Saturday, March 24, 2012
The ceremonies commemorating the 101st anniversary of the fire were yesterday. The weather was mild and almost benevolent; in the breeze the 146 hand-made shirtwaists, each one with a sash bearing the name and age of a victim and mounted on tall bamboo poles, moved like ghostly sails in the street. At the end of the ceremony, a fire truck runs its ladder up against the building where the fire occurred, but only as far as a ladder could go in 1911---and that is to the 6th floor, while the fire raged on the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors. The visual reality of that awful gap between rescue and death is almost unbearable. Then volunteers read aloud the name and age of each victim, and place a white carnation on the sidewalk. I met and talked with several family members of victims, some of whom have photos of their lost relatives. With the commemoration over, I will focus on the archives of the coalition as well. I hope that within a few weeks I will be able to offer a number of portraits for use in the quilt. Many of the photos exist only in 101-year-old newspaper clippings--at the moment, they enlarge into blurred, pointillist images, which may work very well for us. I'd like to have as many of the victims represented as we can, but I also believe the quilt needs to speak to the present as well. If you would like to do one of these haunting young faces as your square, let me know and I will try to send out the best images I can reproduce.