“Where is ‘Duffy Square’?”
I get this question five to ten times every day that I work promotions for The Ride. It’s not an altogether surprising question, given the amount of things that happen on Duffy Square. What is surprising, however, is how few people actually know where it is, who it’s named after, and what that person’s significance was to New York City, and the United States of America.
Father Francis P. Duffy was a chaplain in the New York Army National Guard, and is an American Hero. A catholic priest and teacher in New York City, Father Duffy worked tirelessly for his students and to establish catholic parishes around the city. He was also the Regimental Chaplain to the 69th Infantry Regiment (known as the Fighting 69th). During World War I, Father Duffy made a name for himself, accompanying litter bearers into battlefields to recover wounded soldiers on the French front. Wild Bill Donovan recognized him as a key element in the Fighting 69th’s morale and for his actions, bravery, and selflessness, the United States awarded Duffy with the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Distinguished Service Medal; New York State awarded him the Conspicuous Service Cross; and France awarded him both the Légion d’Honneur and Croix de Guerre. He is the most highly decorated cleric in the history of the United States Army.
“I am a very Irish, very Catholic, very American person if anybody challenges my convictions. But normally and let alone, I am just plain human.” – Father Francis P. Duffy
While Father Duffy was born in Canada, he maintained that he was American to the core. After the war he returned to New York City and wrote the book Father Duffy’s Story, an account of his time in both World War I and the Spanish-American War. This book served to spread Duffy’s story around the world, and make him a revered figure throughout the nation. He became the priest at Holy Cross Church, until his death in 1932. When he died, he garnered front-page headlines across the country, and General Douglas MacArthur, upon hearing of Duffy’s death, revealed that he had recommended Father Duffy to lead the 165th Regiment during the war, given his bravery and commitment to his soldiers. He was given a soldier’s funeral, preached by the Chaplain who had served on the Battleship Maine at the time of its sinking.
After his death, there was an immediate outpouring of support to commemorate Father Duffy with a statue in New York City, and in 1935 such a monument was commissioned to stand at the intersections of Broadway and 47th street in the heart of New York City’s Times Square. The statue was erected in 1937, and stands there to this day. The triangular area at the intersection was renamed “Father Duffy Square”.
Today, Duffy Square is not just the pedestrian area that it was in 1937, it is home to the world famous TKTS booth, where hundreds of locals and tourists alike arrive every day to line up for discount theatre tickets both on and off Broadway. The TKTS lines stretch all across the square and it is a Mecca for theatre lovers from all across the world. I am often asked about the line by tourists, curious as to why there are hundreds of people in a queue in the middle of the day. Behind the TKTS booth are the “Big Red Stairs” (for lack of a better name), which are a seating area for people in Times Square. Duffy Square is also the site of the famous George M. Cohan statue, which stands at the other end of the square from the statue of Father Duffy. George M. Cohan is considered to be one of the fathers of modern Musical Theatre and wrote such classic songs as Over There,You’re a Grand Old Flag, and Yankee Doodle Dandy. The statue was dedicated in 1959, and is another common photo spot for theatre lovers from across the globe. The Inside Broadway walking tour and other informative sightseeing walks meet at the statue of George M. Cohan, using his history as the jumping off point for their tours of various aspects of the world of Broadway theatre. Duffy Square is now synonymous with theatre, and often people simply call it “TKTS” when giving directions. The actual name is no longer well known to New Yorkers, as the TKTS booth has become the significant attraction on Duffy Square, but Father Duffy’s legacy continues on with his 17’ tall statue in the middle of the square.
Duffy Square also has significance to us here at The Ride. The square spans between 47th and 46th street, where Broadway and 7th Avenue intersect. Our show comes up 46th street from 8th avenue, and stops at the light before turning onto 7th, for the first performance of the show, a New Year’s Eve recreation by one of our performers. Thousands of people stand in Duffy Square every year and all across Times Square to watch the world famous New Year’s Eve ball drop. On The Ride, you get a taste of that experience right in front of the statue of George M. Cohan, before heading off on the rest of our unique sightseeing theatre show.
So when next you find yourself in Times Square, head to the area between 46th and 47th streets on 7th avenue, and take a look at Father Francis P. Duffy, and consider his incredible contributions to our city, and indeed, the world. If someone asks you for directions to “Duffy’s Square”, you’ll do Father Duffy a service by pointing them in the right direction, and giving more people the knowledge of a great hero in our country’s history.