What’s in a name? While Madison Park is named for President James Madison, none of the monuments there features his likeness.
No matter, the four bronze portrait monuments there are the highlight of the 6-acre park, as are three iconic buildings that overlook it.
Actually, one monument is of Chester Alan Arthur (by George Edwin Bissell, 1898), who practiced law and served in the Union during the Civil War in New York before he took the oath of office as the 21st president of the United States in the city. At the park’s southwest entrance is another bronze, this one dedicated to the Secretary of State that purchased Alaska, William H. Seward (by Randolph Ranger, 1876), who sits with one leg crossed over the other in an ornate chair with bound books stacked at its side. Inside the park, a sculpture of Reconstructionist politician Roscoe Conkling (by J.Q.A. Ward, 1893) stands atop a granite pedestal.
The gem of the portrait quartet, though, is Admiral David Glasgow Farragut (1881), created by one of America’s most accomplished sculptors, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The Civil War naval office looks afar while standing on a 9-foot-high, 17-foot-wide pedestal, as his knee-length coat flaps open in the wind. It’s a monument of which Dianne Durante writes in her book Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: “Few works have altered the course of American sculpture; this is one of them.”
When I walk through New York parks, I look for buildings that tower above the trees, and I noticed Madison Park has some high-profile company. The wedge-shaped Flatiron Building stands across the street, where Broadway and 23rd Street intersect, and the Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower abuts the park’s east side on Madison Avenue. And from roughly ten blocks away, along 5th Avenue, the Empire State Building peeks in at the north end of the green.
These artistic and architectural features overshadow the park’s dog run, playground and Shake Shack. While I was there in May, I fortunately crossed paths with a rare scene. Wedding parties posing for post-nuptial photographs are a virtual fixture during spring in Central Park, and Madison Park is apparently no different. But as I was about to depart, a marriage proposal unfolded before me. The groom-to-be down on one knee caught my eye, and I kept taking photos as his surprised fiancée eventually hugged and repeatedly kissed him, a new rock adorning her ring finger.
Sculptures, skyscrapers, smooches. What’s not to like about Madison Park?