AKRON, Ohio — More than a century after one of the greatest tragedies in American labor history, Akron Metal Etching was selected to help create the design elements featured for a permanent artistic memorial built to honor the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire.
Ongoing at the site of the tragedy, the Brown Building in lower Manhattan, the nine-story Triangle fire memorial is titled “Reframing the Sky.” It was commissioned by the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalitionwho is working to keep the wider community in touch with the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire.
“It’s a very cool concept,” said Lee Eisinger, president of Akron Metal Etching.
Akron Metal Etching has been headquartered in Akron since 1961and specializes in creative mold texturing for the rubber, plastics and die casting industries.
The tragedy drew attention to the dangerous conditions many American workers faced, and led to landmark legislation to protect workers. A plaque was installed on the Brown Building by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union, organized in 1900, which lobbied for worker safety laws.
For the Triangle fire memorial, Akron Metal Etching works with KC fabricationsa company with which he has partnered on other large-scale projects, including elements of the National September 11 MemorialEisinger said.
The memorial is designed by Richard Joon Yoo and Uri Wegman, who won an international competition for their design in 2012, beating nearly 180 competitors, the Triangle Fire Coalition said.
The Triangle factory fire broke out on March 25, 1911, on the eighth, ninth, and 10th floors of the building. The fire killed 146 garment workers, mostly teenage girls and young women who had no way out of the building due to the building’s broken elevators, lack of sprinkler systems and an emergency exit rickety and narrow, according to historical records.
Scores of workers jumped from the building, while hundreds of New Yorkers watched in horror from the sidewalk below, unable to help. The victims died within 18 minutes of the fire, according to historical accounts.
The design of the memorial is based on the mourning ribbons that were once draped over buildings as symbols of grief. It features a 300 foot long textured stainless steel ribbon etched by Akron Metal Etching that will start at the ninth floor corner and run down to the street.
The memorial requires Akron Metal Etching to seamlessly etch a unique design into the length of the ribbon, created from patterns and textures of hundreds of pieces of fabric. donated by family members of victims and members of the community, the coalition said. The participants, whose stories will be archived at Cornell University’s Kheel Center, sewed the fabric into a series of 10-foot panels.
“We know what we’re up against doing these things, there are so many patterns,” Eisinger said. “And there are so many paintings, so many details that you want everything to be perfect. So we had to find different techniques in order to get these images exactly as we wanted them.
These techniques include a mix of modern printing and photography, and an ancient printmaking method using photoengraving, he said. The designs are transferred to film, printed, and then etched into the steel, he said.
The ribbon approximately 30 inches wide will separate at the top of the ground floor 12 feet above the sidewalk to span the length of the building facade on two sides. The names of each victim will be engraved in the ribbon.
With a darkened reflective panel at street level, visitors will be able to see the names of the victims in the reflective panel, as if overhead, written in the sky, the coalition said.
“We found it very interesting, but also very moving,” Eisinger said. “I mean, when you look at some of these signs, and we see the names, you know, here’s a mother and two daughters, and they’re their age.”
The reflective panel will also be etched with comments from survivors and eyewitnesses as a single line of text running along the bottom edge of the panel, drawing visitors’ eyes to the reflection to see the names of the victims.
“There are so many details on it,” Eisinger said. “When the light hits them from certain angles, they’ll be really unique images and you’ll see the shadows and all the detail there. You might not see them all, you probably won’t ever see them all, but the fact is that they are there, and so for us it’s an interesting job, that’s for sure.
An interactive map of names on the Remember the Triangle Fire coalition website provides users with the information available for each victim. The Open Archives Fire Triangle seeks personal contributions from people who reflect why the event should be remembered.
The memorial is expected to be completed in 2023. To learn more about the project, visit the coalition’s website.