Archive for the ‘Central Park Story – Book Four’ Category:

What is a Genius Loci?

genius-loci

A Genius Loci as depicted in Roman times

It turns out that there is no one answer to the question ‘What is a genius loci?’

In classical Roman religion, a genius loci was the protective spirit of a place. It was depicted in religious iconography as a figure holding attributes such as a cornucopia, patera (libation bowl) or snake.

In contemporary usage, genius loci refers to a location’s distinctive atmosphere, or a “spirit of place” rather than a distinct guardian spirit.

The British poet, Alexander Pope, made the genius loci an important principle in landscape design with the following lines from Epistle IV, to Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington:

Consult the genius of the place in all;
That tells the waters or to rise, or fall;
Or helps th’ ambitious hill the heav’ns to scale,
Or scoops in circling theatres the vale;
Calls in the country, catches opening glades,
Joins willing woods, and varies shades from shades,
Now breaks, or now directs, th’ intending lines;
Paints as you plant, and, as you work, designs.

Pope’s verse laid the foundation for one of the most widely agreed principles of landscape architecture: that landscape designs should always be adapted to the context in which they are located.

Of equal importance, in modern works of fantasy, a genius loci is an intelligent spirit or magical power that resides in a given place. Genius loci are usually portrayed as being extremely powerful and very intelligent, though there is a great deal of variation on these points.

In my young adult fantasy series, Central Park Story, I chose to portray the Genius Loci that Christopher Middleton encounters at the Bethesda Terrace as the innermost genius of nature in its omnipresent form.

 

Central Park as an Embodiment of the American Dream in the 19th Century

american dream

Exactly what is the American dream today…?

In his definition of the American Dream, James Truslow Adams stated that ‘life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to his or her ability or achievement’ regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.

This may have been the American dream of 1931, but was this always the American Dream, or did it develop out of an earlier version?

In the early part of the 19th Century, the dream that drove most Americans was a sense of rugged individualism–an individualism that had just freed itself from the restrictions of European life. As the gold rush and the industrial revolution took hold, the idea of quick riches and the ‘self-made man’ made its way into that dream.

american_dream

and does it still exist?

In their design of Central Park, Olmsted and Vaux’s three separate ways–one for pedestrians, one for horses, and one for carriages with their well-heeled occupants–became a visible reminder of how that dream was shifting.

Pedestrians could pass either over or underneath those on horses and in carriages without obstruction, yet with a clear view of lifestyle that they aspired to themselves.

What better illustration for the changing nature of the American dream than this?

Not only was Olmsted and Vaux’s solution to the park’s daily usage practical, but it ran parallel to the American dream as it was gradually altering during their own lifetime.

In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, I sought to take that dream one step further by suggesting that only when everyone (not just a select few) wins together, can the American dream be fully realized.

Time will tell if this will end up as the new paradigm, or the dream was, well, for want of a better word, only a dream.

The Eighteen Gates of Central Park: From Concept to Reality (Over 100 Years Later!)

womens gate

What could be so humble and unassuming as this inscription to the Women’s Gate at 72nd Street and Central Park West?

The last touch in the construction of Central Park was the naming of it’s various entrances, called ‘gates’.

When we think of ‘gates’ we generally think of something ornate, even elaborate, but these ‘gates’ or entrances, of which there are eighteen, are humble indeed.

If one isn’t on the alert, one can pass their inscriptions without even noticing they are there (see photo to the right).

This, however, is what makes them so wonderfully unique, for they become an expression, not of pomp and circumstance, but of the simple democratic principles on which Central Park was laid.

Their names, like their inconspicuous placement, are equally humble: Boys, Women’s, Strangers’, Hunters’, Mariners’, Engineers’, Scholars, Artists’, Artisans’, Warriors’, Pioneers’…to name just a few.

The city commissioners decided that using street numbers wasn’t in keeping with the spirit of a public park and so named them after the various professions and occupations most common at the time.

Strangely, the vast majority of the names were never carved at their assigned places until 1999, over one hundred years later. Quite likely, it had to do with lack of private funding, since the city felt it was something that should be born by private interests. In any case, the original names were finally inscribed (by private interests) according to the original intent.

I found it so compelling that several of them had to do with the various professions that Olmsted himself tried (and later abandoned) in his lifetime, that I decided to make them a theme in Books Three and Four of my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.

 

A Secret Staircase in the Underground Arcade?

Central Park Arcade

It’s not hard to imagine a secret staircase appearing in one of the arches along the walls, no?

Probably not. Still, it doesn’t take much of an imagination to think of a hidden staircase suddenly appearing in place of the trompe l’oeils that currently grace the inner walls of the arcade.

If you want to find out where such an imaginary staircase might lead, I invite you to read my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, and find out!

Is There a Hidden Logic to the Placement of the Gates in Central Park?

Pioneers Gate

The Pioneers Gate at the north end of the park opens onto a vista of water and hills reminiscent of our country’s open terrain

The naming of the gates on the east and west side of the park is still a puzzle to me.

For instance, was the All Souls’ Gate next to a church and the Boys’ Gate near a boys school? Perhaps there was no logic other than they filled out the various occupations and professions common at the time of the park’s construction and, hence, their placement was irrelevant.

One aspect of their placement, however, is clear: the gates at the north end (Warriors, Farmers, and Pioneers) refer to our country’s heritage as settlers, while those on the south (Scholars, Artists, Artisans)  refer to more urban occupations.

It is important to remember that the area around the park was still underdeveloped prior to the 1850s. The bulk of the city was contained in an area below what is now 42nd Street and only crept north both during and after the Civil War, so it was natural that the south end of the park be associated with more urban professions and the north with those that would take place beyond the confines of the city.

In his original design of the park, Olmsted intended the north end to be reminiscent of the Adirondacks, an area settled only a few generations beforehand, while most of the park’s formal elements (the Mall, the Terrace, the Castle, the Dairy, etc) were placed toward the south where the majority of the inhabitants lived.

An interesting side note to the naming of the gates is that at least eight of them had to do with professions Olmsted attempted with varying degrees of success (Scholars, Artists, Engineers, Miners, Mariners, Farmers, Warriors, and Pioneers), and are evenly distributed along the periphery, perhaps indicating Olmsted’s own hand in their placement…something that I was able to weave into a mystery in Book Three of my young adult series, Central Park Story.

 

Homeless in Central Park During the Great Depression

Central Park Homeless Encampment

A homeless encampment at the north end of the park in the early 1930s. Will it happen again?

Imagine strolling through Central Park and stumbling across an encampment for the homeless.

Such an encampment actually existed during the first years of the Great Depression (see pic to the right).

Times were tough, and people were desperate (sound familiar?).

Even though public sentiment was firmly on the side of the Hooverville residents, the Parks Commissioner was forced to raze it due to lack of sanitary conditions.

With homelessness in the city having recently topped 60,ooo for the first time ever (2015), it’s not that hard to imagine something similar happening today.

For this reason, I have tried to highlight the problem of homelessness in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.

 

The Naming of the Gates from 1862 to 1999…Talk About a Time Lapse!

artists-gate

The various gates to the park were meant to be unobtrusive yet, at the same time, inviting.

In 1862, the NYC Board of Commissioners decided to give names to the various ‘gates’ or entrances of Central Park. Most of the names were never carved in their designated places but nevertheless persisted in subsequent maps.

There are 18 original names in all: Artisans’, Artists’, Boys’, Children’s, Engineers’, Farmers’, Girls’, The Gate of All Saints, Hunters’, Mariners’, Merchants’, Miners’, Pioneers’, Scholars’, Strangers’, Warriors’, Women’s and Woodmen’s.

Those few that were actually carved include the Scholars’ Gate at 60th Street and Fifth; the Engineers’ Gate at 90th Street and Fifth; the Mariners’ Gate at 85th Street and Central Park West; the Inventors’ Gate at 72nd Street and Fifth; the Children’s Gate at 64th Street and Fifth Avenue and the ’76th Street’ Gate at 76th Street and Fifth.

Mr. Moses, a city commissioner, added the  numerical ’76th Street’ gate to the park in the 1950s, violating an explicit proviso in the 1862 report by the park’s commissioners that clearly stated: ”The monotonous numerical system used to distinguish the thoroughfares of New York is at once felt to be unsuitable for park use.”

Mr. Moses also changed the name of Children’s Gate at 72nd Street to the Inventors’ Gate. Just beyond this gate, a statue of Samuel F. B. Morse, the inventor of the telegraph, was added, and a new Children’s Gate was designated further south next to the zoo.

The names that hadn’t been carved, altered, or moved, were finally added in 1999 under the direction of the Central Park Conservancy.

Since many of the names refer to professions that Olmsted actually took part in himself (eight out of eighteen, according to my count!), one assumes he had at least some input into their actual naming. Hence, I made use of the various gates in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, by having them refer to specific occupations Olmsted engaged in during his lifetime and weaving them into my plot.

 

What Did Olmsted Do Before Creating Central Park?

FrederickLawOlmsted

Frederick Law Olmsted already eyeing his next career

It might be easier to answer the question: what didn’t Olmsted do before designing Central Park?

To say he was a late-bloomer is an understatement. He bounced from one failed career to another well into his thirties. Add to that his entrenched restlessness, and you have a formula for a near endless array of attempted occupations.

I count at least eight: student (he dropped in and out of school for at least a decade), farmer (attempted twice, then abandoned altogether), sailor (all the way to China and back on a merchant vessel that almost mutinied), writer (books ranging from his travels in England to slavery in the South of the US), head of the United States Sanitary Commission (the precursor to the Red Cross that aided the wounded Union soldiers in the Civil War), mining supervisor (until the company went belly-up in a scandal) and, last but not least, landscape architect.

Since there was no profession that went by the name of landscape architecture in the mid-nineteenth century (Olmsted’s son, Rick, spearheaded the first graduate program of landscape architecture long after his father’s death) then you can add to the list of Olmsted’s occupations, artist and engineer, both wrapped into one.

To help illustrate Olmsted’s circuitous career path, I have Christopher Middleton, the main character in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, run through a similar maze of adventure that echo what Olmsted attempted during his own lifetime.

 

The The Four Seasons Restaurant: An Iconic Manhattan Destination

The Four Seasons Restaurant

The Four Seasons Restaurant sans the Rothko paintings (Rothko withdrew from his commission due to the pretentiousness he saw in the establishment)

The Four Seasons Restaurant, situated in mid-town Manhattan and designed by world-famous architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, is associated with a number of culinary milestones.

It is credited with introducing the idea of seasonally-changing menus to America. It was also the first destination restaurant to print its menus in English. Finally, it was the first restaurant in the US to cook using fresh, wild mushrooms rather than the dried offerings that were more common in the 1950s.

Just as it is know for its culinary milestones, the restaurant is also known for well-heeled clientele and its high visibility, power lunches.

I decided to highlight the restaurant in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, in order to bring out the sharp divisions between the powerful and the poor in the US.

Perhaps this is why Rothko, the famous modernist painter, when asked to create a series of paintings for the interior of the famed restaurant, said that he wanted to make “something that will ruin the appetite of every son-of-a-bitch who ever eats in that room….” And he added that he hoped his painting would make the restaurant’s patrons “feel that they are trapped in a room where all the doors and windows are bricked up, so all they can do is butt their heads forever against the walls.”

Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address–A Real Show-Stopper!

abraham-lincoln-secondinauguration

It is chilling to think that the conspirators who will kill Lincoln only a few days after his second inaugural address are present at his speech. Even John Wilkes Booth himself is visible in a panoramic shot of this same photograph!

..at least toward the end when he eloquently states:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

A few days later, Lincoln would be shot dead by an assassin’s bullet.

In my young adult adventure story, Central Park Story, I have my main character, Christopher Middleton, echo these same sentiments of forgiveness and charity after being faced with a similarly unavoidable conflict.