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Jefferson Market Garden

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The Villager, July 2015




On April 19, 1927, Mae West was fined $500 and sentenced to 10 days in prison on obscenity charges stemming from a production of “Sex,” a play she directed, starred in and co-wrote under the name Jane Mast.


Her trial was held at The Jefferson Market Courthouse and her first night of incarceration was in the adjacent Women’s House of Detention. The following day, The Scranton Times reported on her transfer to the workhouse on Welfare Island and her response to written questions regarding how she felt about her first night in prison. 


“Not so bad,” she wrote. “The inmates were very interesting. Will have enough material for ten shows. I didn’t think much of the bed.”


On the star’s remaining sentence, it has been reported that she dined nightly with the prison’s warden, was allowed to wear her silk panties, as opposed to the standard prison issue, and earned an early release for good behavior, which she remarked was “…the first time I ever got anything for good behavior.”


More recently, in 2004, David Duchovny made the movie, “House of D,” which depicted how the incarcerated women would call down to their lovers and family members on the street below.


What does all of this have to do with the tufted titmouse? This charming bird is one of the many animals that now reside in the Jefferson Market Garden, precisely where the Women’s House of Detention once stood.


According to the Audubon Society, “This tame, active crested little bird is common all year in eastern forests, where its whistled peter-peter-peter song may be heard even during midwinter thaws.”


Now celebrating 40 years since it saw its first flowers bloom, the Jefferson Market Garden has become an oasis for local residents and visitors alike. Though the land is owned by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, the garden is funded and maintained by volunteer efforts and donations from residents and visitors.


In an interview at the garden, George Paulos, its chairperson, said, “The bird garden was introduced a few years ago and has become a popular spot for local and international birdwatchers. The Manhattan branch of the Audubon Society has provided tips, and we are at a point where we can be designated as a migration station.” 


Though the garden is best known for its flowers, Paulos added that, “The koi pond is one of the most popular spots for visiting children. It operates year-round with a heater to keep the fish safe through the winter.”


For Villager readers without computer access Paulos, assured, “There are free brochures available at the front gate, as well as postcards designed by local artist Bill Thomas, who donates all profits from postcard sales to the garden. Also, thanks to the library, an N.Y.P.L. wireless can be accessed.”


Fish, fountains, horticulture and history are all good reasons to visit the garden. Another good reason may be to hear the unique mating song of the tufted titmouse, loosely translated as, “Come up and see me sometime.”


The Jefferson Market Garden is located on Greenwich Ave. between Sixth Ave. and W. 10th St. It is open afternoons, except Monday, weather permitting, from April through October. For more information and ways to support the garden, visit their Web site, .

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