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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Nathan Hale's Last Words

On Vanderbilt Avenue across from Grand Central Station at the corner of East 44th Street, a block from the Yale Club, is this plaque, that tells us "At the British Artillery Park near this site Nathan Hale captain in the U.S. Army, Yale graduate of 1773, apprehended within enemy lines while seeking information, was executed on the morning of September 22, 1776.  His last words were 'I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.'"


Another plaque on 3rd Avenue and 65th Street tells us that he was hanged "probably within 100 yards" of that spot.

The first plaque that I have pictured was put up by the Mary Washington Colonial Chapter, D.A.R., and the Yale Club of New York.  The second one was erected by the New York Historical Society.

Not only is the actual place of his hanging disputed, but the actual utterance (if any) of what he said is also disputed and quoted differently.

I am less interested in running to ground the various arguments, but rather, like Plymouth Rock, suggest that the iconography, at least in this case, is important.  Whether at this spot or 65th Street, we know the location was within these 20-30 blocks of Manhattan.  And whether he said certain specific words or not, the story has emerged that he did make a rather heroic statement in extreme (and final) circumstances.  We build a national culture on such things, and some things remain valuable as leaps of faith.
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