102 Years Ago Today: Artists Take Over the Arch Declaring “Free & Independent Republic of Washington Square”

John Sloan Memorialized the 1917 Monumental Event in a Famous Etching

Arch Conspirators by John Sloan
Arch Conspirators by John Sloan

Much about current Washington Square Park is informed by the self-dubbed Arch Conspirators’ takeover of the Arch in 1917 and the Folk Riot aka “Beatnik Riot” in 1961.

On January 23, 1917, 6 artists, including John Sloan, Marcel Duchamp, and Gertrude Drick, made their way to the top of the Washington Square Arch. They snuck through the monument’s door – left temporarily unattended by a police officer – went up the 102 steps to the top, and threw a party with a mission.

They called themselves the “Arch Conspirators,” and, atop the Arch, proclaimed their declaration for “The Free and Independent Republic of Washington Square.” While there, they even lit a small fire!

[Gertrude] Drick, an artist and poet, had come to Greenwich Village from Texas to study under painter John Sloan. … She was also a known prankster, and after seeing the door approached Sloan with a plan to hold a mock revolution, an opportunity to recapture Washington Square Park in the name of bohemian unconventionality.

Drick and Sloan recruited their fellow bohemians: the actors Forrest Mann, Charles Ellis, and Betty Turner, and the artist Marcel Duchamp to join their rebellion. …

After dark on January 23, 1917, Drick and friends met on lower Fifth Avenue. With no sign of the meandering police officer, they opened the door, climbed up the spiral staircase, pushed open the trap door, and emerged on the top of Washington Square Arch. The bohemians came armed with food, plenty of liquor, hot water bottles for warmth, Chinese lanterns, red balloons, toy pistols, and of course, the Declaration of Independence of the Greenwich Republic, thought to have been written by Duchamp.

The Free and Independent Republic of Washington Square was born.

The next day, all that remained of their late night mischief were several red balloons, but within a day almost “everyone south of 14th street knew of their status as a liberated community,” and the wealthier inhabitants of Washington Square North found little humor in the “bohemian tomfoolery.”

Source: Creating Digital History

Sloan’s Arch Conspirators captures what happened that night in his famous etching (pictured above).

Wealthy neighbors in the area were not amused, and, after the ebullient declaration, the door to the Arch was firmly secured. It remains so to this day.

What will this generation impart on this Greenwich Village public space?

Can Washington Square Park be “recaptured (again) in the name of bohemian unconventionality?” Have those days come and gone? Has Greenwich Village lost its soul?

* * *

Etching, Arch Conspirators by John Sloan; from left to right: Frederick Ellis, Marcel Duchamp, Gertrude S. Drick, Allen Russell Mann, Betty Turner, and John Sloan

Spread the love

2 thoughts on “102 Years Ago Today: Artists Take Over the Arch Declaring “Free & Independent Republic of Washington Square””

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: