Posts Tagged ‘Washington Square’

Washington Place has a distinctly nostalgic feel.  The block between Washington Square East and Greene Street is probably the closest New York University comes to resembling a suburban college campus, with violet and white flags flying on both sides of the street, and the greenery of Washington Square Park as a backdrop.  Many passersby are doubtless reminded of their own college days.  But the block also hints at something older.  The cobblestones that still pave Greene Street, and the architectural details of buildings saved by the Greenwich Village historic preservation movement, transport visitors back to the nineteenth century.  Conveniently, this is when the story of 27 Washington Place begins.

In 1842, Henry James, Sr. purchased a townhouse at 27 Washington Place.*  The birth of his first child, William, on January 11th of that year may have inspired him to find a more permanent home for his family.  However, James had rented in the neighborhood for several years.  He occupied a bachelor’s apartment in the University Building on Washington Square East in 1838, and then—with his new wife, Mary Robertson Walsh—moved to 2 Washington Place.  He knew firsthand that it was a good place for a well-to-do family to settle in New York City.  The former potter’s field at Washington Square had been transformed into Washington Parade Ground, a military parade ground that also served as a public park, in 1828.  Local residents strolled and children played there.  “The Row” of Greek Revival-style homes recently built along Washington Square North was one of the most fashionable addresses in the city.  Its wealthy residents included Mary’s family, in whose home Henry and Mary were wed in 1840. The closeness of 27 Washington Place to the studious atmosphere of the University Building may have also attracted Henry.  (The two buildings were only separated by one house, 29 Washington Place.)  He was a theologian who took his work quite seriously.  Perhaps he had enjoyed the university’s community of scholars and intellectuals as a resident, and hoped to continue to participate in it as a neighbor.

Detail from an engraving of the University Building by Robert Hishelwood, with 27 Washington Place visible behind it.

Detail from an engraving of the University Building by Robert Hinshelwood, with 27 Washington Place visible behind it.

Henry’s second child, Henry James, Jr., was born at 27 Washington Place on April 15, 1843.  Like many of his siblings, he followed his father’s intellectual bent.  Henry James, Jr. would become one of the most important Realist writers of the nineteenth century.  He spent most of his adult life in Europe, but looked fondly upon his childhood home from a distance.  His memories of his grandmother’s house on the Row inspired his short novel Washington Square, published in 1880.  Finally, in 1904, Henry James, Jr. returned to Washington Square.  He was not pleased with the changes that he found.  He shared his resentment in The American Scene

“The gray and more or less hallowed University Building—wasn’t it somehow with a desperate bravery, both castellated and gabled—has vanished from the earth and vanished with it the two or three adjacent houses, of which the birthplace was one. This was the snub for the complacency of the retrospect, that, whereas the inner sense had positively erected there for its private contemplation a commemorative mural tablet, the very wall that should have borne this inscription had been smashed as for demonstration that tablets, in New York, are unthinkable…but that we have only to reflect an instant to see any such form of civic piety inevitably and for ever absent.”

During Henry James’ decades in Europe, New York City expanded northward, and the neighborhood around Washington Square lost its suburban character.  The wealthy and fashionable residents of the Row began to move away.  Meanwhile, many of the immigrants who had fled famine, political and economic strife, and religious persecution in Europe constructed their own communities in neighboring areas of Greenwich Village.  Residential buildings around Washington Square were demolished or transformed into commercial buildings in which workers toiled for long hours at low wages.  Other buildings were subdivided into cramped tenement housing.  Even the houses on the Row became multi-family dwellings in the 1880s.

27 Washington Place was not immune from this change.  By 1894 Joseph J. Asch had acquired it, along with 23, 25, and 29 Washington Place.  Asch demolished the houses in 1900, four years before Henry James’ return from Europe, to make way for a ten-story commercial building.  When the Asch Building was complete, a pair of business partners named Max Blanck and Isaac Harris moved their factory to its eighth floor.  As Henry James glared up at the building that had usurped his birthplace, hundreds of immigrant laborers sweated at the sewing machines of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company.

The story of the fire at the Triangle factory has been told elsewhere.  It deserves more attention than I can give it here, but in short, these are the facts.  146 people died in half an hour.  They were mostly women, mostly Italian and Jewish immigrants, some as young as fourteen.  146 people who were trapped in a burning building by locked doors, a small elevator, a broken fire escape, and fire department ladders too short to reach the eighth floor.  Some victims fell from the windows.  Some jumped, rather than burn alive.

It is incredible, almost insulting, that the Asch Building survived the fire when so many people did not.  Yet it did.  The upper floors were rebuilt, and the building was renamed the Greenwich Building.  Frederick Brown acquired it shortly afterward.  New York University began to rent classroom space in the building in 1916, and in 1929, the Brown family gave the building to the university as a gift.  It is now called the Brown Building.  New York University students attend classes there daily, in a world that shares little with those of either Henry James or the Triangle Shirtwaist Company employees, except its location.

In The American Scene, Henry James bemoaned the lack of a physical historical marker at his birthplace to match the one imprinted in his memory.  There is still no historical marker for Henry James on the Brown Building today.  He is commemorated elsewhere.  However, there are three historical markers on the Brown Building at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street, remembering the victims of the Triangle factory fire.  It is a small oversight, perhaps, but Henry James was one man who lived a full life of privilege and fame.  They were 146, poor and otherwise unknown.  How many times in history has the reverse occurred?

The historical markers on the Brown Building. Photo by Harmony Barker.

The historical markers on the Brown Building. Photo by Harmony Barker.

The history of 27 Washington Place serves as a case study in the changing character of Washington Square throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  More than that, it serves as a reminder that, especially in places where space is limited and populations are dense, history marches on.  Henry James might have wished for the Washington Square in his memory to remain unchanged forever, a monument to the great writer and his great works.  Likewise, a witness to the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company might have wondered how the site of such horror could ever become anything else.  But the story of Washington Square, both joyful and tragic, continues to grow and change.

*The house was actually numbered 21 Washington Place when Henry James, Sr. purchased it in 1842, but the street was renumbered two years later.  For the sake of clarity, I have referred to the James house as 27 Washington Place throughout this post.


Thomas J. Frusciano and Marilyn Pettit, New York University and the City:  An Illustrated History, 1831-1996.  New Brunswick, NJ:  Rutgers University Press, 1997.

Luther S. Harris, Around Washington Square:  An Illustrated History of Greenwich Village.  Baltimore, MD:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.

Habegger, Alfred.  “James, Henry.” American National Biography Online.  February 2000.  Accessed September 22, 2015.  Available online at http://www.anb.org/articles/16/16-00842.html.

Henry James, The American Scene.  London:  Chapman and Hall, Ltd, 1907.  Accessed November 9,  2015.  Available online at https://archive.org/details/americanscene00jameuoft.

“Henry James, Birthplace, Location of.”  Biographical Files; New York University Archives, New York University Libraries.

Administrative Papers of the Chancellor Henry Mitchell MacCracken 1884-1910; RG 3.0.3; Box 16; New York University Archives, New York University Libraries.

Records of the Office of the Treasurer, 1910-1963; RG 10.9, Box 47; New York University Archives, New York University Libraries.

Cornell University ILR School, “Remembering the 1911 Triangle Factory Fire.”  2011.  Accessed November 9, 2015.  Available online at http://trianglefire.ilr.cornell.edu/index.html.

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.  Revised August 1986.  Accessed November 9, 2015.  Available online at http://focus.nps.gov/pdfhost/docs/NHLS/Text/91002050.pdf.


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Travelers who arrive at the West 4th Street subway station in Greenwich Village intending to exit at West 4th Street will be surprised to find that the subway station actually does not have an exit to its namesake street. Exits are only available at West 3rd Street or at West 8th Street. For such a large and bustling subway station, these two exits are relatively small and provide limited access to the street from the station.

Where is the W 4th Street exit?

Why is the West 4th Street station named for a street to which it does not actually provide access? The relatively few exits in the West 4th Street subway station illustrate the original intention of the subway station. The West 4th Street station was intended to be a major transfer point to connect to other subway lines. The West 4th Street station was originally built with the intention of connecting Manhattan’s two Independent Subway System (IND) trunk lines – the 8th Avenue Line (A, C, E) and the 6th Avenue Line (B, D, F, M).

The IND Subway System was the last of three individual subway systems in Manhattan and was built to be “independent” of the IRT and BMT lines. The IND contributed six major lines to the larger, unified subway system that exists today. The West 4th Street station has been a part of the IND Eighth Avenue and IND Sixth Avenue Lines since their inceptions. The upper level of the West 4th Street subway station opened on the same day as the IND Eighth Avenue Line made its maiden voyage – September 10, 1932. The lower level of the West 4th Street station opened when the construction of the IND Sixth Avenue Line was completed, in December of 1940.

The original IND 8th Avenue sign still marks a station entrance.

The West 4th Street station is therefore intrinsically tied to the IND system and to the two lines that has been serving for almost one hundred years. The goal of this subway station was always to facilitate transfers between the two IND lines. People whose intended destination was West 4th Street were an afterthought.

Rumor has it that there used to be direct exits to the street from the middle-level mezzanine of the station, which is no longer accessible to the public. This may explain why the name of the station highlights a street that is not actually accessible from either of the station’s two exits. The fact that these original exits were closed to the public further highlights that the main intention of the West 4th Street subway station was as a transfer point between the two IND trunk lines.

Interestingly, the name of the West 4th Street station would probably be Fourth Street except that there was another IND Fourth Street subway station planned in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Because of these dueling Fourth Street stations, the Brooklyn station was called South 4th Street and the Manhattan station was called West 4th Street in order to differentiate them. Brooklyn’s South Fourth Street station was never completed, leaving the West 4th Street name as a curious remnant of an era of ambitious subway expansion as New York City’s transit systems grew.

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Theodore Dreiser (1917)This week is banned books week, an annual event highlighting the value of free and open access to information.  Resident of Greenwich Village and novelist Theodore Dreiser dealt with censorship with several of his books, including his most famous: Sister Carrie (1900) and An American Tragedy (1925).  Dreiser’s writing was part of the literary movement naturalism, which was a grittier form of realism.  Its defining characteristic is its portrayal of people as passive victims of natural forces and their social environment.

Dreiser was born on August 17, 1871, in Terre Haute, Indiana.  While he was growing up, his poverty-stricken family frequently moved between small towns in Indiana and Chicago.  He studied at Indiana University, Bloomington for the 1889-1890 academic year before dropping out to become a journalist.  Dreiser first inhabited Greenwich Village in 1894, as a resident in a dingy hotel on Bleecker Street.  The next two years saw him return to the Village for brief stays as he traveled widely as a journalist and novelist.  Dreiser finally settled down in the Village in 1914 when he moved into an apartment at 165 West 10th Street.

In the first few decades of the 20th century, Greenwich Village started to attract a “new type” of resident.  This included artists, journalists, and professional people.  Thus the Village in this period had thriving literary, artistic, and radical scenes.  These early Village residents made up a relatively tight-knit group. They hung out together, criticized each other’s writing, and felt a common bond keeping them together against the outside world.  This literary scene and Greenwich Village institutions were a major part of Dreiser’s life and work while he lived there.  During the day he would walk in Washington Square Park and browse in the 8th Street Bookshop.  In the evenings he would attend the productions of local theater companies.  His mistress, Kirah Markham, often performed with the Provincetown Playerrs.  The Washington Square Players performed some of Dreiser’s plays.  Floyd Dell, Max Eastman, Sinclair Lewis, Margaret Sanger, Hutch Hapgood, and Emma Goldman are just some of the names that made up Dreiser’s New York social circle.

Many of Dreiser’s novels were composed at least partly in New York.  Sister Carrie, a novel about a young woman from a small town who moves to Chicago.  In the big city, she pursues the American Dream by becoming a mistress to men and then an actress.  However, Doubleday, its publisher, limited the novel’s advertising because the central character’s “morality” goes unpunished.  Consequently, not many copies of the book sold.  In 1916, the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice forced Dreiser’s newly published novel The Genius off the market for being blasphemous and obscene.  Dreiser’s friends in Greenwich Village signed the many petitions that he circulated in his campaign against the Society.  The 1925 publication of An American Tragedy, about a murder case, brought Dreiser his greatest critical and commercial success.  Dreiser died on December 28, 1945, at the age of 74, in Hollywood, California.

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A staunch supporter of women’s reproductive rights and a patron of the avant-garde arts, an anti-war, anti-censorship, and civil rights activist, an outspoken advocate for the decriminalization of prostitution and marijuana and…. a Baptist minister? A brief sketch of Howard Moody’s activities reads like an episode of the 1980s quiz show “Odd One Out.” But for nearly thirty-five years parishioners flocked to Judson Memorial Church on 55 Washington Square South to join the Reverend in his sometimes shocking, often provocative, and always stimulating call to social activism.

Reverend Moody’s passing this September has left a profound void in the Greenwich community, one quickly filled with critical recognition and creative reflection. In the recent flood of obituaries and editorials, Moody has emerged as a foundational figure in Greenwich’s history of social and cultural resistance. A self-proclaimed “Christian agnostic,” his radical ministry spanned three American conflicts abroad, a social and sexual revolution, landmark legal decisions, and the ongoing tragedy of the AIDS epidemic (Gold 1). A quick scan through a list of sermons in the Judson Archives sketches an expansive outline of the Reverend’s radical activities. His explosive 1978 lecture “Humanizing the Hooker” and the somewhat esoteric “Symbols and Fetishes: A Left Handed Salute to the Flag” suggest only a few of Moody’s many engagements with controversial issues (Guide to the Judson Archive). As the Reverend himself reflects in a recent interview, “I’ve been swimming upstream a lot of my ministerial life” (Moody, “Voices of Choice”).

Not surprisingly, anecdotes abound. Moody was known for handing out cookies (and medical supplies) to prostitutes working the streets. In the swinging 60s he reportedly invited Yoko Ono and other crazy cats into his sanctuary to perform – a sanctuary he had “renovated” by discarding his pulpit and all the pews! Perhaps one of the most iconoclastic Moody-sponsored acts, “Meat Joy,” is rumored to have involved scantily clad female performers and a deceased fish (Martin A25).

Moody’s religious roots certainly don’t suggest a social radical in the making. Born April 13, 1921 into a traditional southern Baptist family in Dallas Texas, Moody set aside his ministerial aspirations after a two-year stint at Baylor University. He enlisted in the Marines in June of 1941, a mere six months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Quickly rising to the rank of sergeant, Moody was assigned to the Solomon Islands as an aerial photographer and side gunner. Upon his return to the United States he enrolled in Yale Divinity School, and by 1956 had accepted the post of senior minister at the Judson Memorial Church (Martin A25). Founded by Edward Judson in the late 19th century, the church developed its reputation for community activism early on with outreach programs aimed at poor Italian immigrants (Gold 1).

Although Moody gave voice to three decades worth of liberal causes during his ministry, his most prominent legacy remains as an outspoken advocate for women’s rights to reproductive determination. Dubbed the “Harriet Tubman of abortion rights movement” by the PRCH, Moody worked tirelessly in the years prior to Roe vs. Wade to secure women safe and affordable abortions (Moody, “Voices of Choice”). As the primary architect in the construction of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion – an extensive network of nearly 1400 pro-choice clergy members and rabbis nationwide – Moody was integral in guiding countless women to safe and successful medical procedures (Martin A25). Moody reflected, “as soon as we opened that door, women came from all over the country. They came by plane and train and bus and car and we were deluged” (Moody, “Voices of Choice”). Rather than obscure this technically “illegal” operation, Moody boldly chose to go public. In May of 1967 the radical reverend approached the New York Times himself. Shockingly, the subsequent article resulted in no legal action against Moody (Martin A25).

In Moody’s passing we have lost a formidable voice for change in Greenwich’s history of resistance. But quite fittingly this loss has opened up a vital space for community reflection and recognition – a rediscovery of one man’s lifetime of freedom fighting. It couldn’t have come at a better time. In a contemporary political climate where buzz of “eroding family values” is used to justify restricted access to contraception (Abdullah 1), Moody’s early campaign for self-determination leaves us with a crucial legacy of strength and political action. Where the Reverend himself once mobilized his own diverse congregation on behalf of controversial issues, his memory and writings continue to remind us that the right to control one’s own body is an essential freedom. No amount of time, fear, or political moralizing can obscure that truth.

Works Cited

Abdullah, Halimah. “Why Birth Control is Pushing Political Buttons.” MSNBC Today. NBC News, 23 February 2012. Web. 28 September 2012. < http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/46500633/ns/today-today_news/t/why-birth-control-pushing-political-buttons/#.UGnpK1FgPzI>

Gold, Ed. “Rev. Howard Moody Reflects on 50 Years of Activism.” The Villager 73.34 (2003). Community Media LLC. Web. 27 September 2012. < http://www.thevillager.com/villager_34/reverendhoward.html>

“Guide to the Judson Memorial Church Archive 1838-1995 MSS 094.” Fales Library & Special Collections. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library. Web. 28 September 2012.  < http://dlib.nyu.edu/findingaids/html/fales/judson/judson.html>

Martin, Douglas. “Howard Moody, Who Led a Historic Church, Dies at 91.” New York Times 13 September 2012: A25. Web. September 28 2012. < http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/14/nyregion/howard-moody-minister-of-judson-memorial-church-dead-at-91.html?_r=0>

Moody, Howard. Transcript from Voices of Choice. 1 January 2003. Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health. Web. 28 September 2012. <http://www.prch.org/reverend-howard-moody>

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It’s December in New York City, and all kinds of people are out and about decorating for the holidays and getting ready to celebrate however they traditionally do. Menorahs and Christmas lights begin appearing in windows, New Yorkers struggle to push aside the tourists in front of store windows on 34th street, and municipal employees hang lighted snowflakes on telephone poles. Whatever the season means to you, it’s hard to miss one Greenwich Village Christmas tradition being celebrated again this year: The lighting of the Washington Square Park Christmas tree.

Washington Square Christmas Tree, 2007

The Washington Square Christmas Tree in 2007. Image: Ianqui under Creative Commons.

The tradition goes back to 1924, when the Washington Square Association invited the community to be part of a Christmas celebration in the park, featuring a tree and the singing of Christmas carols.

“Gustavus T. Kirby, President of the Washington Square Association, announced that this city, like Washington, would have a permanently planted Yule-tide evergreen. The tree was selected at Amawalk, N.Y. by Francis D. Gallatin, the Park Commissioner; George D. Pratt, President of the American Forestry Association, and Mr. Kirby, and will be planted on Tuesday afternoon in Washington Square with appropriate ceremonies. The tree is the gift of Miss Evelyn W. Smith, who presented the National Tree to President Coolidge for planting in the White House grounds. New York’s spruce is a duplicate.” (New York Times, “Railroads Prepare for Christmas Rush” December 21, 1924.)

The original tree was officially presented on December 24, 1924, by Parks Commissioner Gallatin. The “appropriate ceremonies” included the lighting of the tree, which was to be equipped with “1,500 amber, green and red incandescent lights.” (New York Times, “City’s Celebration of Yuletide Begins” December 24, 1924) as well as caroling, and as the article went to press, the plan was to project the words of Christmas carols directly onto the Washington Square Arch, “…so that all present may read and sing.” The living tree, temporarily set up by the arch, was then to be planted permanently elsewhere in the park the following Monday. Unfortunately, this author cannot find any more information about the planting of the tree. However, an article entitled “Real Trees are Urged for XMas” was published in the New York Times the next year (on December 6, 1925) stating, “Each year…a cry is raised that to have Christmas trees is to endanger our waning forest resources. [Charles Lanthrop Pack, president of the American Tree Association] said, ‘Conservation is wise use. The children should have their Christmas trees.’” It seems that today’s Washington Square Christmas Tree is a cut one, but in the spirit of “wise use,” we can still hope that the original living tree was able to be planted and enjoyed for many years after its journey to New York City! And of course, every time we walk through Washington Square Park and see an evergreen, we can imagine that it’s an 87 year veteran of park life.

Although the Washington Square Association continues to host the event, over the years other members of the community have joined in the tree-lighting festivities. For example, from 1993 through 2009, New York University hosted its annual All-University Holiday Sing, with many of its musical ensembles and choirs performing.

“This sensational event brings together family and friends with reminiscent music to rouse us all into the holiday spirit. Featuring performances by NYU’s Jazz Choir, Gospel Choir, University Singers, Ani V’ata, Children’s Chorus, and the NYU Orchestra. Experience the ever-enchanting music from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and let your spirit sing as the NYU Orchestra accompanies the entire audience in an engaging carol sing-a-long! Everyone who attends will receive a surprise treat!” (NYU Events Page, December 9, 2003)

According to sources at the NYU Archives, even former NYU president L. Jay Oliva joined in the fun during his tenure! The sing was held in Washington Square Park in the 1990s, often in conjunction with the caroling at the Washington Square Tree Lighting, and continued to be held inside in later years. The last Holiday Sing in evidence on NYU’s events calendar took place on December 8, 2009, in the Loewe Theater on West 4th Street, seemingly signifying the demise of the holiday tradition.

Although NYU’s All-University Holiday Sing seems to have been discontinued (and readers, please correct me if I’m wrong) the Washington Square Christmas Tree Lighting is still going strong, and the tree was lit this year on December 7th, despite rainy weather. Caroling is planned for December 24th, if anyone is inclined to see the tree for themselves.

Here’s to hoping all our readers have a great holiday, however they do or don’t celebrate, and that all students have a stress-free winter break! Happy holidays from Greenwich Village!

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Today Washington Square Park is known as a public place of leisure.   Individuals may use the park to read, take their dogs, stand

photo courtsey of gawker.com

on a soapbox, showcase their musical talents and partake in a myriad of other recreational activities. Washington Square Park has come to be a defining aspect of Greenwich Village, and has provided a space and place for individuals to gather and share ideas and experiences. However, as with all space and places in New York, Washington Square Park was not always a place of leisure.  It was not even always a park.  It was not until 1827 when Philip Hone (a war hero from the War of 1812) became Mayor of New York[1] that Washington Square Park became such.  He pushed for the development of the park in order to mimic London’s high-end residential neighborhood West End. [2] This was in attempts to lure wealthy individuals to live in the area, an effort that was successful.  To add the extra push for his campaign, Hone proposed the park to be named after President George Washington in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of his presidency (and the American Revolution).   Again, an effort that was obviously successful.

Previous to this turn of events, the large public space was designated as a common cemetery where victims of the Yellow Fever epidemic were buried in 1797.[3]  Bones and human artifacts are regularly discovered each time renovations occur at Washington Square Park, and even on occasion when ConEd needs to break ground for repairs.  Eventually the space was appropriated for public gallows.   This led the big English Elm tree near the northwest portion of the park to be dubbed “the hanging elm.”  There are no extant records of anyone ever being hung on the Elm tree, however there are several accounts of individuals being hung from gallows a measly 150 meters away.[4]  The tree is estimated by the Department of Parks and Recreation to be about 330 years old, making it one of the oldest trees in Manhattan.  This bit of information is particularly astounding given that English Elm trees only have the life expectancy of about 300 years.[5]

Upon some research, I discovered the connections between the park, the Elm tree, public gallows and London, England.   In medieval London, there was a public gallows called Tyburn whose locale moved several times throughout England’s history.  Originally it was near the Tiborne River where, according to the famed medieval chronicler Hollinshed, “the fatal elm tree grew.”  The area is also called “The Elms at Smithfield,” because of the abundance of Elm trees in the area.  Chaucer also notes that criminals were taken to Tyburn to be hung from an Elm tree.[6] Also, Roger de Mortimer, the First Earl of March was also hung on an Elm tree at Tyburn in 1330.  Eventually there was also a three-legged wooden gallow that was constructed at this site, which was darkly and affectionately called “The Tyburn Tree.”  This clearly is a reference to the Elm trees where criminals were hung previous to the construction of the gallows. In 1873 this was also the site of “Elms Lane” in Bayside.[7] The last criminal was taken to the Elms at Smithfield in 1790, and the gallows moved to St. Giles across the street from a hospital.  At this particular location of the gallows victims were said to receive a parting alcoholic beverage.[8]

While it is unclear whether or not the English Elm Tree at Washington Square Park was popularized as the hanging elm because of the history of hangings “at the Elms” at Smithfield, the correlation between the two is overwhelmingly strong.  The area around Washington Square Park was also where very wealthy British families such as Mayflower legacies Johnstons and Griswolds settled – another strong correlation between Britain and Washington Square Park.

photo courtsey of bbc.co.uk

Ironically, the biology of an Elm tree also works well as a metaphor for death because each growing season the inner bark of the Elm tree dies and is reborn the next spring.  This process is what creates the “tree rings” on the inside of an Elm.  By counting each ring, the Department of Parks and Recreation was able to determine the tree’s age.  Also, just like the criminals hung by the Elm tree, the trees have a very delicate vascular system.   The out-break of the Dutch Elm Disease in the 1960s attacked the vascular system of the Elm and devastated some 20 million trees in England.   The disease was called The Dutch Elm Disease because it was first discovered in Holland in 1917.   English Elms were not always associated with the gallows – like Washington Square Park, Elms also have a fluid identity that changes over time.  When English Elms were first widely planted in the 17th and 18th centuries, they were used mostly to provide shade for farmers in their fields.  Farmers would also plant lines of Elms in order to demarcate the end or beginning of their private farming property.[9]

[1] Flint, Anthony.  Wrestling with Moses: how Jane Jacobs took on New York’s master builder and transformed the American City. New York: Random House Digital, 2009, 67.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Pilla, Domenick. “The Hangman’s Tree in Washington Square Park.” The New York Times. Online edition. April 4, 2011.  Accessed 4 November 2011.

[5] Elmcare.com. http://elmcare.com/. Accesed 4 November 2011.

[6] Kirwan, Daniel Joseph. Palace and hovel, or Phases of London life: being personal observations of an American in London, by day and night. Hartford: Columbian Book Co., 1878, 157.

[7] Notes and Queries. Oxford University Press, 1873.  via Google Books. http://books.google.com/books?id=L_zfAAAAMAAJ&dq=elm+tree+and+gallows&source=gbs_navlinks.  Accessed 4 November 2011.

[8]  Thombury, George Walter and Edward Walford. Old and New London: a narrative of its history, its people and its places, by W. Thornbury (E. Walford). 1880.  via Google books.http://books.google.com/books?id=lekHAAAAQAAJ&dq=the+elms,+smithfield&sou sou=gbs_navlinks_s. Accessed 4 November 2011.

[9] Elmcare.com.  http://elmcare.com/.  Accessed 4 November 2011.

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–One of the exhibits created by students in the Creating Digital History course.–

William Rhinelander Stewart and the Washington Square Arch

by Stephanie Mach

William Rhinelander Stewart was a philanthropist and financier who was born and raised in Greenwich Village.  Beginning in the 1880s, Stewart focused his attention on philanthropy and so he joined charities, committees, and commissions dedicated to the betterment of New York City.  His love for the rich history of New York and the beauty of his home, Greenwich Village, inspired Stewart to conceive of a monument so grand that, even today, it stands as an icon to the magnificence of New York City and the spirit of one of its oldest neighborhoods.  The Washington Square Arch started out as one man’s idea for the Centennial Celebration of the inauguration of George Washington in 1889, although the arch as we know it today, would not be complete until 1918.  This exhibition is the story of how the Washington Arch came to be and the man who was there from the beginning to end, William Rhinelander Stewart.


To see this exhibit, go to: http://aphdigital.org/GVH/exhibits/show/washington-arch

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