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 State Prison was just a stone’s throw away on Christopher and 10th Streets; inmates sentenced to death were reportedly walked over and hanged here.
The only actual recorded execution in the vicinity was of a young woman named Rose Butler, convicted of arson and strung up on a gallows across the street in 1820.
Here’s the story of the city’s other most notorious tree . . . until it was knocked down.
[Top photo: NYPL Digital Collection; middle photo: Wikipedia]
Tags: elm tree Washington Square, elm tree Waverly Place, executions in NYC, hanging elm NYC, hangman's elm NYC, New York during the Revolution, Newgate State Prison NYC, oldest tree in New York City, Rose Butler executed, Washington Square Park executions