Dead Letter Artifice: The Triangle Waist Company Fire

Excellent piece in Tuesday’s New York Times about documentary filmmaker Anthony Giacchino’s project to memorialize the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Waist Company fire in the Big Town that claimed 146 lives.

Anthony Giacchino thumbed through a stack of letters, all of them marked with yellow stickers, red stamps or a simple, final X slashed through the addressee’s names: Clotilde Terranova. Rosie Friedman. Rosaria, Lucia and Catherine Maltese. “Return to sender,” he said. “Return. Return. Return. It’s like, ‘Who is this person?’ They’re forgotten, and unfortunately there’s a lot of truth to that.”

Dead letters? Not to Mr. Giacchino, who thinks of them more as correspondence with another century, addressed to the 146 victims of the Triangle Waist Company factory fire.

As New York prepares to mark the centennial of the tragedy on March 25, he has mailed the letters to the places where each victim lived in 1911, as part of an art project to commemorate the workers and their place in the city. He is also reclaiming a part of Italian-American history — 39 Italian workers were among the dead — that has gone unexplored.

Mr. Giacchino has actually been exploring this subject for awhile:

In recent years, Mr. Giacchino has joined in commemorations of the catastrophe, writing the names of the victims in chalk on the sidewalks outside the addresses where they once lived.

But last year, he said, he got the idea to visualize the victims in a different way. “I just kept thinking about the number 146,” he said. “I would put names in front of the buildings, but it still did not give me a sense of it. Why not send letters? They’d probably come back. Then I’d be able to see what 146 looks like.”

130 did. And now you can see what that looks like.

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3 Responses to Dead Letter Artifice: The Triangle Waist Company Fire

  1. Paul M. Levitt says:

    A first-rate novel that treats the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire is “Come with Me to Babylon.”

  2. lois jean fortuna rose says:

    trying to find out if i had any family lost.. thank you

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