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Chronicles: The Hangman’s Elm

hangman'selmEver since the late 19thc, legends have been told about the large English elm in Washington Square Park. It has been called Hangman’s Elm or just simply, The Hanging Tree, and the story goes that traitors were hanged here during the Revolutionary War. In 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette is rumored to have witnessed the hanging of 20 highwaymen from the elm.
Located in he northwest corner of Washington Square in Greenwich Village, New York, The Hangman’s Elm once stood in the middle of a privately owned farm. In 1827, the farm was bought by the city and added to the park and the connected potter’s field. The elm is over 330 years old and the oldest tree in Manhattan.
Though no records exist of hangings at the tree, it does stand 150 meters away from the spot where in 1819, Rose Butler was hung from a gallows for arson. Dorthoy Ripley, an eyewitness, gives a chilling account of the death of the 19-year-old Butler, a slave who set fire to her owner’s house. The young girl told the prison guards that she would rather be hung than go to the state prison, which for women at the time meant the attic space of the men’s prison where they were kept with rats and fleas and forgotten about until they died.
Washington Square Park
1 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10003
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