This playground in East Flatbush owes its name to Samuel Jones Tilden (1814-1886), lawyer, governor, and candidate for President. Tilden was born on February 9, 1814 in New Lebanon, New York. He studied at both Yale College and the University of the City of New York (now New York University). Admitted to the bar in 1841, Tilden practiced law in New York City, representing high-profile clients including more than half the railway corporations north of the Ohio and between the Hudson and Missouri Rivers.
Tilden was also active in city, state, and national politics. He was elected to the state assembly in 1845, served in the Constitutional Convention of 1846, and ran on the Democratic ticket for attorney general in 1855. He was a member of the Free Soil movement, which fought the extension of slavery into U.S. Territories. By 1868, Tilden had assumed the leadership of the Democratic Party in New York State. In 1870, he launched a high-profile attack on the corrupt Tweed Ring, which had a stranglehold on New York City government from 1860 to 1871. Tilden helped to impeach several corrupt judges and exposed the plunder amassed by Tweed officials.
Campaigning as a reform candidate for the Democrats, Tilden was elected Governor of New York State in 1874. His high-profile crusade against corruption won him the Democratic presidential nomination in 1876. Though Tilden won a majority of the popular vote, he lost the Electoral College vote, 185-184, to Rutherford B. Hayes. The election was widely regarded as having been stolen by the Republicans, who formed the majority of the commission that was appointed to determine the vote of three Southern states, each of which had two sets of electors. Tilden’s bequest of his large book collection to establish a library ultimately led to the creation of the New York Public Library. He died at his home in Yonkers on August 4, 1886.
The City of New York acquired the land for this playground in 1948. The site had been previously occupied by privately owned tennis courts, handball courts, and a field house. The playground was built within two years, and when it opened on October 2, 1950, this Brooklyn playground was the 532nd in the New York City Park system. It featured a tot play area and sports courts for older children, as well as a large free-play area provided a space for roller skating or ice skating depending on the season.
In 1997, the park was redesigned using a storybook theme, recognizing Samuel J. Tilden’s philanthropy and the playground’s proximity to the nearby library. Several concrete inlays in the shape of open novels feature Moby Dick, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Beauty and the Beast. The spray shower takes the form of two pencils poised above a giant crossword puzzle.