Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino Park
This small park is at a crossroads of several dynamic New York neighborhoods: Little Italy and the Bowery to the east, Chinatown to the south, and SoHo to the west and north. The site/area became parkland as a result of the City Charter of 1938, which turned over all public places and squares to the Department of Parks.
The site was formerly known as Kenmare Square, for the street that runs east to Delancey. Around the turn of the century, Tammany Hall leader “Big Tim” Sullivan of the Lower East Side named Kenmare Street in honor of his mother’s birthplace, a village in County Kerry, Ireland. Kenmare Square was renamed in memory of Police Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino (1860-1909) by a local law, introduced by Council Member Miriam Friedlander, passed by the City Council, and signed by Mayor Edward I. Koch in 1987.
Giuseppe (Joseph) Petrosino was born in Salerno, Italy, and immigrated to the United States with his family in 1873. As a boy, he shined shoes outside Police Headquarters on Mulberry Street. At the age of eighteen, he began his career in the public service with the Department of Sanitation (then under the jurisdiction of the Police Department). Fluent in many Italian dialects, Petrosino aided the police by working undercover as an informer in Little Italy.
When he joined the Police Department in 1883, Petrosino was the city’s shortest officer, at five feet and three inches tall. Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt personally promoted him to Sergeant of Detectives in 1895. While investigating anarchists in the United States, Petrosino warned President McKinley of threats against his life; however, the warning was not heeded and the President was assassinated in 1901.
Within ten years, Petrosino was named lieutenant and given command of the new Italian Squad, a unit created to combat the crime organization known as the Black Hand. Under his leadership, several thousand arrests were made, and more than 500 offenders were sent to prison. Crimes against Italian-Americans dropped by fifty percent. Petrosino was killed while on assignment to Palermo, Sicily.
When his body was returned to New York, thousands of mourners formed a funeral procession which marched from Little Italy to Calvary Cemetery in Queens. Lt. Petrosino was the only New York police officer who had died in the line of duty outside the United States. The park named in his honor is located just north of the Renaissance Revival edifice at 240 Centre Street, which served as Police Headquarters from 1910 to 1971.