Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Hanging of Rose Butler

The land where Washington Square Park is located in New York’s Greenwich Village was used for over a hundred years as a burial site.

It was initially used as an Indian burial ground.

Then after the Revolutionary War it was a potter’s field for criminals that were hanged in New York in the 1700s.

A Vault full of bones found
beneath the park.
There are an additional 20,000 souls buried in a mass grave, lost to a yellow fever epidemic that lasted from 1791 to 1821.

As New York’s wealthier citizens moved into the area, this extensive graveyard was covered over for a military parade ground.

It was at this point that the shallow graves of the potter’s field began to surface. As a result, several bones of the deceased poor were crushed underfoot.

The military parade ground at what was to become the park.

This stark history, plus the disturbance of these graves—point to this ground being haunted. After this location became a park in 1828, people began to note unexplained activity.

Today, the buildings that surround Washington Square, house the various NYU departments. The young people that flock to this park often do not know, about the morbid history of their favorite hangout.

Many bodies lie beneath the famous fountain and arch at this park.

Hangman's Elm
Most of NYUs students have never heard of Rose Butler, even though some have encountered her ghost. On windy nights, she is seen swinging from a large tree in the park’s northwest corner known as the “Hangman’s Elm.”

She is described as a shadow dangling in the tree that appears to disappear when witnesses move closer, to get a better view. Others have noticed this dangling figure from the various windows that overlook the park.

Some have seen her apparition walking through the park. Cold spots accompany her, even on hot summer days. Most disturbing is the witnesses who claim they felt her walk right through them.

Rose Butler was a house slave owned by the Morris family. At age sixteen, the family accused her of stealing. Previous owners had also caught her stealing.

Rose resentful, was also angered at the fact many blacks that were “free” lived near the Morris household.*

She hatched a plan to kill the family. She tried to burn down their house. She set it ablaze and tied their only exit shut.

But she only managed to burn part of the staircase, the family escaped unharmed.

Rose was arrested and tried for arson.

Arson was a heinous crime at the time—for there were not firefighters, and many perished in house fires.

Butler was condemned to death by hanging. This was a harsh penalty—for a woman. The case went all the way to the New York Supreme Court, but they upheld the ruling.

Some state this was because New York was in transition at the time. Slavery was on the decline, and there was a lot of tension between slaveholders and non-slaveholders.

At the age of nineteen, in 1799, Rose Butler was the last criminal hanged in what would become Washington Square Park. She was buried in the nearby potter’s field.

Some feel her grave was one of the many desecrated—hence the haunting.

*   She should have been free, slavery was an abomination, but some because of this sentiment, claim she was innocent--the fire was just an accident. But my research reflected otherwise.

But another question remains--

Since Rose didn't succeed, should she have been hanged? 

1 comment:

Leona Joan said...

I don't think she should have been hanged. Poor Rose, may she find Light and Love and Peace in Heaven.