‘Sweethearts’ tour will tell park love stories

Diana Leidel will be your Washington Square Park-area love tour guide on Thurs., Feb. 14. This time, neither snow, nor rain, etc., will stop her, she vows. Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech

BY ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH | Romantics and cynics alike can “touch the heart of the Village,” learning about the famed enclave’s history of love, during a special walking tour on Thurs., Feb. 14.

The Sweethearts of Washington Square Park tour features 26 stops, each featuring a story of local love — from scenes from mainstream cinema to real-life affairs, some of them secret.

But the tour is neither cutesy nor salacious.

“I didn’t want to talk about someone with many boyfriends or girlfriends and was sexy,” said tour guide Diana Leidel.

Instead she wanted the talk really to be about love.

Leidel, who lives in Brooklyn, is an art director and former New York University assistant professor of graphic design and communications.

There will be, of course, some classic love stories mentioned on the tour. Such as the two-week fling that folk singers Bob Dylan Joan Baez spent together in 1964 at the Washington Square Hotel.

The park and its environs have featured prominently in some of Hollywood’s biggest hits, as Leidel will touch on during the tour.

For example, at the beginning of the 1989 romantic comedy “When Harry Met Sally,” Sally (Meg Ryan) drives fellow University of Chicago alum Harry (Billy Crystal) to New York since both happen to be moving there after graduation. Sally drops off Harry, and his two suitcases, right next to the Washington Square Park Arch. The pair say their goodbyes, certain they will never encounter their strange new travel companion again. Of course, as luck would have it, in a city of millions of people, they reconnect.

And there’s scene in the Woody Allen’s comedy “Annie Hall,” when Annie (Diane Keaton) and Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) argue on the sidewalk while walking along the northern part of the square.

A map of the Sweethearts of Washington Square Park walking tour shows all the romantic hot stops. Stop No. 2 is the Washington Square Hotel, where Bob Dylan and Joan Baez spent two weeks together. No. 13 is the studio where artists like Elaine Orr, wife of Writer E.E. Cummings, worked. Painter Edward Hopper and his wife, Jo Hopper, who was his only model, lived in an apartment on the top floor of the studio. These are just a few of the love stories the Sweethearts tour-goers will hear about.

But the tour is mostly filled with historic gems, like the story behind Jill Johnson and Jack Kerouac’s first date, which was set up by Village icon poet Allen Ginsberg; the park’s connection to the great love between playwright Eugene O’Neill and Louise Bryant; the complicated marriage between Edward and Jo Hopper, who lived at 3 Washington Square North; and the “amorous adventures” that happened at The Black Rabbit, a MacDougal St. speakeasy.

Leidel’s favorite part of the tour is telling the story of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok. The lovers met when Hickok, a reporter, was assigned to cover an event involving the Roosevelts at Washington Square Park. The two women were together from 1932 until Eleanor Roosevelt’s death.

This is the first love-themed tour that Leidel will lead. And the tiny tour guide — she stands just 5 feet tall — is determined. She had to cancel the edition scheduled for last Saturday due to low registration. But she vowed that low turnout or frigid temperatures would not stop her from “walking in love” on Valentine’s Day, the 14th, starting at 5 p.m. The “love laps” start at the northwest corner of Washington Square Park.

That said, she admits she never really thought much of the holiday. But a couple of friends of hers — who despite having been together for decades, still give each other Valentines — inspired her to make a holiday event that was a “more adult” version. Once she started researching the area’s “records of romance,” she found fascinating stories and was touched by some of things she discovered.

“I don’t think that most people tell the person that they love that they care for them,” Leidel said.

Perhaps the tour will inspire some to say, “I love you,” more often, she added.

For tickets and more information, visit www.eventbrite.com/e/sweethearts-of-washington-square .


3 Responses to ‘Sweethearts’ tour will tell park love stories

  1. Wow, what a lovely idea. Merely the story in The Villager brings so much history to light.
    Hope the tour is successful

  2. Thats super lovely! I hope your tour reaches great success. Keep it up!

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