Conspiracy Atop the Arch

"Arch Conspirators" by John Sloan. Courtesy of NYU's Bobst Library.

“Arch Conspirators” by John Sloan. Courtesy of NYU’s Bobst Library.

Ninety-six years ago today a group of artists gathered at the top of the Washington Square Arch. Poet Gertrude Drick, painters John Sloan (who drew the etching above) and Marcel Duchamp, and Provincetown Playhouse actors Russell Mann, Betty Turner, and Charles Ellis got into the arch and up the spiral staircase through an unlocked door. They became known as the “Arch Conspirators” after that snowy winter’s day.

At this January 23, 1917 event, Drick read a declaration of independence for the “Free and Independent Republic of Washington Square” with the intent of having a neighborhood free from mainstream convention. The Daily Plant, the paper of the City’s Parks Department, writes: “These six so-called “Arch Conspirators” then spread out blankets, hung Chinese lanterns, tied red balloons to the arch’s parapet, sipped tea, shot off cap pistols, and conversed until dawn.”

You can read more about Bohemia and Greenwich Village on our Resources page. You might also be interested in checking out Andrea Barnet’s List of Bohemian Hang Outs in the Village from a past program hosted by GVSHP.

The event was soon forgotten, however it’s clear that the spirit of these artists lived on in the Village for decades thereafter. You can read more about Greenwich Village and its long-famed connection to the arts on our Resources page: Art in the Village, 1930s and The “Beat” Movement and Happenings, 1950s-1960s.

Theater for the New City also invites GVSHP members to see the new play Crossing Paths in Washington Square at a special rate. If you’re interested click here to go to our Events page!


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avatar Amanda is GVSHP's Director of Preservation & Research