Hoboken council votes to have plaque memorialize fire victims from the 70s and 80s

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The Hoboken City Council unanimously approved a measure (9-0) to have a plaque at Tom Olivieri Park memorialize arson fire victims who were killed in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Photo courtesy of the Hoboken Historical Museum.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

At a later date to be determined in the spring, city officials will announce an official ceremony installing a plaque memorial at Tom Olivieri Park on upper 13th St. at a later date.

“It’s just to honor and to remember all those who died,” Rose Orozco said in addressing the City Council last week. She also added that the plaque would be crucial to  “honor those who were visibly and emotionally scarred.”

Roman Brice, another member of the Hoboken Fire Victims Memorial Project – who also runs the Mile Square View blog – said in a statement that this is the culmination of a years-long effort by Orozco to see an official memorial.

“Unknown to many residents, there’s deep scars and unhealed wounds leaving division between old and new residents. This begins an education process and the start of a much needed healing.”

According to historian Dylan Gottlieb, 8,000 Hoboken residents were displaced during this period of the Hoboken fires.

In the late 1970’s into the early 1980’s, hundreds of arson fires occurred across the Mile Square City. Additionally, at least 55 Hoboken residents perished in the fires, according to public records.

Many of these fires began in the early hours before dawn while building residents slept. The vast majority of the victims were Hispanic women and children.

In one arson incident on January 2nd, 1979, 21 people were killed at 131 Clinton St. Those responsible for the fires were never convicted. Furthermore, numerous fire victims were not named in news accounts at the time.

The Hoboken Fire Victims Memorial Project was founded in 2018 by Orozco, a retired
nurse who lived and worked in Hoboken through the tumultuous years of the fires.

The other members of the committee are All Saints Episcopal Parish Rector Elaine Ellis Thomas, Hoboken Oral History Project editor Holly Metz, and Council President Jen Giattino.