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

Bet You Didn’t Know Even Half of These Amazing Facts About Central Park

Painting of Central Park dated 1863

A pictorial rendering of Central Park dated 1863

I spent several years researching Central Park for my ongoing young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, and, in the process, I came across a number of features of the park that surprised and, in some cases, shocked me.

Here are a few of them, and I’d be most curious to know if you were aware of any of them yourself:

–The Mall is the only formal aspect of the park, the rest of the park being devoted to nature.

–The Mall points due north (the rest of the city points north east, so the Mall is at an angle to the actual grid of the city).

–There are three waterfalls in the park, all of them run artificially by hidden pumps.

–The Ramble Lake is terraced with concrete and is only seven feet deep in the middle (it used to be a swamp). This was done to protect skaters when it was used as a skating rink from the 1860s to the 1950s.

–A cave was discovered in the Ramble when the park was under construction. It was a popular tourist attraction until the 1920’s when someone was found murdered there, and it was finally sealed. It was called the Indian Cave because it was assumed to have been used by Indians as a shelter before New York was settled by white men.

–A village of freed slaves once existed in the area near Belvedere Castle, and was abandoned in the 1850s when the park was being built.

–More dynamite was used in the construction of Central Park than was used in the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War.

–A casino once stood where the Naumberg Bandshell stands today. It was frequented by the mayor (Jimmy Walker) as well as a by gangsters, and was only torn down in the Great Depression under Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. Its menu was more expensive than that of the Plaza Hotel at 59th Street and Central Park South (a rib steak cost a whopping one dollar!)

–A herd of sheep used to graze in the Sheep Meadow but were removed during the Great Depression when people started slaughtering them for food.

–General George Washington’s main headquarters was once located next to the Harlem Meer in the northeastern end of the park (Fort Fish). Washington was forced to abandon it under threat by the British and didn’t return to reclaim New York until after the Revolutionary War was over. (He was made president in Federal Hall on Wall Street).

–an actual fort (block house) still stands in the northwest corner of the park at 110th Street. It was built in 1812 to help defend the city from the British. The British never came, but the block house remains there to this day.

–The north end of the park was designed to resemble the Adirondack region of New York, a region that was popular with the wealthy as a location for their summer homes.

–The northeastern side of the park was used as an encampment by Union troops during the Civil War and housed an orphanage called St. Vincent’s where Frederick Law Olmsted and his family once lived.

And the list goes on…but at least it gives you a taste about what an amazing cultural treasure the park really is!

Belvedere Castle in Central Park

View of Central Park today (2015)

 

 

Montessori Schools and the Future of Education

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori was an amazing educator who emphasized engaging and exploration as opposed to being spoon-fed information

More than 100 years ago, Dr. Maria Montessori, Italy’s first female physician, inspired the birth of a worldwide educational movement.

Drawing upon her scientific background and clinical understanding, Dr. Montessori observed how young people learn best when engaged in purposeful activity rather than being fed information. She recognized that children’s cognitive growth and development requires the construction of an educational framework that respects individuality and fulfills the needs of the ‘whole child.’

Her pioneering work created a blueprint for nurturing all children— from gifted to learning disabled—to become self-motivated, independent, and life-long learners.

Throughout my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, education is a theme. I didn’t intend for my books to be only amusing or exciting (of course,  I tried to make them that, as well!). I wanted them to pique the imagination as well as help the reader come to terms with issues, such as education, in their broadest sense.

 

Thoreau’s Walden–Not Your Typical Backyard Camping Trip

Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond

Thoreau’s cabin near Walden Pond

Walden, a book by by noted Transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau,  is part personal declaration of independence, part social experiment, and part manual for self-reliance. Published in 1854, it details Thoreau’s experiences over the course of two years, two months, and two days in a cabin he built near Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts.

By immersing himself in nature, Thoreau hoped to gain a more objective understanding of society through personal introspection which, in many ways is what happens to Christopher Middleton, the main character in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.

Of course, it wouldn’t be possible without a little imagination and fantasy mixed in, but I wanted to prove to my readers, both young and old, that there are no limitations when it comes to nature.

 

Skateboarding in Central Park in 1965

skateboarding

Skateboarding in Central Park in 1965 before anyone knew what to wear in the sport

You probably think you’ve seen it all when it comes to New York, but New Yorkers like to have the last word on every subject–skateboarding being no exception.

In the pic to the right, a well-heeled New Yorker takes a ride on a board in Central Park well before skateboarding became ‘cool’. And, in case you’re wondering what New Yorkers might have come up with regarding the final word in skateboarding, get a load of this:

School Rankings: What’s Really Behind the Numbers?

groton school

Groton School outside of Boston which I attended from grades 8-12 followed the same boring conveyor-belt approach to education that you find in the rest of the country–only in this case, for the highly-privileged few

In order to get a high ranking for a private school these days, you need to offer a low student-to-faculty ratio, a challenging curriculum, and an excellent reputation for college prep.

You could say the same about colleges and grad school rankings.

Add to this the more general principle that input equals output, meaning if you select the right quality of student coming in, the product coming out will be consistent with your ranking, and voila, you have a formula for a fabulous ranking!

But is this what education is truly about?

I attended some of the best schools in the country, but came out the other end realizing that a fabulous education isn’t just for the carefully selected few in our society; it’s a basic human right, and everyone (I mean EVERYONE) has an inner genius that is fully capable of being unfolded, if given the right set of circumstances in which to blossom.

This is why I tried to interweave the theme of a more natural system of education throughout my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, and emphasize that everyone’s needs for an excellent education can and should be fulfilled–not just those of the privileged few.

 

Cockatrices: Coming Face-to-Face With One’s Worst Fears

th

The cockatrice . . . not your typical house pet!

Behind every myth lies a truth, and the the myth of the cockatrice is no exception.

With the head of a rooster, the body of a snake, and the wings of a bat, this mythical creature is a composite of all that we fear most.

When I chose it as an embodiment of all the evil that my main character, Christopher Middleton, learns to face in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, I was looking to add a degree of excitement. However when I dug a little deeper and found that the nasty creature can only be killed by looking at its own reflection, the truth behind it gradually struck home: the only way that we can truly get rid of our worst fears is to turn around and face them.

Cleopatra’s Needle Behind the Met: Was it Really Cleopatra’s Needle?

Cleopatra's Needle

This is how it looked in 1881 in Alexandria, Egypt

Thutmose III would have taken offense at hearing it called ‘Cleopatra’s Needle’. The obelisk was over 1000 years old by the time Cleopatra was even born!

Thutmose III made this monument as an everlasting testament to his reign, and he clearly had a high opinion of himself because its inscriptions compare him to the gods.

Unfortunately, even Thutmose’s desire for immortality proved no match for the wear and tear of the industrial revolution. After it was transported from Alexandria to Central Park and dedicated in 1881, it took only a few decades of acid rain to erase a great deal of his claims.

Cleopatra's Needle

…and now in Central Park, NYC.

Regardless, I make full use of it as a place of mystery in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.

 

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.