News & Politics

Washington Square Saved for Warblers


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May 18, 1961, Vol. VI, No. 30

Mayor Relents, Opens Square to Folk-Singers

By J.R. Goddard

“Did you hear that?” the woman sweeping the stoop on MacDougal Street asked in dismay. “They’re letting ’em sing in the Square again!”

And so they were. For Mayor Robert Wagner’s decision to lift the ban on folk-singing in Washington Square late last week sent hundreds of guitar-twangers, yodelers, and their friends rushing back to the old haunt around the fountain on Sunday afternoon. By 4 p.m. the crowd, including tourists, numbered around 5000.

A rally was held by the Right to Sing Committee, which had fought the banning, on a street east of the Square at 2 p.m. The rally originally had been slated as an “Oust Wagner” gathering, but after the reversal from City Hall, the theme was changed to one of thanks. It was known that Stanley Lowell, chairman of the Commission on Intergroup Relations, had visited the Mayor unofficially with a warning that such a rally might have injurious poiltical effects.

The rally was short, sweet, and funny. Comics Orson Bean and Milt Kamen, the Reverend Howard Moody, attorney Edward Koch, and Kelsey Marechal told jokes and read telegrams addressed to Wagner, Park Commissioner Morris, and Police Commissioner Murphy. Marechal enjoined the singers to “keep in tune and keep your beards combed.” Then the push to the Square, which resembled a small Oklahoma land rush, was on. For some unexplained reason the City Fathers had roped off the sacred concrete that surrounds the fountain…

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]


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