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

New York Historical Society–A Great Place for a School Outing (and an Argument)

Newyorkhistoricalsociety

Looks like a bank…Guess what? It’s architects specialized in designing banks!

The New-York Historical Society (not to be confused with the Museum of the City of New York) at the corner of 77th Street and Central Park West is the oldest museum in New York City and predates the founding of the Metropolitan Museum by nearly 70 years. Its art holdings comprise more than 1.6 million works. Among them are a world-class collection of Hudson River School paintings, including major works by Thomas Cole and Frederick Church.

It’s proximity to my fictitious Central Park School in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, made it an easy choice as a location for a confrontation between my main character, Christopher Middleton, and his girlfriend, Ashley. What better place than a museum for an argument?

 

Central Park: A Gallery of Images

Yosemite Park

Olmsted and Vaux tried to capture the beauty of nature, so evident in the unique glory of our country…

In the original plan for Central Park (called ‘the Greensward Plan’) Olmsted and Vaux’s desire was that visitors would feel as though they were walking through a gallery of images, not unlike a series of paintings.

This was no accident. It ran in tandem to what was already going on in the art world since the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Early nineteenth century America was in desperate need of an artistic expression that was unique unto itself. This was not only due to the newness of the country but to the brewing conflict between the industrial north and the slave-based south. If such a unifying expression could be found, it was hoped that it might help assuage the ever-increasing tension between the two.

Central Park

…and bring it into an urban setting in a series of images akin to viewing a gallery of inspiring paintings…

The Hudson River School with its many talented artists, from Frederick Church to Thomas Cole, helped to fill this growing need.

They chose the natural beauty of the country as their focal point and elevated their romanticized images to realm of the Divine.

In their own landscape designs, Olmsted and Vaux picked up on this theme of Nature as our savior, and created a park to be viewed as a series of inspiring scenes or vistas.

Although the park has devoted more and still more space for recreational uses over the ensuing years, I try to underline this original intent throughout my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.

Thomas Cole painting

…like this one, by Thomas Cole, painted in 1836

 

Are There Really Eight Gates That Meet in Central Park?

Central Park

There are eighteen named gates that surround the five mile periphery of Central Park–eight of which bear the names of professions that Olmsted tried and abandoned in his lifetime.

Anyone who has read up to books Three and Four of my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, will know that Christopher Middleton, the main character, goes in search of a key that is buried where ‘the eight gates meet’ (something that he reads in his great grandfather’s diary).

But are there really eight gates that meet in the park?

In fact, there are eighteen gates, or entrances; and, no, they don’t meet anywhere in particular but are spread all over the park’s five mile periphery. However, there happen to be eight gates that have to do with the various professions that Olmsted attempted in his lifetime (and, in most cases, abandoned); and if one were to draw straight lines between those eight gates, they do, in fact, form a very small triangle near the obelisk behind the Met–an area where a key might be buried (smile).

Such a compelling detail was something that I couldn’t pass up adding in my book, and decided to incorporate it into Christopher’s quest for the ultimate truths in his life. At the same time, it gave me the opportunity to add yet another historical dimension  by allowing me to describe Olmsted’s professions that the reader might not otherwise come to know on his or her own.

 

Is Something Really Buried Under Cleopatra’s Needle in Central Park?

Obelisk in Central Park

Here’s an artist’s rendition of the obelisk being installed in the park. He put the Brooklyn Bridge, completed a few years earlier, in the background, though the bridge would not have been visible from the park when the obelisk was installed.

The Obelisk, nicknamed Cleopatra’s Needle, is the oldest man-made object in Central Park…by around four thousand years!

It is one of a pair that were commissioned for Heliopolis on the banks of the Nile in 1450 BC by an Egyptian pharaoh who wished to celebrate his 30 years of reign. The twin monuments were then moved to Alexandria in 18AD where they remained until one obelisk was moved to London in 1878. The second, erected two years later in Central Park, was offered by the Egyptian Khedive to America in exchange for funds to modernize his country.

As you can see from the picture to the right, moving the 69-foot, 220-ton granite monument from Egypt to New York was an arduous and delicate process. It took 112 days from the time the Obelisk first landed on the banks of the Hudson until it reached its future position in the park. Laborers inched the monument on parallel beams, aided by roll boxes and a pile-driver engine. Thousands turned out on January 22, 1881 to marvel as the obelisk was turned upright.

Obelisk in Central Park

The Obelisk as it appears today. I wonder if Pharaoh Thutmose III ever dreamed that his monument would end up in a park on the other side of the world?

To add some mystery to an already mysterious object, a well-known journalist named William Henry Hurlburt buried a time capsule beneath the monolith. In his box, he included an 1870 U.S. census, a Bible, a Webster’s Dictionary, the complete works of Shakespeare, a guide to Egypt, and a facsimile of the Declaration of Independence. Last but not least, another smaller box was placed in the capsule by the man who orchestrated the purchase and transportation of the Obelisk. He will probably be the only person to know its contents…at least until some archaeologists decide to excavate the remains of New York City some four thousand years from now!

Buskers In Central Park: An Unexpected Treat

No blog on Central Park would be complete without mentioning the buskers that frequent the Promenade, the Terrace, and the Castle.

Their talent, virtuosity, and, on occasion, genius, add a new dimension to the cultural milieu of the park.

Though Olmsted and Vaux never would have imagined such performances taking place beyond the confines of the Naumberg Bandshell where formal concerts were sometimes held, it demonstrates the flexibility of their original design that it could accommodate such changes in the future.

In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, Christopher Middleton, the main character, happens upon an unusual performance on the Bethesda Terrace, conducted by none other than the Mad Hatter himself!

Here’s one of the many performances that take place along the Mall on a sunny afternoon:

Summerstage, New York Marathon, Rock Concerts, Shakespeare–How Much More Can You Fit Into a City Park?

New York Marathon

Feeling claustrophobic? The New York Marathon will test you to the max.

How many different free cultural activities can you fit inside a city park?

If you want to know the answer, you needn’t look any further than Central Park in Manhattan.

First, you have all of the free performing arts festivals such as Central Park Summerstage and the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, which take place every summer and are free admission.

Add to that the New York Marathon, an annual event since 1970 which has ballooned to over 50,000 participants, and traditionally ends in Central Park.

Shakespeare in the Park

Shakespeare in the Park with the Castle in the background…pretty magical, no?

Then there’s Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater which features the best of Shakespeare and has been attended by over five million spectators since its opening in 1962 (also free on a ‘first come first serve’ basis).

Speaking of the  60s, let’s not forget the many free rock concerts such as Simon and Garfunkle, Carole King, America, Elton John…the list goes on and on.

Simon and Garfunkle concert

A mere 500,000 people attended a concert bu Simon and Garfunkel in 1981!

But if you think the list ends there, think again; which is why I had to be extremely selective in deciding which free cultural events to include in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.

 

 

Frederick Law Olmsted: The Revered Father of Landscape Architecture

Portrait_of_Frederick_Law_Olmsted

Portrait of Frederick Law Olmsted

In the 19th Century, there simply was no profession called Landscape Architecture. Law, Business, and Medicine–yes. Landscaping, however, fell under the auspices of horticulture, while architecture was a profession unto itself.

Given that it had to be created out of thin air, it’s no wonder it took some time for Frederick Law Olmsted to discover the passion that was to become its seed.

In fact, it happened almost by chance. He was at loose ends (as usual) and in sore need of money when he heard of a competition to create a plan for a park in the middle of New York City.

Calvert Vaux, a respected architect, asked if Olmsted might like to partner with him and submit a proposal. The answer was an immediate ‘yes’, and thus began one of the most amazingly productive partnerships and careers of the 19th Century which, quite literally, changed the landscape of America forever.

Making Frederick Law Olmsted’s Christopher’s great, great, great grandfather is, of course, completely fictitious, as explained in the preface of Central Park Story Book One. Even so, I wanted to see Olmsted’s legacy carried on in spirit. Hence, the character of Christopher Middleton was born!

 

Serendipity’s Shot at the World’s Most Expensive Sugar High!

World's most expensive dessert

Where’s the ice cream?

Forget about Christopher’s favorite triple fudge chocolate ice cream sprinkled with Godiva chocolate bits and gummy bears. Get a load of this over-the-top dessert served at Serendipity III to the tune of $1000! (Yes, that’s a one with three zeros after it!)

The description alone is worth at least a dollar or two: ‘made with 5 scoops of the Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream, Madagascar vanilla covered in 23K edible gold leaf, drizzled with the world’s most expensive chocolate, Amedei Porcelana, and covered with chunks of Chuao chocolate. It is suffused with exotic candied fruits from Paris, gold dragees, truffles and Marzipan Cherries and topped with a tiny glass bowl of Grand Passion Caviar. It’s sweetened and infused with passion fruit, orange, and Armagnac. The sundae is served in a baccarat Harcourt crystal goblet with an 18K gold spoon, a petite mother of pearl spoon, and topped with a gilded sugar flower by Ron Ben-Israel.’

World's most expensive dessert

Here’s seconds, though I still don’t see the ice cream.

Had enough? If not, they serve another sundae that costs a mere $25K (I’m not bothering with all the zeros) and needless to say, set another world record. For myself, I think I’ll stick with one of the thousand dollar variety (I’m on a tight budget these days).

To tell you the truth, I ate at Serendipity with my mother on a special occasion (I forget what it was). I think I wanted a banana split but wasn’t sure my mother could afford it, so I ordered a scoop of vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce instead. I ended up getting the banana split as I recall. That to me was enough to set a world record. The desserts that Christopher and Ashley enjoy in my young adult fantasy series Central Park Story or the over the top dessert to the right never even came to mind. But I loved the banana split.

 

World's most expensive dessert

Enough! I’m totally sick, but I finally found the ice cream. It was melted on the bottom!

 

 

Bethedsa Terrace–the Heart and Soul of Central Park

The Bethesda Terrace and Fountain

A view of the Bethesda Terrace and the Angel of the Waters with the Ramble in the background

It amazes me that the only formal element that Olmsted and Vaux envisioned for Central Park is the Mall that leads to the Bethesda Terrace. The rest of the park is, quite simply, devoted to nature.

When I looked at thirty-odd original submissions in the competition to create America’s premier urban park, most of them were full of formal elements–everything from parade grounds to Eurpean-style gardens!

It’s a tribute to Olmsted and Vaux that they were able to capture the spirit of their fledgling country through their realization that nature was what set it apart.

That’s what makes the Mall and the Terrace true works of genius. They lead one through a kind of open air church to the altar of Nature Herself.

There’s too much to say on this subject to fit in a simple blog. In fact, it’s part of what inspired me to write my young adult adventure series Central Park Story,  but in a single stroke, Vaux managed to bring man and Nature back together in the true spirit of harmony and peace.

The Underground Arcade at the Bethesda Terrace

The mysterious and beautiful arcade in front of the terrace from where one can view the Angel of the Waters and the Ramble beyond

He even suggested that the statue of the Angel that graces the terrace be dedicated to Love, and one can understand why. Only love could have formed such a work of simplicity with the potential to draw man and nature back together as one.

As you will hopefully discover when you read in Central Park StoryBook Two, this isn’t lost on Christopher in his search for meaning in his own chaotic life.

 

Homelessness in New York City

Homeless man in Central Park

Homeless man in Central Park (2014). Could be you, or me.

Over 100,000 people go homeless in NYC every single year. Of those, at least 38,000 live in shelters.

This is a statistic from 2003, over ten years ago. Since then, the number of homeless in shelters and on the street has nearly doubled!

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes feel more kinship with the homeless than with the rest of humanity. Their life seems more real to me because it’s more immediate and desperate. At certain key points of my life, I’ve also felt I was only a few steps away from where they were. As a struggling writer, I may find myself in that position again.

Probably the first thing we can do to help solve this ongoing problem is to realize that, in a very real sense, we are them and they are us. That, at least, would be a start.

I purposefully contrasted the scene of Christopher and Ashley having dessert at Serendipity in Central Park Story Book One with Christopher running into Old As Time, a homeless man who lives in the park, in order to show the seeming unreality of one versus the hard reality of the other.

May we have eyes to see every man and woman as ourselves. Otherwise, the problem isn’t with the homeless, the problem is us.