The “hangman’s elm” of Washington Square Park

Creeeepy!

Ephemeral New York

Was the gorgeous elm tree at the northwest corner of Washington Square Park (at left in 1936) used for public executions?

It’s a legend passed down over the years.

On one hand, a Parks Department web link seems to imply that people were indeed hanged from the 110-foot tree, estimated to be at least 300 years old.

“The [sic] English elm (Ulmus procera) at the corner of Waverly Place and MacDougal Street acquired its reputation during the American Revolutionary War,” the site explains. “According to legend, traitors were hung from its branches.”

In 1797, the city acquired the land for a potter’s field. “The field was also used for public executions, giving rise to the tale of the Hangman’s Elm. . . ” another Parks Department link states.

In 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette, visiting from France, supposedly witnessed the hanging of 20 highwaymen here in 1824.

Newgate…

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