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Tompkins Square Park

Samuel Sullivan Cox map_it

History

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

Samuel Sullivan “Sunset” Cox (1824–1889) was born in Zanesville, Ohio, and served his home state as a Democratic Congressional representative from 1857 to 1865 before being unseated. After moving to New York in 1866, Cox served again in Congress for several terms from 1869 until 1889.

Although Cox once publicly declared that his most satisfying contribution to public service was championing the Life Saving Service—founded in the 1840s to patrol the coasts and save imperiled boaters during bad weather, the group was absorbed into the Coast Guard in 1915—this statue is sponsored by U.S. Postal Service workers because of Cox’s support for their quality-of-life issues. Known as the “letter-carriers’ friend,” Cox spearheaded legislation that led to paid benefits and a 40-hour workweek for postal employees. Mail carriers from the 188 cities named on the monument contributed $10,000 for the statue in a campaign that began soon after Cox’s death.

Sculptor Louise Lawson’s statue of Cox, unveiled in 1891, depicts him orating before Congress. Lawson (186?–1899) came from a prominent Ohio family. She and her brother, U.S. Representative W. D. Lawson, both attended Cox’s 1889 funeral at which President Grover Cleveland and General William Sherman served as honorary pallbearers. One might interpret the statue’s somewhat stiff quality as representative of Cox’s steadfast stance on issues for which he advocated.

After the statue’s unveiling on Independence Day 1891, the New York Tribune noted, somewhat less charitably, that Cox’s “usually genial countenance is strained” and “out of harmony” with the Congressman’s natural demeanor. “The likeness is not a good one, and the facial resemblance is hardly suggestive,” the article added. A New York Times account of the ceremony questioned whether the statue “will ever be greatly admired as a work of art.” Nevertheless, a reported 2,500 letter carriers came from as far away as New Orleans and Memphis to participate in the moving ceremony to honor Cox at the statue’s unveiling.

The statue originally stood near Cox’s home on East 12th Street at the intersection of Lafayette Street, Fourth Avenue, and Astor Place. In November 1924, due to a street-widening project in the vicinity of Astor Place, it was moved to its current location at the southwest corner of Tompkins Square Park.

In 1998, the monument was conserved by the Citywide Monuments Conservation Program. The treatment included cleaning, repatination, and application of a protective coating to the bronze sculpture and plaques. The pedestal was also cleaned and the lettering was remolded on the front side of the base.

Samuel Sullivan Cox Details

  • Location: Avenue A at 8th Street
  • Sculptor: Louise Lawson
  • Description: Standing figure (over life-size) with integral plinth, on pedestal with two plaques, on base
  • Materials: Figure and plaques--bronze; Pedestal--Barre granite (polished); Base--concrete
  • Dimensions: Figure H: 8' W: 4' D: 4'; Pedestal H: 11' W: 7'1" D: 7'1"
  • Cast: 1891
  • Dedicated: July 4, 1891
  • Foundry: Henry-Bonnard Bronze Company, New York
  • Donor: United States Letter Carriers
  • Inscription: Pedestal front:
    SAMUEL S. COX

    Plaque 1:
    SAMUEL SULLIVAN COX / THE LETTER CARRIER'S FRIEND / ERECTED IN GRATEFUL AND LOVING MEMORY / OF HIS / SERVICES IN CONGRESS / BY THE / LETTER CARRIERS OF NEW YORK, HIS HOME, / AND OF THE / UNITED STATES, HIS COUNTRY / JULY 4, 1891 / COMMITTEE; GEORGE H. NEWSOM, CHAIRMAN / THOMAS MURPHY, TREASURER, JAMES GREER, / JAMES MC VEY, BERNARD S. KENNEDY, / MICHEAL J. HARNEY, CHARLES P. KELLY. /

    Plaque 2:
    THE LETTER CARRIERS / OF THE FOLLOWING CITIES / ERECTED THIS MONUMENT TO / SAMUEL SULLIVAN COX. / [Here follows a list of about 200 cities.]

Please note, the NAME field includes a primary designation as well as alternate namings often in common or popular usage. The DEDICATED field refers to the most recent dedication, most often, but not necessarily the original dedication date. If the monument did not have a formal dedication, the year listed reflects the date of installation.

For more information, please contact Art & Antiquities at (212) 360-8143

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