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Backstory and Context
Tompkins Square Park in the East Village is named for Daniel D. Tompkins (1774-1825), New York Governor and Vice President of the United States under James Monroe. The previous owner of the property, Peter Stuyvesant (1610-1672), was director general of the New Netherland Dutch colony. The land, originally a swamp, was acquired by the City of New York in 1834 for the creation of a public square, and was landscaped and graded from 1835-1850. The park was the site of protests over the city's lack of jobs and poor economy in 1857, and again in 1875. An open parade ground for the Seventh Regiment of New York was created at the site in 1866 through the removal of park trees. City residents pressed for the space's redesignation as a public park, and their efforts were rewarded in 1879. Around 450 new trees were planted to supplement the few sycamore to survive the parade ground years, including black locust, American elm, and Oriental plane species.
The Temperance Memorial Fountain donated by Henry D. Cogswell (1820-1900) of the Moderation Society in 1888. The neo-classical monument consists of a drinking fountain topped by a female figure, sheltered by a square kiosk supported by four Doric columnns. The figure is based on a marble statue sculpted in 1816 by Dutch artist Albert Bertel Thorvaldsen, and has been replaced with a bronze replica. Four stone entablatures are inscribed with the words Faith , Hope, Charity, and Temperance. Originally, four ornamental luminaries in red, white, and blue glass flanked the fountain. Cogswell was born in Connecticut, where he remained alone at the age of nine when his family moved to Orwell, New York. He worked in cotton mills and was incarcerated in a poorhouse for a time, but managed to become principal of Orwell High School before studying medicine and taking up dentistry. During the Gold Rush of 1849, Cogswell moved to San Francisco. Through his dental practice and real estate investments, he amassed a fortune of $2 million and retired at the age of 36. Cogswell became involved in philanthropy and the anti-alcohol temperance movement. The Moderation Society of New York City was formed in 1877 to address Lower East Side health conditions, including the encouragement of citizens to drink water instead of alcohol. In this interest, they (along with Cogswell, who joined the group) erected free ice-water fountains in the city, including the monument in Tompkins Park.
The park's second memorial fountain was donated by the Sympathy Society of German Ladies in 1906, and commemorates the General Slocum Disaster of June 15, 1904. The steamship General Slocum, chartered by St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Little Germany (East Village), was carrying 1,358 passengers, most of them women and children, when it caught fire in the East River on its way to Locust Point on Long Island. The death toll of 1,021 (burned or drowned) was the largest single loss in New York City history until the 9/11 attacks. The Slocum Disaster Memorial fountain in Tompkins Square consists of a curved-topped, marble stele with a bas relief above a lion-head fountain and shell basin, sculpted by Bruno Louis Zimm. Its inscription reads:
(front, upper right): THEY WERE EARTH'S PUREST CHILDREN YOUNG AND FAIR
(right side): IN MEMORY OF THOSE WHO LOST THEIR LIVES IN THE DISASTER TO THE STEAMER GENERAL SLOCUM JUNE XV MCMIV
(left side): DEDICATED BY THE SYMPATHY SOCIETY OF GERMAN LADIES THE YEAR OF OUR LORD MCMVI
In 1904, a playground for girls was built in Tompkins Square Park, and the park held the city's first inter-park athletic championships in 1911. When the Samuel Sullivan "Sunset" Cox statue had to be moved from its original location near Astor Place due to a street-widening project in November of 1924, it was relocated to the southwest corner of Tompkins Square. A native of Zanesville, Ohio, Cox (1824-1889) was unseated from his position as Democratic Congressional representative in Ohio in 1865, and moved on to the New York Congress the following year. Cox championed the 1840s-founded Life Saving Service (absorbed into the Coast Guard in 1915) and worked to improve the quality of life of United States Postal Service employees, who sponsored the statue following his death in 1889. The bronze statue, sculpted by Louise Lawson, was unveiled on July 4, 1891. It is inscribed as follows:
SAMUEL S. COX
(Plaque 1:) SAMUEL SULLIVAN COX
THE LETTER CARRIER'S FRIEND
ERECTED IN GRATEFUL AND LOVING MEMORY OF HIS SERVICES IN CONGRESS BY THE LETTER CARRIERS OF NEW YORK, HIS HOME, AND OF THE UNITED STATES, HIS COUNTRY, JULY 4, 1891
COMMITTEE: GEORGE H. NEWSOM, CHAIRMAN / THOMAS MURPHY, TREASURER, JAMES GREER, / JAMES MC VEY, BERNARD S. KENNEDY, / MICHEAL J. HARNEY, CHARLES P. KELLY.
(Plaque 2:) THE LETTER CARRIERS OF THE FOLLOWING CITIES ERECTED THIS MONUMENT TO SAMUEL SULLIVAN COX. [Here follows a list of about 200 cities.]
During the 1930s, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses added handball courts, swing sets, and other recreational facilities in Tompkins Square Park. Two monuments were erected in the park in 1942. One is a granite-and-bronze flagstaff donated by the Ukrainian Production Unit of the American Red Cross, which is inscribed as follows:
IN MEMORY OF OUR DEPARTED COMRADES
EAST SIDE POST - 868 - A - L
PRESENTED BY THE UKRAINIAN PRODUCTION UNIT OF THE NEW YORK CHAPTER A.D. 1942
AMERICAN RED CROSS
The second is a bronze plaque on a granite base donated by the Slovak Welfare Club, honoring Milan R. Stefanik:
IN MEMORY OF GENERAL MILAN R. STEFANIK
ASTRONOMER - SOLIDER - CZECHO-SLOVAK PATRIOT
BORN JULY 31, 1880 / DIED MAY 4, 1919
DEDICATED BY SLOVAK WELFARE CLUB (TATRA)
MAY 3, 1942
During the 1960s, Tompkins Square Park hosted concerts and rallies, and once again was the site of local protesters in the 1980s and '90s, angry over gentrification. A renovation in the 1990s added a dog run and new playgrounds, and several of the monuments were conserved. The park now hosts performances and events including Wigstock (the outdoor drag festival), the Howl Festival (commemorating poet Allen Ginsberg), and the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival. Park facilities include a handball court, chess tables, a basketball court, and two playgrounds.
http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/tompkins-square-park/ http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=7177 http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?MarkerID=41207