Clinton Square, Syracuse, New York | Officially Marked Monument
Clinton Square is named for DeWitt Clinton, three-term mayor of New York City, two-term governor of New York State, and a leading figure in the creation of the Erie Canal. Downtown Syracuse’s central square, it is rich in history. Among many other things, it is the site of one of the first abolitionist "mob actions" in the North to free an imprisoned fugitive slave: the October 1, 1851, rescue of William "Jerry" Henry, remembered as the "Jerry Rescue." It is also the spot where, in September 1871, a fifteen-year-old L. Frank Baum may have witnessed a hot-air balloon ascension. Aeronaut C. C. Coe made a windswept ascension, landing some thirty miles to the east in Oneida, New York. Whether the teenaged Baum saw the balloon for himself or merely heard about it, Baum scholars suspect that this event inspired the scene of the Wizard’s departure from Oz by balloon in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Clinton Square began in 1825 at the junction of the Erie Canal, New York State’s early turnpike system, and the road to America’s largest salt works. In 1910, it was repurposed into a public square with the dedication of a Civil War monument. In 1924, the downtown section of the Canal was filled in and converted to a boulevard. Finally, in 2001, it was redesigned and rededicated as an integrated civic landscape.
This monument, added to Clinton Square in 2001, celebrates the October 1, 1851, rescue of William "Jerry" Henry, an escaped slave from Missouri. This rescue was a nationally significant victory for the abolitionist cause and helped set a pattern of Northern defiance of the Fugitive Slave Act. For more details, see Jerry Rescue Monument.
Hundreds watched as Prof. C. C. Coe of Rome, New York, launched his hot-air balloon New World from Clinton Square as part of a September 1871 balloon race. Note the Erie Canal, crossing the square from right to left. At this time, L. Frank Baum was living in Syracuse, aged fifteen. If he was not among the onlookers, he surely heard of the celebrated event, memories of which may have inspired the hot-air balloon scene in The Wizard of Oz.