Deep within the leafy realm of Inwood Hill Park at the top of Manhattan there sits a time-worn rock with a faded plaque that honors a legendarily dubious event in New York history.
On that spot in 1626, claims the rock, Peter Minuit, director of the Dutch East India Company, “purchased” Manhattan Island from the Mohawks and Lenape Native Americans “for trinkets and beads then worth about 60 guilders.”
Shorakkopoch Rock, a little-known tribute to a white Colonialist boasting about ripping off America’s original inhabitants, is one of dozens of nefarious moments in history memorialized in statues, plaques and obelisks that sit on city land across all five boroughs.
With Mayor de Blasio vowing to scrutinize all of them in the coming months, a Daily News review of the city’s statue list found an astounding cast of historical characters whose heroism masks bloody exploits, racist views and corrupt behavior.
There’s the prominent Union Army general who openly embraced white supremacy; the presidential aide caught accepting a bribe; the military hero who spent years decimating Native American peoples.
There’s the famous New York financier and adviser of Presidents who secretly supported the Daughters of the Confederacy and the long-revered mayor who approved a huge housing development that discriminated against blacks.
Across the city, these memorials await the scrutiny of de Blasio, who — following the violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Va., over the proposed removal of a Confederate statue — created a committee that he said will review “all symbols of hate on city property.”
The mayor, for instance, promised that a marker on lower Broadway referencing Nazi collaborator Marshal Philippe Petain of France “will be one of the first we remove.” Petain had been singled out months ago for removal by Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn).
A week later, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito suggested removing a Central Park statue of 19th century surgeon J. Marion Sims, who carried out a series of experimental operations on enslaved black women — without using anesthesia. The statue had been targeted for removal by community groups for years. The speaker also suggested that Columbus Circle could do without Columbus, a position that immediately infuriated Italian-American politicians across the city.
The statue debate has taken on viral urgency with the push to remove Confederate memorials from public land across the South.
Supporters of removal argue that their presence lends unwarranted credibility to a cause that existed to preserve the vile institution of slavery.
Some note there is precedent for this approach: After World War II, Germany aggressively erased most traces of the Third Reich from cities and towns.
Germany, however, made a point of preserving some of Hitler’s legacy — the concentration camps — to ensure that no one could claim it never happened.
And historians typically warn that applying modern standards to past behavior leads to a distorted understanding of history. Plus, history itself rarely provides an easy-to-digest narrative. Most heroes often have a little villainy in their past.
“This issue of memorialization is very complicated,” said Karl Jacoby, history professor at Columbia University. “To someone like Thomas Jefferson — who was a slave owner but also a founder of the United States — how do you balance these things?”
Some believe in the “leave it but reveal it” argument that the mayor has hinted at — placing text at the statue of Columbus, for example, that would spell out his brutal treatment of the indigenous people who were here before he “discovered” America.
In most of the statues examined by The News, no such context is provided. At some, the darker facts of the celebrated hero appear to have been erased from the record.
Jacoby noted that adding a plaque with “context” won’t necessarily solve the problems with some of the memorials. History, he notes, has always been fluid and subject to changed interpretation.
“It makes me suspicious that you’re really grappling with the idea of presenting a more nuanced portrait of this person,” he said. “For historians, I feel I’m glad they’re (debating) it, but I’m more concerned about how they’re teaching history in schools.”
Here are 24 memorials where hero and villain sometimes merge:
Bernard Baruch — Prominent New York financier and respected advisor to Presidents Woodrow Wilson during World War I and Franklin Delano Roosevelt during World War II.
Born in 1870 in South Carolina, in 1925 he endowed a scholarship with the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a group dedicated to “honor the memory of those who served and those who fell in the service of the Confederate States.” The funds were to support “scholars who have written unpublished monographs for full-length books on Confederate history.” He’s memorialized with a bench plaque in Central Park, a street name, a playground in Manhattan, NYCHA’s Baruch Houses on the Lower East Side and CUNY’s Baruch College.
Christopher Columbus — 15th century Italian explorer heralded for “discovering” America.
Landing in Hispaniola (now Haiti/Dominican Republic) in 1492, he claimed the New World for the king and queen of Spain and immediately captured and enslaved the indigenous tribes already living there. A plaque in Queens — marred last week by graffiti stating “Don’t Honor Genocide” — states, “But for Columbus There Would Be No America.” Also honored with statues in Manhattan (at Columbus Circle), Brooklyn and the Bronx.
Daniel Webster — 19th century senator known for his soaring oratory.
He strongly opposed Southern secession and thus was a key supporter of the much-reviled Compromise of 1850. This allowed new states to enter the Union as free states, but also ratified the Fugitive Slave Act requiring federal authorities to aggressively pursue escaped slaves and return them to their Southern masters. This act outraged abolitionists fighting to end slavery. There’s a statue in his honor by Central Park that was dedicated in 1876.
Gen. Daniel Butterfield — Civil War hero who later became President Ulysses S. Grant’s assistant treasurer.
He was caught in a scheme by robber baron Jay Gould to corner the gold market. He took a $ 10,000 bribe to secretly inform Gould when the government planned to buy or sell gold. He resigned in October 1869 — but is memorialized with a statue in Morningside Heights.
Samuel J. Tilden — New York governor and Democratic nominee for President in 1876.
Tilden won the popular vote but the Electoral College was split with Rutherford B. Hayes, a Republican. Both parties tried to sway three Southern states to throw their support to their respective candidates. Ciphered telegrams revealed Florida’s GOP governor offering to throw the election to Tilden for $ 200,000. The Democrats responded to the bribe offer by stating, “Proposition too high” and offering to pay $ 50,000. Most of the telegrams were sent or received by Tilden’s nephew from Tilden’s New York residence. Tilden said he knew nothing about the scheme. He has a statue in Riverside Park near W. 122nd St.
Andrew Jackson — Seventh U.S. President (1829-37) and hero of the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812.
Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, initiating a virulent campaign to eradicate the Native Americans who populated America before Europeans decided it was theirs. He promised them that “as long as the grass grows or water runs” they would be left alone if they stayed west of the Mississippi River. He immediately reneged on his promise. He also railed against what was then the growing anti-slavery movement known as abolitionism. He’s remembered with two statues in Manhattan — one in uptown’s Highbridge Park and one in the Village’s Jackson Square Park.
Peter Stuyvesant — Dutch director general of what is now New York, 1647-64.
In 1654, he wrote to the Dutch East India Company protesting the influx of Jews relocating from South America, demanding that “the deceitful race — such hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ — be not allowed to further infect and trouble this new colony.” He’s got a statue at 16th St. and Second Ave. — not far from the sprawling Stuyvesant Town housing complex. Elite Stuyvesant High School is also named after him.
Samuel Sullivan Cox — 19th century Democratic congressman from Ohio.
On Feb. 17, 1864, Cox gave a speech to Congress accusing President Abraham Lincoln (then running for reelection) of a secret plan to promote miscegenation. He waved about a pamphlet entitled “Miscegenation: A Theory of the Blending of the American White Man and Negro” and produced letters from abolitionists in support of it. Cox noted the pamphlet’s “disgusting theories . . . which seem so novel to us (but) have been a part of the gospel of abolition for years.” The pamphlet was a hoax; Lincoln was, of course, reelected. Cox has a statue in Tompkins Square Park.
Fiorello LaGuardia — Republican mayor of New York from 1934-45.
In 1943, Metropolitan Life announced plans to build Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan with a stated policy of not renting to blacks. LaGuardia approved the development anyway — and was roundly criticized by the black community and many of his usual supporters for declining to intervene. The day he signed the contract he said he hoped the courts might intervene to reverse the policy. He’s remembered with a bust on the Lower East Side and a statue at LaGuardia Place in the Village.
Robert Moses — Powerful bureaucrat who as head of several authorities and the Parks Department remade much of the city through massive urban development then known as “slum clearance.”
Moses was hated by community groups for wiping out swaths of working-class neighborhoods to erect highways and bridges. His proposal to put up an elevated highway through SoHo and Little Italy was defeated in 1962 following months of protests led by community activist Jane Jacobs.
There are no statues of Jacobs in New York City — but there are plaques for Moses in Central Park and on First Ave.
Rev. Henry Ward Beecher — Famous 19th century abolitionist and women’s rights champion.
In the years leading up to the Civil War, he raised money to purchase slaves’ freedom and to send rifles (called Beecher’s Bibles) to abolitionists fighting in Kansas. After the war he supported women’s suffrage, but in 1875 he became the star of a very public adultery trial after having an affair with the wife of one of his assistants. The woman’s husband told suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton of the affair. Another women’s rights activist, Victoria Woodhull, who was criticized by Beecher for her advocacy of free love, made the affair public to accuse him of hypocrisy. The trial was covered nationally and described as “the most sensational he-said, she-said in American history.” The trial resulted in a hung jury. He’s got a statue in Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza.
Ulysses S. Grant — Commanding General of the Union Army during the Civil War, U.S. President from 1869-1877.
He was the key architect of the Union’s victory over the Confederate forces during the Civil War. However, in December 1862, Grant issued General Order No. 11, which expelled all Jews from Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. The allegation was that Jewish merchants were engaged in the black market sale of southern cotton in defiance of U.S. law. The order was rescinded days later by Lincoln, and Grant apologized for it when it became a campaign issue during his run for President. He’s got two statues in Brooklyn, and his tomb in Manhattan.
General William Jenkins Worth — famous general of the Mexican-American War of 1846-48.
Worth in 1841 commanded troops clearing Seminole Indians from Florida as part of a federal campaign to ship all Indians from the South to west of the Mississippi. He ordered his men out on search and destroy missions, which drove the Indians deeper into the swamps of Florida. By 1843, Worth declared there were only about 300 Indians living in South Florida and they were no longer a threat. He’s got an obelisk in Chelsea.
Brigadier General Winfield Scott Hancock — famous Union general during the Civil War.
At Gettysburg, he held the hill during Picket’s charge and was badly wounded. After the war he was sent to the frontier, covering what is now Kansas, Missouri, Colorado and New Mexico. At one point as negotiations with the tribes faltered, he ordered the burning of an abandoned village. He was then reassigned to New Orleans during Reconstruction, where in November 1867 he issued General Order No. 40 declaring that government should quickly be returned to local white civilian control. This struck fear with newly freed slaves that he was encouraging a return to the antebellum south. He ended his military career in the Great Plains, where an Army expedition under his command committed a massacre against the Blackfeet Indians. In 1880, he was the Democratic candidate for President but lost to Republican James Garfield. In 1881, he was elected president of the National Rifle Association. He died on Governor’s Island, and has a bust in Harlem’s Hancock Park.
General Horace Porter — famous Civil War general and aide-de-camp to General Sherman during his famous March to the Sea.
After the war, Porter became Grant’s personal secretary and found himself ensnared in Jay Gould’s plot to corner the gold market. He says he warned Grant of the plot, but during an investigation known as the Whiskey Ring trials, then-Treasury Soliciter Bluford Wilson claimed that Porter was involved. Porter denied the charges and was never charged with wrongdoing — and has a plaque in Riverside Park.
General William Tecumseh Sherman — famous Civil War general known for his 1864 capture of Atlanta and subsequent March to the Sea, a turning point for the Union.
During the taking of Atlanta, he ordered the burning of all government and military buildings, but many civilian residences were burned down as well. In his march to Savannah he caused, by his own estimate, $ 100 million in property damage. During the war he refused to employ black soldiers in his army, and in 1860 he wrote to his wife, “All the congresses on earth can’t make the negro anything else than what he is; he must be subject to the white man.” He added, “Two such races cannot live in harmony save as master and slave.” But in 1865 he also issued Special Field Orders No. 15, seizing land from white owners in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida to settle 40,000 freed slaves and black refugees. This was the basis of the phrase “40 acres and a mule” and it was revoked a year later by President Andrew Johnson, who sympathized with the South. After the war, Sherman was assigned to the frontier and oversaw major Indian wars. He died in New York City of pneumonia on Valentine’s Day 1891, and has a statue in prime real estate — 59th St. and Fifth Ave.
Dr. James Marion Sims — famous Colonial-era doctor who founded the city’s first women’s hospital. His statue’s inscription states, “His brilliant achievement carried the fame of American surgery throughout the entire world.” Sims experimented on 12 female slaves (1845-1849) in Montgomery, Ala., who were suffering from a severe complication that obstructed childbirth. At first the surgery failed but in later efforts he was able to cure the problem for four of the women. He later moved to New York where he performed the now-perfected operation on white women. His statue in Central Park was defaced last week.
Joseph Pulitzer — famous 19th century newspaper publisher.
Pulitzer purchased the New York World in 1883, which for a time was the nation’s biggest newspaper. During his late 19th century circulation battle with William Randolph Hearst, both publishers pushed for America’s entry into the Spanish American war of 1898 with dubious “fake news” about the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor. He’s got a statue in City Hall Park.
Roscoe Conkling — 19th century New York politician serving in both the U.S. House and Senate.
A Republican supporter of Reconstruction, he was also a political boss in New York. As such, he controlled patronage appointments at the U.S Customs House and opposed all efforts to impose civil service rules to eliminate rampant corruption. He’s got a statue near his former home at Madison Square Park.
George Washington — Commanded Colonial forces to victory over the British during the Revolution, was the nation’s first President, and a slave-owner until the day he died.
The Founding Father has a statue at Federal Hall on Wall Street, and his name on streets all over the city.
Charles Lindbergh — famous pilot of the first solo flight across the Atlantic.
A vocal opponent of America’s intervention in World War II, he warned of three groups pressing the country toward war: “the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt Administration.” In one of his America First speeches, he criticized Germany’s anti-Semitism but also warned of “large Jewish ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.” He’s got a plaque on Broadway.
James Gordon Bennett — 19th century newspaper publisher, founder of the New York Herald in 1835.
In his editorials, Bennett opposed the election of Abraham Lincoln, railing against what he saw as the “inferiority” of blacks. In an 1859 editorial response to John Brown’s unsuccessful raid on Harper’s Ferry to initiate a slave uprising, Bennett wrote, “The whole history of negro insurrections proves that there is no race of men so brutal and bloody-minded as the negro.” He’s got a monument in Herald Square.