New York’s Madison Square Park hosts an impressive collection of monuments honoring residents who served in World War I as well as 19th Century political and military leaders.
The monument, dedicated in 1881, honors Farragut, a career Navy officer who is probably best known for his “Damn the torpedoes” remarks during the Battle of Mobile Bay. The monument depicts a standing Farragut looking forward with binoculars in his left hand.
The monument’s base is a 1935 copy of a bluestone pedestal designed by architect Stanford White. Inscriptions on the two bench wings provide a dedication, in part, to “. . . the memory of a daring and sagacious commander and great-souled man whose life from childhood was given to his country but who served her supremely in the war for the Union . . .” and biographical details.
The southwest corner of Madison Square Park features a statue of William Seward, secretary of state for Abraham Lincoln, governor of New York and U.S. senator. Seward, who survived an attempt on his life the night Lincoln was assassinated, is perhaps best known for the 1867 purchase of Alaska from Russia.
The 1876 Seward monument, by sculptor Randolph Ranger, depicts a seated Seward with a quill pen in his right hand and paper in his left. Books are piled under his chair. The monument’s base has a simple dedication reading, “William H. Seward, Governor, U.S. Senator, Secretary of State of U.S.”
Near the southeast corner of the park is a statue honoring Roscoe Conkling, a Congressman, U.S. Senator and political boss closely associated with Chester A. Arthur (who is also honored with a statue in the park). The Conkling statue, dedicated in 1893, was created by sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward.
Until a few years ago, the Conkling statue was closer to the corner of the park, and faced southeast toward 23rd Street. After it was cleaned as part of the park’s recent restoration, it was moved a few yards west and reoriented toward the north.
The Madison Square neighborhood, like most in Manhattan, has fallen in and out of favor over the years. During the 19th Century, it was a fashionable home, restaurant and entertainment district, and the first two versions of the Madison Square Garden sports arena were in the neighborhood.
The Statue of Liberty’s torch and arm were displayed in the park for six years as part of fundraising efforts for the statue’s base.
Madison Square Park and its monuments have benefitted from an extensive renovation in the late 1990s. We attended college near the park in the late 1980s, and back then the park’s plantings were sparse, its statues were green and the Farragut monument had spray-painted graffiti. While we generally prefer to see bronze statues acquire a green patina over time, we applaud the other improvements in the park.
Sources: Madison Square Park Conservancy