This "Purity"/"Virtue" statue is not to be confused with the 1915 film Purity by Miss Audrey Munson, or her famous statue of "Civic Fame" that still stands on top of the Municipal Building (still the tallest statue in Manhattan).
This triangular traffic island is named in honor of Father Francis P. Duffy, who after serving as chaplain to the "Fighting 69th" Division in World War I helped to clean up Hell's Kitchen. He was also Broadway's spiritual advisor, which is why his statue can be found here, next to a Celtic cross. Also here is George M. Cohan, forever giving his regards to Broadway.
In 1909, a 50-foot statue of Purity was erected here that lasted two months.
At the north end of the island is the TKTS booth, offering half-priced tickets to selected plays on the day of the show. See images.
5 October 1909, New York Times, pg. 1:
STATUE OF PURITY
FOR TIMES SQUARE
Heroic Figure of a Woman to
Typify the White City and
TOO LATE FOR FULTON SHOW
So Now It May Remain a Fixture at
Least for Several Months -- Built by
a Society by the City's Permission.
For the last ten days thousands of persons traveling up and down Times Square have been wondering what might be the meaning of the strange high scaffolding at the upper end of the square between Forty-fifth and Forty-sixth Streets, and the heroic-sized, snow-white figure growing up within it. Tow days ago the figure began to put on the face of a woman, whereupon the interest of Broadway concerning it grew more intense than ever.
Shopkeepers on both sides of the square, restauranters (sic) and hotel men, theatrical men and box office and ticket sellers questioned each other and every one they met, but no one knew just why or what the strange figure was to represent. Cigar stores and barrooms did a thriving business by merely introducing discussions of it.
The wideawake traffic policeman at that post tried his "sleuthiest" to unravel the mystery. Some of the storekeepers had said the figure was to be a Hudson or a Fulton. But the celebration passed, and the figure put on a woman's face. Others said it was to be a great white symbol of Purity to shine a moral upon the Great White Way. A newsboy assured the traffic man that it was to be another Statue of Liberty.
The traffic policeman and some few thousand other people inquired of the two laborers at work upon the huge plaster cast. One shook his head sadly; the other, a small Japanese, smiled like a Bret Harte Chinaman and declared:
"I don't know nothing. Find out. Good-bye."
Then he skipped into the scaffolding.
The Japanese workman would not tell who was honorable boss or honorable sculptor, not even hint of who might be the honorable figure. The policeman learned that a permit to erect a temporary statue had bee ngranted and suspected that it might be for political or election purposes of the powers above him, and did not inquire further.
A search yesterday, however, disclosed the identity and purpose of the great white lady in the scaffold, and to-night, when the lights begin to flicker on Broadway there will shine out in the heart of the city's twenty-four hour centre a snow-white lady of some fifty feet and eighty tons -- plaster, it is true, but full of moral and meaning -- to stand as the emblem of the city's purity and beauty, defending herself against the mud-throwers and slanderers that so often assail her.
The great white statue, which is to be called either "The Defence of New York" or "The Defeat of Slander," is being erected under a permit from the Bureau of Incumbrances, in accordance with a resolution passed by the Board of Aldermen on Sept. 14 and approved by the Mayor on Sept. 24, granting to the "Association for New York" on 111 Broadway permission to build and maintain such a statue at its own expense until Dec. 1, 1909.
At the office of the association, whose President is William Harmon Black, former Commissioner of Accounts, it was said yesterday that the original intention had been to unveil the huge emblem of civic pride and confidence in the city's integrity, in time for the Hudson-Fulton Celebration, so that others might see us as we sought to see ourselves; but that the Mayor's approval had come too late for that. The purpose of the association, it was said, is "to challenger indiscriminate abuse and criticism of New York City, to set forth her advantages as a place of residence for the citizen, as a point of production and distribution for the manufacturer, and as a mart for the merchant." The association, which was organized last Spring, has among its members S. P. McConnell, ex-President of the George A. Fuller Company; H. H. Raymond of the Cyde Steamship Line, THomas J. McGuire, Joseph F. Simmons, Chester A. Alexander, Floyd Charles Furlow, William H. Black, and Thomas W. Hotchkiss. Among the slanders and unjust criticism which it aims to put down, according to Mr. Black, are the frequent assertions that the city has reached its debt limit and has poor credit, and the aspersions constantly cast upon the integrity and honesty of the municipal authorities. This purpose, it is believed, can be served as well now as during the Hudson-Fulton Celebration; and the statue will therefore survive the occasion that gave rise to it.
"The figure will be fifty feet high, built of fifty barrels, or eight tons of plaster, at a cost of several thousand dollars," said Mr. Black yesterday. "It is the work of Leo Lentelli, a young Italian sculptor of this city, and will represent a tall and snow-white woman of majestic figure and mien, somewhat angry and even disgusted at the slander and unjust fault-finding she has been subject to.
"On her left arm she will bear a great white shield, on which is inscribed 'Our City,' and whereon, too, will be visible great dark blotches and spots to typify the mudslinging she had warded off. The statue will be cast into bold relief by strong searchlights cast upon it from the near-by Acme Building; and above her forehead will be a classic fillet, rimmed with soft blu electric lights."
Mr. Black said that there was no political motive behind the erection of the statue, and that it would not be used as a centre for political gatherings or speeches. It would simply, he said, stand as an artistic, silent exhortation to civic pride and confidence.
20 November 1909, New York Times, pg. 2:
MISS PURITY DISPLACED.
Back to the Dust Pile for Her, Election
A workman crawled on the neck of the eight-ton plaster Lady of Virtue at the head of Times Square yesterday afternoon, and hit her a heavy blow on the head with a hammer. A crowd gathered to see the huge white figure pass back to dust after so short a life.
Her last moments were typical of her life. Hardly had the first workman hit her over the head than three bill stickers rushed frantically from nearby theatres and began to plaster advertisements on the sides of the pedestal on which she had stood for a few weeks. All the words graven in the plaster base about the Association for New York standing for our fair city against defamers were blotted out by lurid sheets telling respectively about musical and plain comedy.
The first workman was presently joined by a second, who climbed on the shoulders of Miss Virtue and began to hammer away at her left arm, which held the shield with which she fended off the mud supposed to have been thrown against the city in the ante-election period.
As the pieces of Miss Virtue's upper half dropped around the base the bill stickers dodged around to save their heads. But they went on with their work. They calculated that they would get eight or ten hours' use of the perverted pedestal of the statue, anyway. Meantime the two destroyers kept up their work, and the crowd began to see how little there had been to Miss Purity all the time.
When the huge head had fallen in pieces to the street below it made a very small pile of white bits. The left arm which had held the buckler was a pathetically weak looking thing when the outer covering was knocked off. It was only a slender wooden stick, and the shield, which had looked so formidable, was but a circlet of wire pasted over with dried plaster of Paris.
Miss Purity has not stayed her full time at the head of Times Square. She had permission to remain there until early in December, but after the election she seemed to think that her work had been done. Tammany's defeat -- for she was a Tammany daughter -- must have made her sorrowful, and maybe she didn't care whether she liver her full span out or not.
Anyhow she goes back to the dust pile to-day.
17 December 1983, New York Times, pg. 14:
Pictures...of the "Virtue" statue in Longacre (Times) Square, erected in 1909 to "challenger indiscriminate abuse and criticism of New York City."