As if ripped from the draft of a lost National Treasure sequel, Times Square Station has a number of fake subway tiles that hide a more sinister design.
In August 2017, in the wake of a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, New York City had a reckoning with the Confederate memorials scattered across the city. These vinyl stickers printed with a mosaic design were slapped onto the walls of Times Square Station to cover actual tile designs that closely resembled the Confederate flag.
These original Arts and Crafts influenced designs were created by Squire J. Vickers for the station as a decorative element. A band of quilt-like designs decorated the top of the walls in the original Interborough Rapid Transit station. During a 1998 renovation, more of these blue crosses on red backgrounds were added throughout the station. Vickers frequently included design elements in stations that related to their surroundings, such as bridge motifs at Canal Street Station referencing the former canal there. The question remains, why this design in Times Square?
The MTA maintains that the design never was Confederate in nature, with Kevin Ortiz, an MTA spokesperson, saying, “These are not Confederate flags, it is a design based on geometric forms that represent the ‘Crossroads of the World’ and to avoid absolutely any confusion we will modify them to make that absolutely crystal clear.” Others are not so sure.
At the same time the MTA was denying the designs were Confederate in nature, David J. Jackowe wrote an article in Civil War Times magazine arguing the designs were an explicit homage. He explained that when Times Square was built it was largely at the hands of the New York Times, which built its headquarters there. Adolph S. Ochs, who was the owner of the Times in the early 20th Century, had strong ties to the Confederate Cause. Ochs’ mother was a smuggler for the Confederacy, his younger brother was the historian of the New York Chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and in 1924 Adolph donated $1,000 to Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial in his mother’s name stating, “Robert E. Lee was her idol.” Ochs was well known for his desire to honor the Confederacy through funding cemeteries and veterans’ reunions. Later in his life he was honored by the New York Southern Society for “unusual achievements in the perpetuation of the history and traditions of the South” and for being “striven on the side of the angels for supporting with unique zeal and power the highest ideals and traditions of the Southern States.”
In 1904, Ochs completed the New York Times building in Long Acre Square complete with a subway station in its basement. In honor of the new building the city renamed the neighborhood to “Times Square.” The new subway station came about in 1917 and this history, as well as Ochs’ leanings would not have been lost on him. Jackowe, in his article, claims that Vickers designed the tiles explicitly to mark Ochs’ contribution to the area and his Confederate heritage.
Whether the now-covered designs were just an innocent take on “crossroads of the world” or an homage to Adolph S. Ochs’ Confederate leanings, we may never know for certain. What we do know is that they looked so similar to the flag that in 2017 the people of New York did not want them gracing the walls of the most trafficked subway station on the system.
Know Before You Go
The fake tiles can be seen throughout the station but are most prominent by the 40th Street-Seventh Avenue entrance to the 1, 2, and 3 trains and the connections from here to the 7 train.