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New York City Sights

Washington Square Park

  • Plaza/Square/Piazza
  • Fodor's Choice

Updated 02/24/2014

Fodor's Review

NYU students, street musicians, skateboarders, jugglers, chess players, and those just watching the grand opera of it all generate a maelstrom of activity in this physical and spiritual heart of Greenwich Village. The 9¾-acre park had inauspicious beginnings as a cemetery, principally for yellow-fever victims—an estimated 10,000–22,000 bodies lie below (a headstone was actually unearthed in 2009). At one time, plans to renovate the park called for the removal of the

bodies; however, local resistance prevented this from happening. In the early 1800s the park was a parade ground and the site of public executions; bodies dangled from a conspicuous Hanging Elm that still stands at the northwest corner of the square. Today that gruesome past is all but forgotten, as playgrounds attract parents with tots in tow, dogs go leash-free inside the popular dog runs, and everyone else seems drawn toward the large central fountain.

The triumphal European-style Washington Memorial Arch stands at the square's north end, marking the start of 5th Avenue. The original wood-and-papier-mâché arch, originally situated a half block north, was erected in 1889 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of George Washington's presidential inauguration. The arch was reproduced in Tuckahoe marble in 1892, and the statues—Washington as General Accompanied by Fame and Valor on the left, and Washington as Statesman Accompanied by Wisdom and Justice on the right—were added in 1916 and 1918, respectively.

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Sight Information


5th Ave. between Waverly Pl. and 4th St., New York, New York, 10003, United States

Updated 02/24/2014


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Fodorite Reviews

Average Rating
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Apr 26, 2009

Crowded, not very scenic park

Not the nicest park in Manhattan from an aesthetic standpoint -- small, has a lot of concrete, formerly grassy areas now worn to the dirt, a few statues, plenty of ongoing construction. The nicest feature is the triumphal arch at the north end. Still, a very popular hangout spot crowded with people in good weather.

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