The monument is “Dedicated to the many tourists that go missing every year in New York City.” (photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Battery Park at the southernmost tip of Manhattan is a monument-heavy site jam-packed with colossal bronzes commemorating victims of the 9/11 attacks, United States servicemen killed in World War II, immigrants, and others. But these days, a curious new monument dedicated to tourists who have purportedly lost their lives to wolf attacks in the city has become the park’s main attraction.

Located next to the SeaGlass carousel at the park, a sculpture made by New York-based artist Joseph Reginella depicts three blood-thirsty, fang-baring wolves piling over a frightened, camera-clad tourist. A plaque on the pedestal reads: “Dedicated to the many tourists that go missing every year in New York City and a reminder as to why the parks close at dusk.” The new monument, the plaque explains, is erected by the “Ed Koch Wolf Foundation” and the “NYC Fellowship.” Crazy? Yes. But the craziest part of this story is that not all parts of Reginella’s prank are fictional.

Worry not, wolf packs are not preying on tourists at the city’s parks at night. This part, however, is true: In 1981, New York City Mayor Ed Koch had an inventive plan to stop graffiti taggers from painting over subway cars in the city. Koch approved a city-funded plan to place guard dogs at train yards to ward off taggers. A flock of German shepherds released at the Corona subway yard in Queens proved to be successful at that. But Koch had bigger ideas. In an interview with La Guardia and Wagner Archives in 2011, the mayor revealed his proposal in the ’80s to unleash wolves to scare off the taggers. “Put in wolves because there’s no reported case of a wolf in the wild state ever attacking a human being in North America — it’s happened elsewhere, but not in North America,” Koch said. The advantage of using wolves, per Koch, is that they’d be menacing to taggers, but unlike dogs, they wouldn’t bite them.

Reactions varied from bewilderment and fear, to scorn and loud laughter.

In Reginella’s world, Koch’s unfulfilled plan is rendered a historical fact. “Captured from upstate New York and set loose in various borough depots, the wolves successfully kept taggers at bay until anti-graffiti technology eliminated the need for animals,” a faux public safety brochure that the artist distributes to park-goers reads. According to the brochure, the wolves have since migrated underground and have been living in the city’s tunnels for decades. After the sun sets, they go out to feed on unsuspecting tourists. “In fact, the NYPD chalks up the majority of missing tourist reports each year to the city’s subterranean canine inhabitants,” the brochure cautions and directs park-goers to Reginella’s fictional Ed Koch Wolf Foundation’s website for more information.

“Did lots of people die?” asked a tourist from Italy.

Reginella’s eye-catching monument, which has been appearing at various locations in the park since the end of September, drew the attention of almost every passerby when Hyperallergic was at the park. Reactions varied from bewilderment and fear, to scorn and loud laughter.

“This is quite strange,” said Thomas, a tourist from Argentina, in a suspecting tone. “I couldn’t imagine being attacked by a wolf here,” he said. Reginella, who disguised as a park dweller, laid out the story to the tourist in total seriousness. “Thank you for the information,” said Thomas and hurried away.

“Did lots of people die?” asked a tourist from Italy. When asked if he feels scared, he said, “A bit, yes.”

“But now it’s finished, yeah?” Adriana from the Netherlands, who’s on a four-day visit to the city with a friend, asked. Reginella insisted that the attacks are still happening. “Why do you think parks close at dusk?” he asked back. Adriana and her friend, both in their 60s, didn’t buy it, but they reported struggling with a wolf problem in their countryside town where three troublemaking wolves keep attacking farm sheep.

“It’s a bit dramatic,” said a young woman from France on a week-long visit. “It’s nice,” her less skeptical boyfriend suggested. “I don’t think it’s true, but maybe it was true before.”

The monument is a “reminder as to why the parks close at dusk.”

Reginella is a sculptor with a knack for creating urban legends. His past projects include memorials for the “Staten Island Ferry Octopus Disaster“, the “Brooklyn Bridge Elephant Stampede,” and the “NYC UFO Tugboat Abduction.”

“It’s a bit dramatic,” said a young woman from France on a week-long visit to the city.

“Each one of these projects is accompanied by a website, a documentary, and public service announcements, with facts that fortify this with concrete evidence,” Reginella told Hyperallergic with a wink.

Reginella funds his projects through his gift shop NYC Urban Legends. “That’s how I’m able to pay for these things,” he said. When asked if he’s worried that he’s frightening tourists he said, “Na, they’ll go home, they’ll Google it and find out.”

Joseph Reginella holding his public safety brochure near the monument.

Park authorities are exceptionally tolerant of the monument, partly because Reginella removes it at the end of every day. A Park Patrol officer who passed by the monument shook hands with the artist and moved on. “The officers seem to like it,” Reginella said. “If you just walk by it, and not pay it any attention, it looks like it belongs here.”

Reginella happens to have a personal history with Koch. Before he passed away in 2013, the mayor bought a sculpture from Reginella depicting his political rival Rudy Guliani plowing through a park, crushing merchants and artisans in his path. “Thank you for the sculpture,” Koch wrote to the artist in a letter. “You really captured his spirit.”

“If you just walk by it, and not pay it any attention, it looks like it belongs here,” said Reginella

“Knowing Ed Koch, I believe it; he’s kind of nuts,” said Tom from California, who was inspecting the monument with his wife Karen. “I don’t believe this, but then there are the wolves of Wall Street who destroyed the lives of a lot of people in New York,” said Karen and gestured toward the nearby financial district.

Look for the Ed Koch Wolf Foundation’s monument this weekend at Battery Park. But make sure you leave the premises before dusk falls.

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Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...

2 replies on “A Monument to Tourists Killed By Wolves in NYC Tells a Tall Tale”

  1. It’s very interesting how different and interactive this monument is. It is both humorous and ominous in the sense that it captures your attention and leaves tourists guessing. The fact that Reginella also makes faux websites and brochures to go along with his work is very memorable. #PAM2019F

    1. I can’t tell you how offensive I find this. Wolves are due dignity and respect as the noble wild animals who have families providing long term parental care for their young. To besmirch them this way in the name of art is Unforgiveable. As an aside there are eastern coyotes in central park and other parks throughout the borough’s. They are generally not dangerous as they eat small wild animals but they will grab your small dog if they get a chance. They are very adaptable to urban living and by the way their DNA is 30% wolf. We have many here in Upstate NY . They are eerily comforting neighbors. I love their howling .
      They occasionally grab a fawn when they are raising pups and cats on the loose but never bother people.
      I think this is not funny and a travesty. As an artist and wolf lover I resent it enormously. There are better ways to use your art to make a point.

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