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

The Indians Who Lived in Manhattan Were Happy to Get Rid of It!

Manhattan then and now

If you find it hard to imagine what Manhattan looked like in the 1600s versus today, here’s something that might help…

The tribe that inhabited the island of Manhattan in the 1600s were called the Lenape, the Lenape being part of the Delaware nation who inhabited the lower Hudson Valley.

Did the Dutch really purchase the island of Manhattan from the Lenape for a mere $20 in worthless beads and leave them holding an empty bag? Not by a long shot. Manhattan, which meant ‘hill island’ in the Lenape’s native language, wasn’t of much value to them, so they exchanged it for iron pots and tools that had considerably more use at the time.

It was a bargain then and no different than any other bargain that has been struck in New York City since.

manhattan

I’m sure the Lenape Indians must have thought the Dutch a little bit crazy for wanting the swampy island of Manhattan!

What I find interesting is why the Indians wanted to live there in the first place. The island was rocky and swampy and had little strategic importance for them as it did for the Europeans.

Frederick Law Olmsted probably had the same reaction when he first laid eyes on the desolate parcel that was eventually to become Central Park. However, with the help of several tons of dynamite and ten thousand workers he somehow managed to turn it into the urban oasis that it is today–one in which Christopher Middleton, the main character in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story,  takes later refuge in himself.

 

Huddlestone Arch: Defying Gravity for 150 Years

huddlestone-arch

Huddlestone Arch is supported by gravity alone…simply amazing!

I began this post thinking I’d say something about Huddlestone Arch and leave it at that.

Built from uncut boulders—one of which is said to weigh 100 tons—it is supported not by mortar, concrete, or metal but by gravity and friction alone.

However, when I looked at the other bridges (33 in all) that Calvert Vaux designed so that Olmsted’s vision of 3 separate ways (one for pedestrians, one for horses, and one for carriages) could function, I realized what a symphony of designs he created.

The Iron Bridge

The Iron Bridge near the reservoir–like listening to a beautiful piece of music.

I have included pictures of just three of his bridges (Huddlestone Arch, The Iron Bridge, and Bow Bridge) to show you the variety and the creativity that he put into each one. The only word I can think of to adequately describe them is ‘music’.

I imagine Vaux himself must have had music running through his head when he put pen to paper to create them.

bow-bridge

And the most symphonic of them all! Bow Bridge, likened to the bow of a violin.

I’ll have to think of a way to include more of them in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, to do them the justice they deserve. For now, I am just happy to include them in my blog.

Waterfalls In Central Park

The Ravine in Central Park

The waterfall in the Ravine in Central Park. You have to think twice to remember  that you’re in a city park!

Yes, you heard it correctly. There are waterfalls in Central Park. Three, in fact.

Note, however, that I didn’t use the word ‘natural’. All three were created through a clever use of hidden pumps that make them naturalistic rather than natural.

When designing the northernmost end of the park, Olmsted sought to make it resemble the Adirondack region of Upstate New York, an area replete with mountains, lakes, and, yes, waterfalls.

cascade

Another cascade in the same ravine… beautiful, no?

Given the difficult topography, he had to settle for a pond, a stream, a ravine, and some steep hills off to either side. Still, he accomplished the task he set out to achieve in spades, and inspired me to included the area–and, yes, its waterfalls–in Book Three of Central Park Story, my young adult adventure series.

The Indian Hunter: a Statue with a Very Personal Meaning

The Indian Hunter Statue

I like this silhouette because it makes the Indian Hunter look like he’s actually running through the forest

John Quincy Adams Ward’s various statues in the park (the Indian Hunter, Shakespeare, 7th Infantry Regiment, and the Pilgrim) all share one distinct characteristic: a marked realism that stands in sharp contrast with the more idealized, Europeanized work of his predecessors.

In the early part of the 18th century, American art sought its own form of expression that reflected American values. Painters found it in the beauty of the land. Sculptors found it in realism. However, the Indian Hunter statue (east 66th Street, just west of the Mall) contained an added dimension of realism: Ward’s great uncle was abducted by the Shawnee in 1758, while Ward’s great grandfather never gave up trying to contact his lost brother, John, who was killed by the tribe when he tried to make contact with his white family.

Perhaps this is the reason why this statue is shown searching for something, and might also explain why Ward requested that a copy of the statue be placed on his grave. Perhaps he wanted to offer his great uncle (and namesake) a final resting place too.

dian-hunter-statue-central-park

Indian Hunter or John Quincy Adams Ward’s great uncle searching for his lost family?

Such anecdotal history wasn’t something a writer like myself could easily pass up, so I have Christopher Middleton, the main character in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, meet a fictitious John Ward who is looking to make contact with his brother in the wilderness.

 

 

A Blockhouse from 1812 in Central Park

Blockhouse

The Blockhouse in the north end of the park…Not the sort of building you would expect to find in Central Park, no?

I lived next to Central Park for fifteen years but never knew there was an old blockhouse within a half mile of our apartment. Of course, it was in the north end of the park which I was told never to enter alone.

In the 1960s, the north end of the park was a dangerous place for anyone to explore; and as a child who still believed in ghosts and werewolves, it meant certain death.

Today, with the crime rate in the city having plummeted and the north end of the park  having become increasingly gentrified, you could probably go there at the stroke of midnight (not me!) and not be bothered by anyone.

Inside the Blockhouse

I had to sneak a view of the interior through a window

The blockhouse sits on a very steep hill at approximately 108th Street and Central Park West, and is in remarkably good condition considering it’s over 200 years old (see pic to the left). Then again, blockhouses were built to last.

Christopher Middleton, the main character of my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, manages to get lost and runs across it by mistake.

Perhaps as a result of my lingering fears, I have someone shoot at him past a slit in the wall when he makes his unexpected discovery!

McGowen’s Pass: Gateway to Midtown Manhattan

McGowan's Pass

McGowan’s Pass around the time of the War of 1812

I know McGowen’s Pass doesn’t sound as familiar as the Holland or the Lincoln Tunnels. That’s because it was the main gateway to Manhattan during the Revolutionary War.

The gatehouse that guarded the pass stood in a strategic spot where 107th Street and Sixth Avenue would have intersected. Today, it’s a part of the East Drive in Central Park and not considered very strategic at all.

General Washington and his troops marched through the pass on their way to the Battle of Long Island in 1776. After Washington’s retreat, the area was occupied by the British until the end of the war. Then during the War of 1812, it was re-fortified.

fort-clinton

A cannon on the site of Fort Clinton at MrGowen’s Pass (never fired at the enemy! Thank goodness!)

In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, I weave this rich and little-known history into a tale of my own!

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.

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Transcendentalism

emerson

Like Thoreau, Emerson challenged the intellectual and philosophical underpinnings of his day

Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803 – April 27, 1882) was an American essayist, lecturer, and poet, as well as friend of Henry David Thoreau, who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century. He was seen as a champion of individualism and a  critic of the countervailing pressures of society, making him a natural model  for Christopher’s own rebellious character in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.

‘Our chief want,’ he once wrote, ‘is someone who will inspire us to be what we know what we could be.’

As my series progresses, Christopher passes through several such mentors who inspire him to be what he knows he could be, until he comes to express his own unique individuality in true Transcendentalist style.

 

 

Henry David Thoreau: A Logical Counterpart to Olmsted’s Views of Nature

Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau as a young Transcendentalist

Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862) was an American author, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, and historian. Had enough?

What about a leading Transcendentalist best known for his book, Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

It is this particular quote that inspired me to turn Mr. Cook, Christopher’s English teacher in Central Park Story, into a mouthpiece for the Transcendentalist philosophy and a mentor for Christopher as he struggles on his way through school.

 

 

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.