Union Square is noted for its impressive equestrian statue of George Washington, by Henry Kirke Brown and unveiled in 1856, the first public sculpture erected in NYC since the equestrian statue of George III in 1770, and the first American equestrian sculpture cast in bronze. Other statues in the park include the Marquis de Lafayette, Abraham Lincoln and the James Fountain, a Temperance fountain with the figure of Charity who empties her jug of water, aided by a child. A newer addition is a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the southwest corner of the park, added in 1986, to mark Union Square's history of social activism.
The park has historically been the start or the end point for many political demonstrations. In 1861, soon after the fall of Fort Sumter, it was the site of a patriotic rally of perhaps a quarter of a million people that is thought to have been the largest public gathering in North America up to that time. Union Square is, and was, a frequent gathering point for radicals of all stripes to make speeches or demonstrate. On September 5, 1882, in the first Labor Day celebration, a crowd of in excess of 10,000 workers paraded up Broadway, and filed past the reviewing stand in Union Square.
In the days and weeks following the appalling events of September 11, 2001, Union Square became a primary public gathering point for mourners. People created spontaneous candle and photograph memorials in the park and vigils were held to honor the victims.
In 1978, the Council on the Environment of NYC established the Greenmarket program, which provided regional small farmers with opportunities to sell their produce in open-air markets in the city. The most famous and successful is the Union Square Greenmarket, held Mondays, Wednesdays, Friday, and Saturdays between 8am and 6pm year round attracting 250,000 customers a week who purchase 1,000 varieties of fruit, vegetables, plants and related items.
Union Square is also well known for its Christmas market, which is held November 23 through until December 24th. Temporary kiosks are filled by over 100, artisans, who sell items ranging from candles and perfumes to knitted scarves and high-end jewelry.