to beware of fire, but it was more than that. Growing up on the Lower East Side, no matter how many years passed, there were still elderly Italian women who wore black from the Triangle fire. That’s how long they grieved.”
The ceremony featured moving performances from the Christ the King Concert Chorus, led by choral director and conductor Heather Arzberger. The chorus sang “Counsel to Girls” by Nils Lindberg and “Soon I Will Be Done” by William Dawson.
Playwright, actor and past honoree Lulu Lolo Pascale delivered a riveting one-woman performance reenacting the events surrounding the Triangle Shirtwaist tragedy.
The Triangle Fire Memorial Association presented six honorees with awards, as well as special proclamations from state Sen. Joseph Addabbo’s office, in recognition of their service within the community.
One of the honorees was Joel Sosinsky, secretary and founding member of Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition. Sosinsky and his organization were instrumental in securing permission from New York University to install a public arts memorial on the landmarked building on Greene Street and Washington Place, which housed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.
The association also honored local educator Caroline Roswell for utilizing the events of the tragedy as a teaching tool to inspire social justice and awareness in her students. Roswell took her students to the annual commemorative march and ceremony held in the city earlier in the day.
The other honorees included Dr. Clara Sarrocco, scholar and educator; Rosemarie Iacavone, chair of the Women’s Republican Club of Queens; Diego Lodico, founder of the Italian Cultural Organization Bella Italia Mia; and Drew Nelson, former lieutenant base commander with the NYPD Harbor Patrol Unit and current director of operations at the Catholic Community of North Columbia County, NY.
The ceremony concluded with a reading of the names of the 146 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire victims by Iacavone, Marie Lynch and Stephanie Zgaljic. Dianna Maeurer was also on hand representing Triangle fire victim Fannie Hollander. Maeurer, dressed in a special memorial sash and headband, has carried Hollander’s commemorative shirtwaist in the city’s tribute ceremony since 2009.