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Dag Hammarskjold Plaza

Katharine Hepburn Garden

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

Katharine Hepburn was born on May 12, 1907, in Hartford, Connecticut. She graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1928 and in the same year she made her professional debut in a minor role in a Baltimore stock company production of Czarina. By 1932 she was a star on Broadway in The Warrior’s Husband, followed in the same year by her screen debut opposite John Barrymore in A Bill of Divorcement. On Broadway Ms. Hepburn originated the Tracy Lord role in The Philadelphia Story (1939) before taking it to Hollywood a year later. In 1942 she starred opposite Spencer Tracy in Woman of the Year and began a twenty-five year relationship which included working on nine classic films.

Ms. Hepburn has won numerous honors for her acting. She was nominated for twelve Academy Awards and won four Oscars for best actress. In 1962 Ms. Hepburn won the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for her performance in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. In the 1970s she worked in television, where she and co-star Laurence Olivier earned Emmys for Love Among the Ruins. Her two memoirs, Me and The Making of the African Queen, or How I Went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall, and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind, were best sellers. Ms. Hepburn has always gone her own way, wearing slacks, refusing interviews, shunning autograph seekers, keeping her private life private, and all the while speaking her mind.

Her passion for flowers and gardening began during her childhood in West Hartford. On Sunday afternoons the Hepburn family went for drives and walks in the hills west of the Connecticut River. The children competed to see who could spot the first Lily of the Valley, Bloodroot, Columbine, or Pink Lady’s Slipper. When Ms. Hepburn moved to Turtle Bay with her husband Ludlow Ogden Smith in 1932, she transplanted wildflowers from her parents’ home to her backyard garden. She joined the Turtle Bay Association in 1957, and for more than thirty years she fought to halt the destruction of trees, to defend the sidewalks from encroaching development, and to protect mid-blocks from high-rise construction.

On May 12, 1997 community members gathered to dedicate the Katharine Hepburn Garden in Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza. The naming pays tribute to her lifelong love of flowers and gardening and thanks Ms. Hepburn for her commitment to the park and the neighborhood. A wide variety of species were used in the border planting. The plant list included birch, dawn redwood, and dogwood trees; mountain laurel, witch hazel, viburnum, rhododendron, hydrangea, and abelia; as well as numerous perennials, groundcovers, and ferns.

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  • Mother and child walking in Dag Hammerskjold Plaza on rainy afternoon.

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  • Katharine Hepburn Garden

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