Horace Greeley has greeted hundreds of millions of New Yorkers and out-of-towners alike over the past hundred years with a nod of his head as they scoot past his curious perch in City Hall Park. You can find him along the path between City Hall and the Tweed Courthouse sitting in the grass and taking a moment to look up from his beloved New York Tribune in gentle acknowledgment of your arrival.
A study in contrasts, Greeley rose through the ranks of the publishing world through hard work and native talent. In 1841 at age thirty he founded the Tribune, a newspaper dedicated to integrity and honest reporting. His own editorials made clear its political leanings: anti-slavery, pro-women, pro-worker. The Tribune became one of the country’s most influential newspapers.
But Greeley was also impetuous and impressionable, often committing himself rashly to the fad of the day-spiritualism, vegetarianism, phrenology among them. In 1872, he resigned as editor of the Tribune to embark on a disastrous run for the presidency against Ulysses Grant. By the time it was over, he had lost the election, the Tribune, his wife, his sanity, and his life. He remains the only presidential candidate to have died before the electoral process played out.
In 1890, the Tribune hired John Quincy Adams Ward to sculpt an image of their iconic founder. Horace Greeley was a caricaturist’s dream-half bald; carelessly dressed in a shapeless, colorless overcoat and work boots; neck covered in absurd chin whiskers. (Thomas Nast’s political cartoons had made mincemeat of Greeley in service of Grant’s presidential bid.)
But Ward saw past these surface details to create a sensitive psychological study of a powerful newspaper editor and a delicate personality. The interaction between subject and audience is dynamic, as if you’ve opened the door to Greeley’s office to find him pouring over the latest issue hot off the press. He rests the newspaper on his knee, and looks up to greet you with a friendly nod. Ward was clever in treating that bulky overcoat with the same care he would treat a Roman senator’s robe. Ward was kind in disguising Greeley’s excessive chin whiskers as a neckerchief rising up from his shirt collar.
Seated figures are not the norm in public sculpture. We prefer our heroes in a more active stance. But while it makes perfect sense to portray an editor that way, Ward’s choice was dictated by the fact that the sculpture was designed fit within a niche in the front of the Tribune Building across the street.
For twenty-six years (1890-1916) the newspaper’s iconic founder and editor posthumously greeted Tribune employees with a friendly nod as they entered their workplace. But in 1916 a city ordinance was passed prohibiting sidewalk obstructions, and the sculpture had to go.
Perhaps heeding his own advice to “Go West,” Horace Greeley did just that in 1916 when he was rolled a few hundred feet across Centre Street over temporary railway tracks to City Hall Park. The Tribune Building survived until 1966 when it made way for Pace University.