Greenwich Village is a neighborhood known for many things. Prior to moving to New York City and starting graduate school at New York University four weeks ago, I knew very little of its history. The first things that came to mind included the home of NYU, the Village Halloween Parade, and the large arch in Washington Square Park. As a student of history, I recalled that the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire occurred in Greenwich Village in 1911. Aside from those few facts, I felt completely unfamiliar with the neighborhood. I took advantage of the beautiful weather this past weekend and explored the area with a set objective. I wanted to find a list of monuments throughout Greenwich Village and examine their significance within the neighborhood and the ways in which memory changes over time.
I selected Washington Square Park (http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/washington-square-park/history) as my starting point. It is impossible to walk through or around Washington Square Park without noticing the Washington Arch, which the builders completed in 1892, or the large fountain from the 1870s. These two dominant structures overshadow other monuments scattered throughout the park. I specifically wanted to find the Garibaldi monument and the Holley monument. First, it is important to note that I possessed no prior knowledge of the existence of these two monuments. Perhaps, more importantly, I admit that I lacked the ability to place either individual in the context of history. I asked myself a few questions. Who were these men? Why do they have monuments in Washington Square Park? And are their legacies still influential? (Do village residents still remember them?)
I noticed the monument of Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807 – 1882) after a few minutes of wandering around the park. Unfortunately, the statue itself did not catch my original attention. The noise of skateboarders, who were using the statue’s base for tricks, initially directed me to the location of the structure. The monument provided little information regarding Garibaldi’s life and relation to the park. Later research informed me that Garibaldi played a vital role in the unification of Italy in the nineteenth century. He is best known for his leadership as a general and Italian nationalist. I discovered that Garibaldi had connections to New York because he lived in Staten Island for a period of time. Even more interestingly, President Lincoln extended an offer of command to Garibaldi during the American Civil War. The Italian-American community in New York donated the statue to Washington Square Park. Giovanni Turini, a veteran who served with Garibaldi, designed the monument and unveiled it in 1888. The monument stands in contrast to its current surroundings in the park. Although it commands a presence because of its height, I highly doubt most passersby take notice and reflect on its relevance.
The next monument on my list in Washington Square Park was the Holley monument. The Holley bust can be found on the other side of the park from the Garibaldi monument. I noticed it for the first time during my visit, but walk past it frequently while on my way to campus. Alexander Lyman Holley (1832 – 1882) was an American engineer associated with the Bessemer steel process. Unlike the Garibaldi monument, the Holley statue contains an inscription which gives the viewer an idea of Holley’s background. However, the inscription alone does not tell the story of Holley. He received fifteen patents during his lifetime and participated in the efforts to establish professional societies for engineering and science. His contributions as an engineer during his life encouraged the construction of a monument to him. Upon his death in Brooklyn in 1882, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers, and the American Society of Civil Engineers lead the effort to create a monument. The dedication took place in 1890 in Washington Square Park.
After the Holley monument, I traveled to Christopher Park, but continued to reflect on the Garibaldi and Holley monuments. These two monuments alone made me consider the changing meanings of the landscape of Greenwich Village and, more specifically, Washington Square Park. The tributes to Garibaldi and Holley maintain a physical presence in the park. However, their lives and the memories of their histories no longer command attention from the average park visitor. At the time of completion and dedication, the monuments signified the societal contributions made by Garibaldi and Holley. Now, people may use the statues as meeting places or for skateboarding purposes, but the park attracts visitors for many more reasons such as the dog parks, chess games, festivals, and the Washington Arch. It disappointed me to realize the monuments go unnoticed and the memories of the men they represent have faded. Yet, the monuments of Washington Square Park follow the same trend that occurs frequently with more the obscure monuments that scatter public places across the nation. To end on a positive note, I did discover one trend with these two monuments that made me realize they have not been completely forgotten. In recent years, associations and private institutions including the City Parks Foundation, the Municipal Art Society, the Smithsonian, and the National Endowments for the Arts have taken steps to preserve the monuments by organizing funds for cleaning and repair. The preservation of these monuments guarantees they will be around for years to come and perhaps, they will come to mean something entirely different in the future.
Campbell, Alfred S., “Garibaldi Statue,” Greenwich Village History, accessed September 29, 2014, http://gvh.aphdigital.org/items/show/1122.
“Washington Square Park Monuments – Giuseppe Garibaldi : NYC Parks.” Accessed September 30, 2014. http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/washington-square-park/monuments/571.