Coverage on the centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire continues on NY1 with the story of artist Susan Harris, a granddaughter of one of the owners of the building where the blaze broke out. Harris says her life has been shaped by the shadow the tragedy placed on her family, and a special exhibit she crafted at the New York City Fire Museum is meant to pay homage to those lost. NY1's Amanda Farinacci filed the following report.
Dozens of Edwardian shirtwaists and handkerchiefs that hang along the walls of the New York City Fire Museum in SoHo bear the names of each of the 146 people killed a hundred years ago in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.
Artist Susan Harris painstakingly sewed each victim's name on a piece of cloth, an act she performed to make sure the victims are never forgotten.
"There's some kind of very beautiful deep connection doing that, knowing that these people sewed, and then realizing how long it's been, and taking the needle and threading it and putting the thread onto the fabric," said Harris. "It really does hold a very sentimental and powerful energy." Harris is the granddaughter of the late Max Blanck, an owner of the Asch Building, where the fire broke out.
Blanck was on the 10th floor of the burning building and was able to escape to the roof and survive the fire. Several of Harris' other relatives weren't so lucky.
Harris' parents never spoke of the tragic fire. She learned of it by reading about it when she was a teenager. Since then, she has focused on doing what she can to honor the victims and remember the tragedy.
"It's difficult for me when people really see my grandfather as a villain, and then there's some traces that I even feel inside me," said Harris. "But I hope in years to come that people won't see my grandfather as the terrible villain."
Newspaper clippings, an old shirtwaist and a piece of wood from the Asch Building hang at the Fire Museum year-round, to remind visitors about the Triangle story and the New York City Fire Department's response to it.
Harris' exhibit will also feature work from artist Elizabeth Wilson and photographs from genealogist Michael Hirsch, all meant to tell the story of the factory fire.
"It makes it tangible to people who don't know much about the event and also it gives a personal touch to the victims themselves," says Fire Museum Executive Director Damon Campagna.
The exhibit will open to the public on Saturday and be on display through April 23.