How Accurate was the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel at Washington Square Park?

February 14 2018

It’s awards season for television, music, and movies and we’re pleased as punch that The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which just so happened to film a scene in Washington Square Park, won a Golden Globe Award.

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In the first season of Amazon’s throwback series, at least half the action takes place in the Village, and more specifically at the former Gaslight Cafe which was located south of the Park on MacDougal Street. In the fourth episode, “The Disappointment of the Dionne Quintuplets,” we see the main character, Midge, on a leisurely walk through our very own Washington Square Park. She then stumbles upon a rally with dozens of women holding “Save The Square!” signs, listens to Jane Jacobs give a powerful speech about keeping the Park traffic-free, and is called upon to give a rousing speech of her own. This was, in fact, a real-life event, celebrating a ceremonial “last car through Washington Square Park.”

While the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is obviously a work of fiction, the show did do a pretty fantastic job recreating the scene at the Park in 1958. Strap on your best vintage heels and grab a petticoat, because we’re breaking down the scene at the Park:

The Park in 1958 would have looked similar except…

Photo © Estate of Fred W. McDarrah. Used with permission.

The action takes place mainly in front of the south side of the Arch. Rising in the background is 2 Fifth Avenue, completed just a few years before in 1952 by Emery Roth & Sons. The fountain would be at the same grade as the Arch as it is today, but located 22 feet to the west. The rally, in actuality and in the scene, is to celebrate a resolution by NYC Board of Estimate to temporarily close the park to traffic. Prior to that day, cars and busses were a regular part of Park life. Traffic through Washington Square Park is hard to imagine from the perspective of 2018!

Midge would likely not be called to speak.

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On the left: Shirley Hayes. On the right: Protesters during the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

The 7- year long “Save The Square” movement was spearheaded by an activist, mother of four, and Villager Shirley Hayes. Hayes led the formation of the Washington Square Committee, a group of Villagers that opposed Robert Moses’ roadway expansion through Washington Square Park. Hayes and the Committee were not only successful in stopping the roadway expansion, they also worked to stop all traffic from going through the Park.

The Save The Square Flyer is nearly perfect.

Mrs Maisel

Greenwich Villagers that were opposed to the roadway through the Park helped lead the successful grassroots movement by doing exactly what is seen in the episode: organizing, petitioning the City, handing out flyers, and protesting.

Jane Jacobs, while well-known, would not have been treated as such a celebrity.

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Left: American-born Canadian social and urban activist & author Jane Jacobs (1916 – 2006) (center) in Washington Square Park, New York, New York, August 24, 1963. Photo by Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images.

In the episode, we see Midge run into a woman that is frantically worried about missing Jane Jacobs’ speech. While Jane Jacobs would have been at the rally and played a part as a speaker, organizers on the ground like Shirley Hayes would have been highly visible as well. Jane Jacobs may be a household name today, but it would be three years until her first book, the Death and Life of Great American Cities would be published. In 1958, she was just another Village activist.

Yes, it would have been mostly women organizers protesting the roadway.

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You see Midge look around with wonder at how many women were out protesting the roadway. The Save The Square grassroots movement was indeed women-led. As the mother of four children, Shirley Hayes expressed concern over having a roadway through a more residential area. In 1952, she collected more than 4,000 signatures from people in the Village opposing the roadway in a month.