Archive for the ‘Central Park Story – Book One’ 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)

 

 

The Statue of ‘Black Dan’ in Central Park–A Sight to Behold!

The Statue of Daniel Webster in Central Park

Pretty impressive–and he hasn’t spoken a word!

If there’s a statue in Central Park that could send a shiver down your spine, it’s the statue of Daniel Webster; not because of its impressive size but because the sculptor, Thomas Ball, managed to capture ‘God-like Dan’ in all his glory.

Back in the 1850s, most everyone had two things in their homes: a picture of George Washington and a bust of Daniel Webster. Some years later, they might have added a Webster’s dictionary. After all, he was still considered to be the greatest master of the English language of his age.

Like most public figures in the 1800s, Webster was rife with contradictions. As the much-revered senator from Massachusetts, he spoke of the greatness of his country and remained a steadfast supporter of the Union, yet he thought nothing of receiving gifts on the sly if he gave a speech on someone else’s behalf, and he made the unpopular suggestion that a compromise be struck with the slave states in the South.

It used to be that people’s livelihood depended upon how well they spoke, so probably he never questioned that he had the right to support himself with his words at the same time as he felt he was defending the best interests of the country he adored. Still, contradictions are contradictions, and he remains a complicated figure to this day.

However he might appear to others, it’s no wonder that Christopher stops dead in his tracks as soon as he spots the god-like statue of ‘Black Dan’ in Central Park Story Book One. As I said in the beginning, just one look at him, and it can send a shiver down your spine!

 

Taking Exams…At Times You Just Have to Rely on Street Smarts

Taking exams isn’t fun, but it’s fun making fun of exam-taking.

In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, the main character, Christopher Middleton, doesn’t open a book when it comes to studying for exams. Rather, he relies on what his girlfriend tells him on their early morning walks to school…with amusing results.

I guess that’s one way of using your street smarts. Here’s another that I thought you might also find amusing:

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.

 

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.

 

Skating in Central Park: As Popular Back in the mid-1800s as it is Today

Central Park Skaters

Facing west from Central Park with Skaters on the Ramble Lake and the Dakota in the background, c. 1890.

Today, there are two skating rinks in Central Park, one in the north end and one in the south, but there used to be only one in the middle . . . the Ramble Lake.

When the park was  first opened to the public in the late 1860’s, skating was a popular sport and brought tens of thousands people into the park.

With baseball and bicycling still several decades away, it was the only sport that brought the community together–a very democratic phenomenon that reflected the purpose of the park in the first place.

It wasn’t until the 1950s that the Lake was closed to skating and moved to present-day Wollman’s skating rink in the southernmost end of the park.

wollman skating rink

Wollman Skating Rink circa 2015

Hence, when it came to writing my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, it was natural to include skating in several of the scenes.

Aspen, Colorado: Just a Short (Private) Jet Ride from NYC

Aspen-Colorado

The humble village of Aspen, Colorado

If you happen to be like Ashley Ferguson, one of the characters in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, you have a choice of which resort to visit over winter vacation. However, when it comes to skiing the choices narrow considerably, and you are forced to make the difficult decision between Aspen and Vail.

Oh well, I guess even the super-rich have difficult choices to make in life!

The last time I went skiing was in college, and I skied straight off the side of a cliff. I hung up my skis after that and turned my attention to something less dangerous!

It Took More Gunpowder Than Was Used in the Battle of Gettysburg to Construct Central Park

Gettysburg

More casualties were suffered at Gettysburg than in any other battle in the Civil War

In Book One of my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, Christopher Middleton, the main character,  mentions that it took more gunpowder than was used in the Battle of Gettysburg to construct Central Park.

I also have one of the statues (yes, the statues talk in my books) compare Christopher’s personal challenges to the famous battle.

So, what exactly happened at Gettysburg on those three fateful days in July of 1863 to make it such a potent symbol?

The short answer is that it marked the point in the Civil War where the Confederacy shifted from being on the offensive to being primarily defensive, and although the war would continue, battle after bloody battle, for another two years, never would the South work their way this far north again.

Gettysburg

The Civil War was also the first war where photographs of the casualties were taken

Gettysburg cost a total of 50,000 casualties combined, most of them caused by the same gunpowder that made Central Park what it is today, so the battle proved an apt symbol both for the park, as well as my main character’s own internal battles.

 

 

 

The Mineral Water Pavilion In Central Park: A Treasure Lost to Time

Mineral Water Pavilion in Central Park

The Mineral Water Pavilion in Central Park shortly after the Civil War

Although it would eventually be razed in 1957, the Mineral Water Pavilion delighted the inhabitants of the city for nearly a century.

Clean water was a major problem for New York for much of its history. Several epidemics of cholera swept the metropolis throughout the early 1800s, costing many thousands of lives, so the advent of a ‘spa’ that offered pure spring water seemed like a gift from heaven itself and attracted many thousands of people daily till the springs finally ran dry.

The building was designed by Calvert Vaux and his associate, Jacob Wrey Mould, and was given a Moorish flavor, popular at the time.

Interior of the Mineral Water Pavilion

The Interior of the Mineral Water Pavilion…Can I offer you something to drink, sir?

In my book, Central Park Story, I resurrect the building and have it dispense mineral waters that are reputed to cure ‘all that ails you’–a stretch of the imagination but in tune with the way people generally thought about mineral water in the 19th Century.