East of the Fountain Inside Washington Square, Manhattan
This statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the adventurer and leader of Italian reunification, sits to the east of the landmark fountain in Washington Square, about where the intersection of Washington Place and Laguardia Place would be -- if, in fact, those streets intersected.
Garibaldi cuts an imposing, heroic figure in bronze. The larger-than-life-size statue is prepared to draw its sword, a provocative act aimed to the west, generally in the direction of the bust of the metallurgist Alexander Holley, who is on the other side of fountain. Holley, oddly enough, died in the same year (1882) as Garibaldi.
The statue of Garibaldi was dedicated June 4, 1888, the product of a fund-raising drive organized by Italian immigrants in New York to commemorate Garibaldi's death. Donations came in from around the country.
It is more than 20 feet tall, from the white granite base to the tip of his Daniel Boone-esque hat. It was sculpted by Giovanni Turini, who actually served in Garibaldi's army when it was fighting with Austria. It was cast by the Lazzari & Barton foundry of Woodlawn, N.Y. The monument was moved about 15 feet to the east to its present location during a renovation of the park in the 1970s.
Inscribed on the front of the granite pedestal are the words:
On the back, it says:
IL II GIUGNO
DEGLI STATI UNITI
Garibaldi was born July 4, 1807, and his life is an amazingly complicated story (...uh, too complicated to go into here) that meanders between two continents, independence movements in Brazil, Uruguay and Italy, and a guiding role in various reforms to Italy's government. He died June 2, 1882.
Garibaldi traveled widely (he spent a period of exile living in Staten Island and supporting himself by, uh, making candles) and was a bit of a rock star in his lifetime among wealthy western liberals, similar to Che Guevara's enduring global appeal a century later, according to the historian Rohan McWilliams. Not surprisingly, statues of Garibaldi can be found all over the world.
In New York, he is, like Columbus before him, one of the historical figures that seem to be especially revered by Italian-Americans of earlier generations. During the decades after it was erected in Washington Square, the statue became a rallying point for various organizations sympathetic to Italian causes. For instance, in the 1930s, there were, according to New York Times reports, regular rallies at the foot of the statue on Garibaldi's birthday, usually accompanied by strong denunciations of the Italian government at the time, led by the bald-headed Benito Mussolini, and occasionally by outbreaks of violence.
By the 1960s, the city parks department reports that it was tradition for incoming finance students at N.Y.U. to, at the beginning of the school year, toss a penny at the base of Garibaldi's statue for good luck. Never mind that Garibaldi's real-life exploits had little in common with the aspirations of (most) finance students. N.Y.U. actually sponsored a wreath-laying ceremony at the statue in 1961, honoring the centennial of Italian reunification, in a nod to this odd ritual and the surrounding neighborhood.
A second wreath-laying ceremony was held by the city in 1982, the 100th anniversary of Garibaldi's death. The Times wrote a long news feature about the event, larded with unflattering descriptions of the park's decay. The coverage included mayorly remarks on the "rich cultural heritage" of Italian-Americans by then-Mayor Ed Koch and a photo of then-Lt. Gov. Mario Cuomo with his hand over his heart during the playing of the national anthem.
In 1998, the monument was cleaned and repaired by the city, including the application of some sort of protective coating to the statue. In 2000, the statue's scabbard, which had at some point been removed after being vandalized, was reinstalled.
Interestingly, when the parks department renovated Washington Square in the 1970s and moved the Garibaldi monument, they found underneath a glass jar containing newspaper clippings about Garibaldi's death. It contained a copy of an Italian language newspaper dated June 4, 1882, two days after he died. As The Times reported on Oct. 11, 1970, "Across the front page was the black-bordered headline 'Giuseppe Garibaldi E Morto.' An editorial said: "Garibaldi, the name will last until the sun sets for the last time.' Victor Hugo commented: 'Who is Garibaldi? A man of humanity.'"
Updated August 2007, SIRIS 87870090