Washington Square

Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

Saturday March 25th, 1911 was the first warm day of spring and a lot of people were out in Washington Square Park or walking home from work.  Back in those days, Saturday was a full work day.   At 4:30 in the afternoon, people in the park began to notice smoke coming out of the Asch Building (now called the Brown Building and owned by NYU).  A fire had broken out in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, a clothing company on the top three floors.


Before the introduction of child-labor laws, the Triangle Shirtwaist Company employed hundreds of young seamstresses often as young as 14, and a large number still in their teens (the general age of employees ranged between 14 and 25).


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Folksinger “Beatnik” Riots

Perhaps because of the presence of the university, radicals, subversives and protesters of every kind have always found a home here in Washington Square.


Here you see an early student protest from the 1930’s.  During the 1950’s, folksingers used to perform here on sunny days.  But the police didn’t like the beatniks, so they required all public performers to obtain permits.  Of course, when the folksingers applied for permits, the cops said no.


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Hangman’s Elm

This tree, located in the north-west corner of Washington Square, is an English Elm, and many believe it to be the oldest tree in Manhattan, at over 300 years old.  Local oral history preserved for this tree a ghoulish name: the Hangman’s Elm or Hanging Tree.  Though public records reveal no mention of executions on this spot, it is easy to imagine a stiff body swinging in the whistling breeze from its grisly branches.


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