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Roscoe the Frozen Rascal – by Mark Levy

NYC History

Oh, how fleeting is fame! In the southeast corner of Madison Square Park stands the statue of Roscoe Conkling, a former New York US Congressman and Senator. What merits this distinction?

Roscoe Conkling was a leader of the Stalwart faction of the Republican Party, one that supported President Grant and opposed just about anything progressive, especially Civil Service reform. You may recall the term “Stalwart” from President Garfield’s assassin Charles Guiteau, who, upon shooting Garfield in a Washington train station, shouted “I am a Stalwart and Arthur is now President!” referring to Conkling’s protege, Vice President Chester Alan Arthur.  No, Roscoe the Rascal preferred the spoiler system of awarding governent jobs, and benefited greatly – to the victor goes the spoils. He was so incensed when one of the plummiest jobs of them all – Collector of the Port of New York – was awarded to a rival, he abjectly resigned from the Senate in protest and then ran in the special election to replace himself.

But Roscoe was a true rascal both personally as well as professionally: legend has it that the husband of his paramour discovered them in delecto flagrante at a Rhode Island resort and chased Roscoe the Rascal out with a shotgun. Yet maybe its one’s final moments in life that define a person. Certainly so with JFK or Stanford White and it was Roscoe Conkling’s death that perhaps gained him his ever-present presence amonst other statue.

Roscoe Conkling struggled through the blinding blizzard of 1888 that raged through the Northeast and New York City from March 11th through March 14th. 22 inches of snow blanketed the city. Drifts piled 40-50 ft high, and over 200 people died. Sadly, truly, one of those passing was Roscoe Conkling. It was reported that he, while tramping through Union Square, helped a woman and her child who where trapped in a snowdrift. He was outside for hours and contracted pneumonia, which sent him to the great Stalwart party in the sky one month later.  Historians have never been able to identify those he helped nor can confirm his story, but his supporters and friends erected the statue in his dubious honor.

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