Madison Square Park was named for James Madison, the fourth president. Before being officially set aside as a park, the site was a potter’s field, a military base and a home for wayward boys. The park as we know it opened to the public on May 10, 1847. The original Madison Square Garden, of course, was across the Street at Madison and 26th. The park underwent an expensive renovation in 2001.
There are four historical statues in the park, and it was thinking about these four figures that first got me curious to learn more about New York City’s statues.
On the corner of East 23rd and Broadway, the southwest corner of the park, is the statue of the former secretary of state William H. Seward. On the southeast corner, at East 23rd and Madison, is the figure of the 1800s New York politico Roscoe Conkling. Near the northeast corner, East 26th and Madison is the figure of Chester A. Arthur, the 21st president. And at the north end of the park, about in the middle, is the statue of the Civil War hero Adm. David Glasgow Farragut.
The park also is a bustling lunchtime landmark, home to several other items of interest. The Madison Square fountain is in the southern half of the park, about in the middle, and close to the famous Shake Shack. The fountain was built in 1843 and moved to Madison Square and dedicated on June 28, 1867.
On the western edge of the park, north of the fountain is a monumental flagstaff honoring veterans of World War I. It was commissioned at a cost of $25,000 by the businessman Rodman Wanamaker, who was the second son of a Philadelphia department store owner and who, by the way, founded the P.G.A. It was dedicated on Nov. 11, 1923. The pedestal is made of Milford pink granite and is inscribed with a list of WWI battles. The base was designed by Thomas Hastings; the elaborate bronze piece was made by Paul Wayland Bartlett. On top of the pole, is an illuminated star; it’s called the “Eternal Light Flagstaff.”
Across the street west of the park is a 51-foot, Quincy granite obelisk honoring Gen. William Jenkins Worth, a hero of the War of 1812, the Seminole Wars and the Mexican War. (The Texas city of Fort Worth is named for him.) The monument was dedicated in 1857, which makes it second oldest in New York’s parks. It was designed by James Goodwin Batterson.
And after you’ve seen the Worth monument and looked at the lighted flagpole and paid your respects to all four of the stuffy white men immortalized in the park, you can head down to the Shake Shack, a venerable, if not greasy, New York lunch institution. Foodies will argue about which New York burger is the best. Who cares, I say. The Shake Shack does the job.
Now, a word of advice: Warm summer days are the worst time to visit; the place will be a mob scene. But the Shake Shack is open all year. A sounder strategy is to pick a borderline crappy day, and you can avoid the crowds. The day I ate this cheeseburger (at right) it was cool and wet, but the rain had stopped. The only hassle was a persistent squirrel.