There have been calls for urgent action after two children aged three and six were given an electrical shock by a fence at Mathews-Palmer Playground on Sunday. The youngsters were unhurt, but concerns over the safety of the fence and the park remain.
Kathleen Spiegel had taken her two grandchildren to the park when the incident happened. The children received electrical shocks as they ran through gaps in the fencing and scaffolding near the W46th Street entrance.
“My six-year-old said ‘Granny this fence is electric’ and told me that he got a shock. His brother said the same thing,” said Spiegel, who added that the children had tingling in their fingers even after they arrived back home. “There were no other after-effects but I figured it was a dangerous situation.”
A portion of fencing to block anyone from entering a construction site at 430 W46th Street had come apart, allowing the youngsters to get through. Work on the building began around 2018 when plaster had begun to fall off the wall that faced the playground — the scaffolding went up in early 2021.
The repairs also offered hope for the restoration of the decaying “Against Domestic Colonialism” mural. The artwork, which measures 60′ x 65′, was created by artist Arnold Belkin in 1972 and stands as one of the earliest community murals in the city. Its anti-gentrification message remains relevant today, decades after its original completion. Restoration artist Denise Penizzotto was optimistic about piggybacking on the wall repairs, and a community-led fundraising effort raised nearly $50,000 to restore the mural. This playground, no stranger to drama with historical incidents involving murder and connections to Paul Simon, stands at the intersection of New York’s cultural, social and artistic history.
Construction at the building has recently restarted after a long break, and David Stuart, the HK45/46 Block Association President, estimates the fence was installed “in the last week or so.”
He said that there had been some initial confusion over who was responsible for checking the fence, and whether the contractor or the Parks Department should resolve the situation. On Monday, Stuart was present when an electrician sent by the contractor tested the fences and surrounding area for electricity and found none. The fence was re-secured – but he remains concerned.
“We don’t know the cause, but we know it happened,” said Stuart. “We weren’t able to replicate it, but whatever the reason it happened could still exist.”
More Mathews-Palmer Playground News
Earlier this year, W52nd Street alongside DeWitt Clinton Park was cordoned off after dangerous “stray voltage” was identified on the sidewalk. Con Edison secured the area, where over five volts of contact electrical current was detected, potentially originating from nearby Manhattan Cruise Terminal lines.
New Yorkers have been vigilant about the threats from electricity since the death of New Yorker Jodie Lane in 2004. Lane, a 30-year-old psychology student, unknowingly stepped onto an electrified area of E11th Street while walking her two dogs and was killed by “stray voltage” caused by the electrical current’s interaction with snow and salt. Lane’s family sued the City of New York, settling for $7.2 million and creating the Jodie Lane Public Safety Foundation as a means of advocating for increased regulations around potentially deadly sidewalk voltage.
The risk of contact voltage is still present, however, as demonstrated by a February 2022 incident in which Hell’s Kitchen pup Hudson was shocked by an electrical current near the Silver Tower dog run.
Back at the Mathews-Palmer Playground, Stuart also has concerns about how sturdy the fence is and how close it is to the playground, fearing that kids will find a way through if they lose a ball behind it.
“I am absolutely livid because the safety with this stuff has been going on now for literally years and we’re talking about children — so our community has no patience when it’s the safety of kids,” said Stuart.
Construction at 430 W46th Street is expected to be finished at the end of the year.