The Holley memorial in Washington Square Park. Photo from NYC Department of Parks & Recreation.
It is estimated that there are about 800 statues in the New York City metro area. While some are of the notable and notorious – of George Washington and Lafayette, Christopher Columbus, Shakespeare, or Lenin, for example – most are about people or events that the average New Yorker or visitor may know very little about. It is even more interesting to note that several of these statues could easily be located in upstate New York where the people or actual historical events the statues are commemorating took place. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
1. William Henry Seward in Madison Square Park
Photo by Don Rittner
In Madison Square Park at Fifth Ave and 23rd Street sits a pretty sizable monument of William Henry Seward (on the SW corner of Broadway and 23rd). Seward was the 12th Governor of New York State from 1839 to 1842.
He was born in Florida, New York, and was a graduate of Union College in Schenectady in 1820. Seward was against slavery (though his father was a slave owner) and won the most votes on the first ballot for President in 1860 though he lost to Abraham Lincoln, who appointed him Secretary of State in 1861. Seward also helped write the Emancipation Proclamation. In the history books however, he is best remembered for “Seward’s Folly,” negotiating the purchase of Alaska.
Seward was also instrumental in getting Europe to not recognize the legitimacy of the Confederacy when it split from the Union and he too had his life attacked by Wilkes co-conspirator Lewis Powell (Paine) but survived. Powell and others were executed for their assassination attempts. Interestingly, a Schenectady Judge, then Major Austin A. Yates, was the “official” executioner.
The Seward statue was created by Randolph Rogers, who was living in New York York City at the time and dedicated on September. 27, 1876. It was conserved in 1995 after more than a century of wear. There was an attempt to erect a statue of Seward on the Union College campus Schenectady but the fundraising came up short. Instead, in 2005, a large 3,700 pound boulder from the Seward Highway in Alaska was placed at the corner of Seward Place and Nott Street with two plaques on it. The school’s campus bus was also renamed “Seward’s Trolley.” His home in Auburn, NY where he grew up is a museum today.