The Mystery of the ‘Confederate Flags’ in the Times Square Subway Station

June 30, 2015 | Liam Mathews

In the Times Square subway station, there are mosaic tiles that, if you know what to look for, resemble Confederate flags. In a 2012 article in Civil War Times magazine, historian Dr. David J. Jackowe claimed that architect Squire J. Vickers installed the tiles as a tribute to then-New York Times publisher Adolph Ochs’ Southern heritage. Now, in this time when anti-Confederate flag sentiment is the highest its been in years, the New York Post dug up Jackowe’s post to troll of the New York Times, noting that Ochs’ mother was a Confederate supporter and getting people to talk about how offended they are by the tiles.

The Times shot back at the Post by writing that the Post forgot to mention that Ochs’ father fought for the Union and that the MTA said the tiles are not Confederate flags and that no one notices the tiles anyway. From far away, the mosaic certainly resembles a Confederate flag turned on its side. But up close it doesn’t. It looks like an “X” formation of tiles that has similar colors to the Confederate flag.

As entertaining as this Times-Post beef may be, neither of the publications answer the question: is that a Confederate flag or nah?

Circumstantial evidence points toward no. Jackowe does not do much to support his claim, mostly just claiming that because Adolph Ochs was from the South (before he bought the New York Times in 1896, Ochs owned the Chattanooga Times) and was sympathetic to Southern stuff, these Confederate flag tiles were placed as a tribute to him and how his newspaper made Times Square into a destination (Times Square became Times Square when the paper opened its office there in 1904, and a newly constructed subway station inside the building also sprang to life. Jackowe notes that tributes to individuals in subway tile mosaics were not unprecedented, as “Astor Place station is decorated with beavers, a reference to fur trader John Jacob Astor.” But if this is the case, why would Vickers choose such an oblique, obfuscated reference, as opposed to, say, a newspaper? Dr. David J. Jackowe does not reference any sources for his theory, so we’ve reached out to him for comment.

The MTA’s head of Arts and Design told the Times “there is no evidence that the geometric patterns, and colors used, indicated anything beyond ornamentation.” But of course she’d say that.

The only living person who may be able to answer this question is New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Adolph Ochs’ great-grandson. ANIMAL emailed him, but he hasn’t responded yet.

(Photos: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)