A witness paints the tragic Triangle shirtwaist fire

Before he became a noted painter in the mid-1940s, Vincent Joseph Gatto was just another kid growing up in Little Italy.

He lived with his widowed stepmother and made ends meet as a plumber’s helper, a milk-can washer, steamfitter, and a featherweight club fighter.


Looking for extra cash, he decided to show some of his paintings at the annual Greenwich Village Art Show, thinking his unschooled artistic efforts were better than what he saw on display along the sidewalks.

He quickly found fame and gallery representation for the works he painted from “outa my head,” he told Life in 1948.

VincentjosephgattoOne of those from-memory paintings focused on the Triangle shirtwaist fire. On the afternoon of March 25, 1911, Gatto (left), then 18, witnessed the terrible inferno on Washington Place and Greene Street.

Thirty-three years later, he recalled what he saw: the intense smoke and fire, helpless crowds, and the shrouded bodies of workers who jumped or fell to death being laid out on the sidewalk by firefighters.

The painting is part of the Museum of the City of New York’s Activist New York exhibit.

[Photo: Smithsonian Institute/Renwick Gallery]

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3 Responses to “A witness paints the tragic Triangle shirtwaist fire”

  1. wack60585 Says:

    Reblogged this on wack60585.

  2. gchistorymentors Says:

    Ephemeral New York, you should note that people can see this painting in the Activist New York exhibit at The Museum of the City of New York!

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Yes! Here is the link to the exhibit: http://www.mcny.org/exhibition/activist-new-york

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