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Times Square Pedestrian Plaza

The Times Square Pedestrian Plaza, the remarkable cityscape completed in 2015, with its large red staircase, permanent granite benches and cafe tables and chairs, is a great place to sit. But two notable figures stand there all the time: the bronze statues of Father Francis P. Duffy, army chaplain during the Spanish American War and World War I, and George M. Cohan, the producer, playwright, actor and composer of “Over There,” the World War I standard.

Father Duffy is best known for his tours of duty with the legendary Fighting 69th Infantry. In Europe during World War I, he ministered to soldiers engaged in battle, and became the most highly decorated cleric in the history of the United States Army. When he died in 1932, a movement began to honor him. As a result, a statue of him, designed by sculptor Charles Keck was unveiled on May 2, 1937. It stands at Broadway and 46th Street, facing towards Holy Cross Church on West 42nd Street, where Duffy was once a pastor. The statue, which honors his service to church and country, depicts him standing before a granite Celtic Cross, holding a bible and wearing the uniform of the 69th. In 1939, the square where the figure of Father Duffy stands was named for him.

Quite a few years later, he was joined by the figure of George M Cohan. Cohan enjoyed a career on Broadway that spanned more than 40 years. During that time, he produced a succession of hit shows and composed a string of hit songs, including “Give My Regards to Broadway.” His patriotic songs earned him the Congressional Medal. He was the first person in an artistic profession to be so honored. When he died in 1942, it was not surprising that the theater community wished to honor him. However, it took the leadership of Oscar Hammerstein II, the composer, to make his memorial a reality. In 1956, plans for a statue were announced. The 8-foot, 7-inch bronze, designed by Georg John Lober, stands on a granite pedestal and base, designed by Otto Langman. It was dedicated September 11, 1959 and stands at the square’s southern end.

It should be noted that Duffy and Cohan were not the first to occupy Times Square. A 50-foot, eight-ton plaster statue of Purity (Defeat of Slander), created by Leo Lentelli, which featured an inscription that warned against speaking ill of New York, stood there in 1909. But if you wanted to see it, you would have had to look fast. It became such an object of derision and parody, the statue moved out in less than two months.

Other features of Duffy Square have changed over time. Most notably, in 1973 the first TKTS booth, selling discounted theater tickets, opened. It was reinvented in 2008 by the Theatre Development Fund as that glowing red glass staircase, ascending directly behind Father Duffy. From those steps, one can watch the full “cast” appearing daily in the new Times Square Pedestrian plaza – including the costumed characters, and yes, their less costumed counterparts, the desnudas who wear only body paint to attract the attention of visitors. Many of those seated remain unmoved. But not Duffy and Cohan, who give everyone in the Times Square Pedestrian Plaza a standing ovation.

– Lily Herzan, Ali Houston and Carol Cofone