Papa, I thought of you yesterday. I thought of how smart and loyal you were and how pleased you would be that we remember. At noon I went with Perri to Washington Place in Greenwich Village and we stood in the gusty Spring chill as part of the huge crowd looking up at the eighth, ninth and tenth floors of what was once called the old Asch building. Modernized it is now the Brown building and part of N.Y.U. Modernized but it still has its ghosts!
For the Centennial Memorial Service those high corner windows were draped in mourners’ somber dark velvet, but it was not hard to imagine the glass panes enveloped in crackling flames on March 25, 1911. Young seamstresses, as young as fourteen – who had been locked into their workrooms by employers to prevent stealing – were either instantly immolated or else forced to leap to their deaths from up there, while their employers safely made their way to the roof telling no one else of that route.
ONE HUNDRED FORTY SIX DEATHS IN A LITTLE MORE THAN A HALF HOUR!
The slain young seamstresses were mostly Italian and Jewish immigrants. The insurance company eventually paid their bereaved families seventy-five dollars a victim. The factory owners were handsomely compensated by their insurance company.
Papa, standing there with Perri, your grand-daughter, in the hushed crowd made up mostly of members of various trade unions and bright-faced school children, I thought of you – the immigrant, poorly paid clothing presser who stood all day over that big steam pressing machine in a similar factory – I remembered how earnestly you valued your membership in the clothing workers union, and how strongly you believed in the right to organize and collectively bargain and strike.
How smart and honest you were though you never did learn exactly how to pronounce every English word!