Official Dedication Ceremony Took Place May 4th, 1895
The official dedication ceremony and unveiling of the Arch at Washington Square Park took place on May 4th, 1895. This marks the storied and beloved monument as 126 years old this month.
History of Washington Square Arch
The first version of the Arch was constructed for the Centennial of the inauguration of first U.S. President George Washington in 1889 in wood and initially was erected half a block away on Fifth Avenue. Received very favorably, the community raised funds for it to be commissioned in marble via architect Stanford White. The monument was completed in its current location in the early 1890’s.
Two sculptures of George Washington stand on each side. Washington is seen in two distinct poses at the monument’s pedestal: on the east, Washington At War, and at west, Washington At Peace, as envisioned by noted period architect White (1853-1906).
Of the Washington At War statue, Emily Kies Folpe in the book “It Happened on Washington Square” wrote that the sculptor, Herman A. Mac Neil, wanted the statue “to appear alert and intent, as if watching the maneuvers of his army.” Looking on are the figures of Fame and Valor.
Pictured above is Washington At Peace (A. Stirling Calder) with figures of Wisdom and Justice behind him. Wisdom stands there as “the modern Athena” – Greek goddess of wisdom.
Exitus Acta Probat – the Washington Family Coat of Arms
Folpe writes, “Justice, draped and crowned, holding a balanced set of scales with one hand and an open book in the other. The pages of the book are inscribed with the words ‘Exitus acta probat.'”
Exitus acta probat is taken from the George Washington Family Coat of Arms. I’ve come across various ways of interpreting it, all similar with slight variations.
The basic translation is: the outcome justifies the deed.
Of course, Stanford White’s “outcome” was a bit jarring. White was shot on the roof of Madison Square Garden, a building he designed (this was the second incarnation of MSG which is no longer there), by the husband of an ex-lover. (It’s a story worth reading if you haven’t.)
Commenter Hugh wrote in following WSP Blog’s initial piece on Exitus Acta Probat with this clarification:
The outcome justifying the deed that Washington was referring to was the Revolutionary war. No one wanted war then, not only was it near suicide for all who opposed the English, but also, war causes a lot of death which is also something that he didn’t want, however, if the end result was freedom and liberty, then a horrible deed such as war is in fact justified. It shows that Washington believed that unless the outcome is justified, then the deed should not be done.
The official name of the Arch is Washington Arch. There are 102 steps inside to the top.
Top photo: NYC Municipal Archives
Bottom photo: Jason Sherwood Design/ Brian Tovar
All other photos: Cathryn
Previously at Washington Square Park Blog: