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Madison Square Park Statues Get Buffed and Waxed

By Mary Johnson | August 10, 2011 2:35pm
An intern buffs William Henry Seward's bronze shoes as part of annual maintenance being done to protect the statues in Madison Square Park.
An intern buffs William Henry Seward's bronze shoes as part of annual maintenance being done to protect the statues in Madison Square Park.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

MADISON SQUARE PARK — Monuments in Madison Square Park got a little primping on Wednesday, including a deep clean, a good waxing and a buff.

A pair of Parks Department conservators and four interns began polishing four statues at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, an annual maintenance ritual that's part of the Citywide Monuments Conservation Program.

“These guys are buffing Mr. Seward,” said John Saunders, a Parks Department conservator who was supervising two interns charged with sprucing up a bronze statue of William Henry Seward.

First, the team used a mild detergent on the monuments and a pressure washer to remove all the dirt that had accumulated over the course of a year. Then they waxed the bronze.

Some figures got cold wax massaged into their facades. Others got a hot wax treatment where the workers blasted the metal with a propane blow torch and then rubbed the wax into the scalding surface.

The statues were finished off with a little bufffing.

Seward, whose statue was dedicated in 1876, served as President Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state during the Civil War and helped broker the purchase of Alaska. He is said to be the first New Yorker to be immortalized in a city statue.

Many of the monuments in Madison Square Park date to the 1800s, when it was more common to put up a statue in someone’s honor than it is today, Saunders said.

“At that time it was more important,” he said.

Roscoe Conkling stands just down the block from Seward, near the entrance to the park on East 23rd Street and Madison Avenue.

Conkling served as a congressman in the late 1880s, and he was well known for his generosity, Saunders said.

“He’s also known for being like Bill Clinton, a philanderer,” he added.

Near East 25th Street, a towering monument to the 21st U.S. president Chester Alan Arthur was due for a hot wax around 11 a.m.

Toward the center of the park, Saunders’ colleague, Christine Djuric, supervised two interns giving a cold wax to the bronze portion of the Eternal Light Flagstaff, a World War I memorial.

The flagstaff, with its soaring flagpole, has a base that's often used as a lunch spot for area workers. Residue from a year’s worth of dirty shoes and Shake Shack burgers needed to be power washed off the stone, Djuric said.

Another big problem was the remnants left behind by skateboarders, Djuric said.

“That’s become a huge issue with any of our monuments that have benches or long stretches of stone,” she explained.

Skateboarders use the surfaces for grinding and other tricks. That can chip the stone, Djuric said.

But the skateboarders also coat these surfaces with wax before skating across them, she added. That wax seeps into the stone, stains it and attracts soil.

Fortunately, a good pressure washing was enough to rid the stone of all of that on Wednesday.

Djuric said that those issues are much better than vandalism or graffiti, which were once commonplace on New York City monuments.

“These sculptures are remarkably respected in this park,” she said.