Statue of Politician Killed by a Blizzard
New York, New York
The bronze statue of Roscoe Conkling says something about statue politics, and nothing about Roscoe Conkling.
Conkling was a New York Senator and machine politician in the late 19th century who had qualities both good and bad. He championed the rights of former slaves, but he also insisted that the concept of "equal protection" applied to corporations as well, apparently as a payoff to the railroads. He reportedly put aside profit to serve the needs of the poor and the powerless, but he was also compulsively unfaithful to his wife, and once carried on a public affair with the wife of another Senator (and daughter of the Chief Justice). He was a strutting dandy, a failed Presidential candidate (he ran against Chester A. Arthur), and no one liked him all that much.
None of this is mentioned on the base of his statue, which merely gives his name, and leaves people wondering who is the guy with the funny name.
On March 12, 1888, while stubbornly walking uptown in a blizzard (he refused to pay what he considered an inflated cab fare), Conkling nearly froze to death in Union Square. He never recovered, and died, age 58, on April 18.
Conkling's family asked the city to erect a statue of him near the place where he was felled by the storm. The city, however, thought that Conkling didn't merit a spot in fancy Union Square. It hemmed and hawed, and finally, five years later, approved the statue -- but only further uptown, in second-tier Madison Square.
Aside from the statue (and the idea that corporations have the same rights as people) Roscoe Conkling's greatest legacy was perhaps silent film star Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, who was reportedly named for Conkling by Fatty's father, who thought that his son was the product of an affair.