Hangman’s Elm (Washington Square Park)

I’m a sucker for a good ghost story, so when I saw Washington Square Park’s Hangman’s Elm on a list of hidden sights in New York, I was immediately interested. I thought there must be some fascinating stories behind that name. Hangman’s Elm is one of the oldest trees in Manhattan, to boot.

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Well, while the area was once used as a potter’s field, it turns out our Hangman’s Elm’s name is nothing more than creative license. It seems there is ONE recorded execution in Washington Square Park… but the tree was not involved or even very near the site. Standing in the northwest corner of the park, it is a very large tree. But it’s just that: a very large tree that exercised many imaginations.

But a trip to Washington Square Park is never wasted. The park’s namesake is, of course, Sir Thomas Washington, whose mansion once stood on that spot… Nah, I’m pulling your leg. It’s named after the Father of Our Country, whose likeness appears twice on the north face of the park’s famous arch. Somehow, I’d visited the park many times without ever noticing George’s visage. Chalk another point up to pretending to be a tourist when visiting notable New York sites.

Really, though, you don’t come to Washington Square Park for the monuments, although gawking at the arch is a requisite. You come here to commune a bit with nature. To sit on the benches or the lawns and just chill.

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To watch dogs frolicking in the Dog Run (but only from outside the fence).

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To play a game of chess.

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To listen to some buskers.

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Washington Square Park is the unofficial “quad” of the NYU campus. It’s also smack dab in the middle of Greenwich Village, so it’s a great place to pause and unwind briefly in the middle of a long day of sight-seeing.

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While the park is often jammed full of people, especially in nice weather, they’re typically possessed of the the bonhomie of city-dwellers drinking in a rare glimpse of greenery, not tourists rushing from place to place. With my camera out, I seemed a little out of place. (Though there were plenty of other cameras being used for other reasons: photographers and models making use of the elegant backdrop and NYU students recording short films among them.)

Washington Square Park: a must-see.

Hangman’s Elm: just a big tree.

Ellen


Location: East-west from MacDougal Street to University Place; north-south from Waverly Place to West 4th Street. Hangman’s Tree is in the northwest corner.
Nearest Subway: A/C/E/B/D/F/M to West 4 St.
Estimated Timespan: 10-15 min just to walk through, but consider lingering.
Cost: Free!

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