Josie (age eight) and I did theÂ ChalkÂ Project again. An HBO documentary crew doing a film about the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire followed us. I was distracted, wearing the Mom Hat. Was Josie going to drop the box of chalk? Was she engaged? Did she know how to spell “Jennie”?
I was trying to focus on answering the producer’s questions about the fire and its import, something I’ve written about before. But I wish I’d volunteered more info about how amazing I think the Chalk Project itself is. Â The experience of chalking is so immediate — crouching or sprawling on the ground while people stare at you, feeling conspicuous, clutching the crumbly chalk and trying to print neatly, thinking about where to tape the flyer of info about the Triangle. It’s powerful to really look at the tenements where the girls once lived, so like the one where I currently live…and suddenly it’s easy to picture them 99 years ago. Sometimes you chalk in front of an address that no longer exists, or a building that’s become a giant monstrosity, and it’s instructive to reflect on whatever’s taken the tenement’s place. And you can imagine the girls who lived in the same building or on the same block walking to work at the factory together. Those feelings of connectedness are part of why I think the Chalk Project is brilliant. While it’s fun to chalk with Josie (and I love that immigration history and labor history are meaningful to her too), I do feel I lose something by having to wear the Mom Hat at the same time as the Chalker Hat.
On the upside, we had a lovely moment of human connection while chalking in front of a (new) building on 11th and B. As Josie was chalking (she chalked for Kate Leone, one of the two 14-year-old victims — she’s always been drawn to the idea of the youngest girls working in the factory) when a mom with two little girls came home. Sometimes people are nasty when they see us Â — WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN FRONT OF MY BUILDING? — but this mom was into it. She was Italian (first generation, from Italy, fabulous accent and all), just like Kate and so many of the other victims. She told me that when she moved here, and learned about the fire (through Chalk, in front of her building every year) she felt connected to immigration history in this country and what it was like for earlier generations of Italians. Her little girls’ public school does an immigration curriculum (as does Josie’s — seeing Jo chatting with one of the little girls was cute) — and this year, her daughters’ school actually participated in the memorial ceremony. They jointed the volunteers placing flowers by the site, one for each victim, as each name is read aloud. Making connections like that is part of why The Chalk Project is so meaningful.
I love this! I hope Josie is getting a strong sense (as I do, reading this) of how history isn’t just something that happened in the past, but something that continues to happen — that’s happening right now, all around her.
[…] all about it! New York Times Daily News The Forward Marjorie Ingall EV […]
What an awesome thing to do. And, Marjorie, I had no clue you were blogging, but not at all surprised. DUH. Glad to find you in this crazy blogosphere.
Dear Ms. Ingall, I am very pleased to have found your blogs-I can certainly relate to your desire to share this experience with your daughter. My son Nicholas and I have been attending commemorations the past few years, and each year, he asks me questions about the fire and its aftermath, each more insightful and surprising than the year before! He has a personal connection to the events , as his great great grandfather worked as an elevator man at the Triangle at the time of the fire. It has been part of our family’s oral history as far back as my memory permits me to remember and I am pleased to pass them along to him. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. Sincerely, Jane
My grandfather, Elias Kanter, was one of the NYU law students who saved some of the workers. I am very proud of him. I have read a lot of material on this tragedy. Gail
[…] 2009 when Josie marched with today’s garment workers in the Labor Day Parade, and on my blogÂ last year when the HBO crew followed Josie as she chalked. I think Chalk is everything a participatory art […]
[…] as usual, we had some lovely interactions with passersby. This time, we metÂ graffiti artist Angel Ortiz, […]