On the southeastern corner of Madison Square Park is a statue of a somewhat obscure politician. Whilst most statues commemorate public figures for their achievements in life, Roscoe Conkling’s statue is largely there because of how he died. For this stocky, imposing figure died not far from this spot after walking home during a blizzard.
Roscoe Conkling was a New York politician who served in both the Senate and the House of Representatives for the Republican party between 1859 and 1881. A barrel chested, abstainer of both drink and tobacco, Conkling was known in society as much for his love of boxing as his philandering.
One particular affair, conducted with the wife of William Sprague IV, former Governor of Rhode Island, saw Conkling being chased out of an open window at the Sprague’s summer home by the slighted Governor, according to the New York Times, “carrying his old Civil War musket in his hands.” But Conkling’s womanizing ways came to an abrupt halt during the Great Blizzard of 1888. With snow drifts of up to 50 feet in some areas, New York City was effectively shut down that March. Working in his offices downtown, with no transportation available, Roscoe Conkling decided to brave the fearsome weather and head uptown to the warmth of the New York Club on 25th Street, near Madison Square. Forcing his way through the driving blizzard, Conkling reached as far as Union Square where he collapsed, dying shortly after from pneumonia.
His friends commissioned the statue with the intention of having it placed in Union Square where he collapsed, but the city demurred at the prospect of having the philandering club man in the same site as such worthies as Lincoln and Washington. And so the imposing likeness of Roscoe Conkling was installed at Madison Avenue and 23rd Street, not far from his final destination that fatal day in 1881.
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