overview

Many New York City public parks and playgrounds are named in honor of prominent figures in New York City and American history.

Walt Whitman Park, in Brooklyn, inadvertently honors an LGBT individual.

Header Photo
Credit: NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.

History

Many New York City public parks and playgrounds are named in honor of prominent figures in New York City and American history. The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project compiled a list of public parks and playgrounds named after gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals, several of which intentionally honor an LGBT individual. This list includes Walt Whitman Park, in Brooklyn.

This park was named in 1955 for Walt Whitman, in honor of the centennial of the publication of Leaves of Grass, thus honoring one of New York City’s LGBT individuals. Often proclaimed America’s greatest poet, Whitman (1819-1892) lived mostly in Brooklyn and Manhattan between 1823 and 1862. He was intimately associated with Brooklyn, where he worked as an editor, journalist, and writer, and lived in many different residences. He finished his epochal first collection of poems, Leaves of Grass, in 1855. Whitman’s poetry was then considered controversial by some for its sensuality, and a later edition of Leaves included his famously homoerotic “Calamus” poems expressing male-male love. These made Whitman iconic in the United States and Europe as one of the first people to openly express the concept of men loving men. Today, Leaves is considered one of the most important American works ever written.

The City acquired the land for this park in 1945, and it was transferred to the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation in 1954. It is only a few blocks away from the site of the Rome Brothers Print Shop (demolished) at 98 Cranberry Street and Fulton Street (now Cadman Plaza West), where the first edition of Leaves of Grass was printed.

Entry by Jay Shockley, project director (September 2021).

NOTE: Names above in bold indicate LGBT people.

Sources

  1. Cleveland Rodgers, “The Good Gray House Builder,” Walt Whitman Review (December 1959).

  2. Karen Karbiener, Walt Whitman scholar, various correspondence with the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2017-2018.

  3. Paul Berman, “Walt Whitman’s Ghost,” The New Yorker, June 12, 1995, pp. 98-104.

  4. “Walt Whitman Park,” NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, on.nyc.gov/39zHJDP.

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