1892 Washington Square Arch


The original arch, made of plaster and wood, was erected in 1889 to commemorate the centennial of the inauguration of President Washington. Due to its immense popularity (KD: what else is new?), the permanent marble arch, designed by New York architect Stanford White, was built in 1892.


KD: What were they repairing, and what event was W talking about?
The pagesfromthepast site with the construction photos appears to be down. Nothing lasts!

The whole of Washington Square sounds like an interesting place, from previous usage as a burial ground and execution site to the obvious geometric patterns we see all around the world:


Here's another view from the top of the arch, lining up with the One WTC.


Probably should be skeptical of the guy who is credited with building it too, given his resume:
The building of the Arch itself was farmed out to David H. King Jr. (the same guy who constructed the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty), who took five years to complete the marble monument before it was dedicated in 1895.

NYU History Lesson: The Washington Square Arch

King is also credited with constructing Madison Square Garden, the Mills Building, the Equitable building, and Hotel Renaissance. He's not worthy of a wikipedia article though and even finding additional confirmation of his role in constructing the Statue of Liberty pedestal is difficult.

Also thought this was interesting, a tour of the inside of the arch:

Photos: An Extremely Rare Tour Inside & Atop The Washington Arch

The inside is interesting, but this really caught my eye:
But this hatch wasn’t the original exit from the arch. The exit used to be a turret, not dissimilar to what you would find on an ironclad ship from the Civil War. Here you can see bricks that were once under that structure.



The exit used to be a turret? Why did they build that in? Also, a huge discrepancy in the quality of the brickwork here. Looking down inside the arch:

Interesting, what did they need an ironclad-like turret on an arch for?
Went on the linked tour page. The tiles are indeed terracotta much lighter in weight than bricks, larger on the length and width, much narrower on the depth all in all ties in with their usage at the top of this arch. No way I've ever discovered to date the things sadly. The ironclad turret sound descriptive of a round structure with a small stair inside and a flat roof one presumes. Judging from the lack of water staining inside the thing the roof has never failed.
Interesting, what did they need an ironclad-like turret on an arch for?

A good question and one that I'm not finding much of an answer to. We'll see though, there's a lot to dig through about this arch.

For instance I find it interesting that the two (twin?) sculptures of Washington were added later in the narrative:
The current permanent arch, dedicated in 1895, actually holds two representations of George Washington. The one to the east pier has Washington flanked by representations of Fame and Valor with his hands resting atop a sword (sculpted by Hermon MacNeil) to commemorate his time as general during the War of Independence. The sculpture on the west pier has him accompanied by Wisdom and Justice (by Alexander Stirling Calder), noting his time as president of the United States. These sculptures, frequently referred to as Washington At War and Washington At Peace, were not placed on the arch until 1916 and 1918. Above Washington At Peace, one finds a representation of an open book, inscribed with the Latin phrase Exitus acta probat, a motto of the Washington family that the museum at Mount Vernon translates as “the result is the test of the actions” (also sometimes translated as “the outcome justifies the deed”).

unrelated picture of a view through the arch
  • “Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God” - Washington
Then there's this quote (which, as noted, is located outside the "attic" panel of the arch, so I presume it was engraved at first construction and not added with the Washington sculptures, but I am not sure), which is contested by Henry Cabot Lodge:
On one of these occasions Washington is reported by Gouverneur Morris, in a eulogy delivered twelve years later, to have said: "It is too probable that no plan we propose will be adopted. Perhaps another dreadful conflict is to be sustained. If, to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterwards defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God." The language is no doubt that of Morris, speaking from memory and in a highly rhetorical vein...

...It is necessary to say a few words in regard to this quotation of Washington's words made by Morris, because both Mr. Bancroft (History of the Constitution, ii. 8) and Mr. John Fiske (The Critical Period of American History, p. 232) quote them as if they were absolutely and verbally authentic. It is perfectly certain that from May 25 to September 17 Washington spoke but once; that is, he spoke but once in the convention after it became such by organization. This point is determined by Madison's statement (Notes, in. 1600), that when Washington took the floor in behalf of Gorham's amendment, "it was the only occasion on which the president entered at all into the discussions of the convention." (The italics are mine.) I have examined the manuscript at the State Department, and these words are written in Madison's own hand in the body of the text and inclosed in brackets. Madison was the most accurate of men. His notes are only abstracts of what was said, but he was never absent from the convention, and there can be no question that if Washington had uttered the words attributed to him by Morris, a speech so important would have been given as fully as possible, and Madison would not have said distinctly that the Gorham amendment was the only occasion when the president entered into the discussions of the convention...


So we have Latin with varying translations and a misattributed, possibly fake quotation that doesn't really even make sense anyway (from a conventional perspective) with the supposed historical context. When the symbolism gets muddled, it tends to mean that there are some sort of games being played here. Dancing on graves, given the area:




So we can put a big checkmark next to underground infrastructure too. That is from a 1965 NYT article that is saved in this 2005 archeological assessment PDF. I'm still working through it, but it seems to confirm that there's something special about this whole area:



I know a lot of this isn't specifically about the arch, but I'm operating under the idea that the arch could be just one part of a lost, grander configuration. It would be perhaps instructive to compare the surrounding areas where other arches exist. That might be beyond the scope of this discussion though!
I've a feeling we have covered this arch before or maybe I'm losing it.
Anyway here is the plaster and wood version apparently.


So popular the public demanded a permanent one. Since when did any government authority do anything on public demand?
So, here's some more highlights from that PDF. First, the NYT article from 1890 during the construction of the arch:



So, throughout the PDF it quotes a few other sources that claim basically that Potter's Field (meaning pre-1825) was used as a burial ground. It implies that it was mostly used for mass burials (of who exactly?), but also says that some of the local churches supposedly used sections of it to bury members of their congregations. Judging by this article, it doesn't appear that was the conventional thinking in 1890, as the digging up "headstones" seemed to throw everyone for a loop. This raises lots of questions, including why would the churches not be horrified when the city decided to just fill in their cemeteries and not relocate the bodies? Also, is it reasonable that this discovery would be shocking a mere 65 years later?

Going on in the PDF, it explains how large segments of the park has been artificially filled and leveled since, well, who knows?


Then there's the widespread idea that the Square was used for executions originally. But where?

Hangman's Elm - Wikipedia.

In 1989, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation determined that this English Elm was 310 years old. (Currently their website states: "Historical records suggest that it is more than 300 years old."). As a result, many believe that it is the oldest known tree in Manhattan....

...The earliest references to the elm as a "hanging tree" date from the late 19th century, long after the supposed hangings were said to have taken place. Recent extensive research into the park's history by more than one historian has shown that the tree was on a private farm until the land was bought by the city and added to Washington Square in 1827. No public records exist of hangings from this tree.

The only recorded execution in this area was of Rose Butler, in 1820, for arson. She was hanged from a gallows in the city's potter's field, on the eastern side of Minetta Creek, about 500 feet (150 meters) from the elm; at that time, Minetta Creek ran in a shallow ravine between the potter's field and the farm where the elm stood.
So, the oldest tree in Manhattan was moved into its current location and then was called the Hangman's Elm despite it being supposedly moved after executions would have ceased. If there were actually any executions in the Square in the first place!


So... I'm not sure what all of this means, aside from it being a mess. But what we have is a garbled history, evidence of large amounts of land manipulation, unknown underground infrastructure, unclaimed buried bones and an arch with interesting and confusing symbolism with a view of the largest terrorist attack in US history.

I'm gonna need time to digest all of this better. So, I'll leave with these photos for now:

Looks like the "temporary" arch wasn't even at the exact location of the current one.

Wish this was better quality... or that the site that KD linked in the OP was working!
I do not know why but I totally expected this to be in Washington, maybe even in the middle of the superb owl, but to my surprise it is in NY.

I went to take a look on G maps and it is completely censored from Washington Square N and Fifth Avenue, I only went to the street view to look at the mud flooder behind it in the pic but all angles of that side(north), are not viewable, very strange!

Screenshot 2021-02-08 at 20.14.24.jpg Screenshot 2021-02-08 at 20.19.50.jpg