Forgotten New York politicians: Roscoe Conkling

Roscoe Conkling, isn’t that a great name? Conkling was a New York political fixture in the late 19th century, first as a Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives and then later a member of the U.S. Senate. He was pro-Lincoln and pro-Grant in a city quite hostile to the Civil War.

Mr. Conkling’s statue sits at the southeastern corner of Madison Square Park. There’s significance for this: During the Blizzard of 1888, he decided to walk from his Wall Street office to his home on 24th Street. At Union Square, he fell in a snow drift, became ill, and died five weeks later. 

His family asked the Parks Department to place the statue near where he fell in Union Square, but he wasn’t deemed important enough. Madison Square Park must have been for B-list New Yorkers.

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15 Responses to “Forgotten New York politicians: Roscoe Conkling”

  1. Joy Says:

    Thank you SO much. I was on the bus riding by Madison Square Park *just* last week, and found myself wondering who the statue was. Ask and ye shall receive, I suppose.

    And, while I’ve got you – I just wanted to say that this blog has quickly become one of my new faves. I’m a NYC fact fan, the more esoteric, the better. And, I’ve been trying to catch up on your archives, which has been superfun. So thanks for that!


  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks! I’m really glad you enjoy the site. And I’m sure Roscoe Conkling would be pleased to know New Yorkers still wonder about who he was.

  3. Kevin Walsh Says:

    Hey, wait a cotton-pickin’ minute with that title!!

  4. wildnewyork Says:

    Hey, I didn’t mean to co-opt the term forgotten or imply that I had insider information on him. Conkling just seems to epitomize that kind of once-important person New York quickly forgets about as time marches on.

    The New York Times archives has a wealth of information on his untimely death. Another interesting link on his statue:

  5. Bronx Bohemian Says:

    I usually don’t take much interest in the park statues, but the next time I’m leaving the Shake Shack, I’ll have to raise my Chocolate Malt to Roscoe Conkling.

  6. susan hinzman Says:

    Hello to all those who read this web site, my name is susan hinzman and I am the great granddaughter of Rosco Conkling, I live in bend oregon.I am one of the misfortunate to have ever seen his statue, I read on him as much as I can. If anyone has anymore information on my great grandfather please notify me. My mother was his grandaughter she passed in 2005, she would tell me great storie’s about him when I was growing up, she told me that the name rosco conkling was a name that was used alot through the generation’s. I am so proud to be related to a very famous man. Thank you.

  7. J W Phillips Says:

    Senator Roscoe Conkling was a major power among New York Republicans, in fact he may have held more power than any other individual Republican politician in the early 1880s and the aftermath of American Civil War.

    A flamboyant and powerful public speaker with a thundering voice, Conkling was well-suited to the politics that pre-dated the intimacy of radio and the bombast of electrical amplification systems that transformed weaker voiced politicians into contenders.

    According to most historical accounts that I am familiar with as a historian, Conkling was on his way to the Fifth Avenue Club during the second night of the Great Blizzard of 1888 when he fell to hypothermia in Union Square. (See Wallace – Gotham). My own research indicates that if this were the case he was confused as the original Fifth Avenue Club had recently relocated from 24th Street and Fifth Avenue to 35th Street and Fifth Avenue. I have been in touch with Adrienne Benepe, the NYC Commissioner of Parks and he is having his staff verify this research to modify their website accordingly. The Controversy regarding Roscoe Conkling’s statue being erected in Union Square probably had less to do with his ‘stature’ at the time, than his falling out with fellow Stalwarts in the Republican Party who would formerly had championed such a cause, but were still smarting from recent wounds.

    Among the books that have recently described some of the exploits of Senator Conkling, particularly his political battle with President Garfield over the patronage he believed was his due for helping secure Garfield his nomination for President, see, “Dark Horse’ by Kenneth D. Ackerman.

    After dramatically, and accidentally resigning from public life (Senator Conkling made a dramatic show of resigning from the US Senate thinking he would be unanimously returned by the Legislature, only to be fatally outmaneuvered, he suffered the even worse fate of being indirectly held responsible for President Garfield being assassinated. Garfield was shot by a delusional clerk by the name of Charles Guiteau, who was coincidentally infuriated at the President for not appointing him to a high state department position.

    Roscoe Conkling then went further into disrepute when he took on his former protege, Chester Arthur, whom he had helped make Vice-President. Conkling had expected loyalty at least from is former protege but Arthur was stuck in the position of honoring the commitments of the dead Garfield as the President-by-succession.

    After retiring from politics, Roscoe Conkling took on a number of high profiled and much followed cases, with his flamboyance and taste for public speaking in tact. I will be describing one of those cases in my upcoming book, as touching on the issues of women’s rights and the history of property in America. You may contact me at my email, and I will let you know in a few years when the book is released publicly. Meanwhile if you have or know of any private correspondence of your grandfather’s that is not listed with public collections during the period from 1884-8, I would be quite curious to review any scans or copies. Regards.

  8. fiona o'downey Says:

    Roscoe Conkling had only one child, as far as I know, a daughter, Elizabeth ( Lizzie) Conkling. Her mother was Julia Seymour Conkling, sister of Horatio Seymour, goverour of New York. After the Hayden affair in 1881 the Conkling’s lived apart, but the marriage was a doomed affair from the beginning. Horatio Seymour did not approve of the marriage, and his dislike of Conkling proved correct. It is my understanding that Roscoe and Julia were only married a short time ( several weeks) before Julia ” went home to mother” After that they had a defacto divorace and lived as man and wife in name only. Any light shed on this fact would be appreciated as I am attempting a novel on a daughter of the Rutger B. Miller family, sisters, brothers, nieces, ect. by marriage of Roscoe Conkling and by blood of Julia Seymour Conkling. Best regards. Fiona

  9. fiona o'downey Says:

    seeking any correspondence between Julia and Roscoe for novel I am attempting to write.

  10. fiona o'downey Says:

    Does anyone know if the Conkling daughter, Bessie, was disabled?

  11. Topov Says:

    And a certain comic actor with a tragic fate – commonly known as Fatty – was actually named Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle is his honour.

  12. wildnewyork Says:

    Wow, that’s interesting. According to Wikipedia, his father named him Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle because he didn’t think he was his kid and so gave him the name of a politician he despised!

  13. fiona o'downey Says:

    Let Miss. Hinzman- Gilson of bend oregon go on her merry way. I have been in touch with her and she is a complete fake.

  14. A March blizzard pummels New York by surprise | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] people were killed during the storm itself and many more succumbed to storm-caused injuries later, felled by heavy snow or left in unheated flats after coal deliveries ceased. (Below, 27th […]

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