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

Bet You Didn’t Know There Are Two Alice in Wonderland Statues in Central Park!

Alice in Wonderland Statue in Central Park

The Delacorte Alice in Wonderland statue in the park without the Queen

The Alice in Wonderland statue you’re probably most familiar with is pictured to the right, but there’s another, lesser known statue hidden away in the Sophie Loeb Children’s Playground.

Unless you’re a five-year-old, you probably aren’t aware that it even exists (see second photograph).

The more familiar bronze Delacorte sculpture (created in 1956) is generally used as a jungle gym by its young visitors while the other, lesser known statue, was designed as a drinking fountain and actually predates the former by twenty years (1936).

Sophie Loeb statue of Alice in Wonderland in Central Park

The Sophie Loeb statue of Alice in Wonderland, this time including the Queen of Hearts

I prefer the depiction of the characters on the Loeb over the Delacorte statue. They seem closer to the way I imagined them when I first read Lewis Carroll’s famous work,  especially the Queen of Hearts who appears more than once in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.

 

 

The Central Park Carousel and its Rambunctious Steeds

The Central Park Carousel

If I was a kid, I’d be wetting my pants at the sight of these wild-looking steeds!

I’s not that difficult to imagine the horses at the Central Park carousel springing to life!

The present carousel (this is the fourth iteration of  the carousel in the history of the park) was made in 1908 by Solomon Stein and Harry Goldstein and is one of the finest examples of American folk art in existence.

It was discovered abandoned and in sad disrepair in an old trolley terminal on Coney Island before being restored by the Parks Department to its present-day glory.

There are 57 horses and, as you can see, they are a rambunctious lot.

The chariot drawn by a swan was something I made up (it actually existed in an earlier carousel) when I wrote Central Park Story Book One.

The Amazing Central Park Mall!

Central Park Mall

The Central Park Mall looking north toward the Bethesda Fountain and the Angel of the Waters.

I’m not going to dwell on the obvious when it comes to the design of the Central Park Mall.

Probably you are already familiar with the concept of its being an open air cathedral buttressed by elms with the Naumberg Bandshell acting as a choir loft in the apse and the Bethesda Fountain and the angel as its altar and its god.  These are all points that you will read about in most descriptions of  Vaux’ design and which I have previously covered in my blog.

Instead, I’d like to mention some of its subtler aspects that you probably aren’t so aware of–aspects that I toy with in my book, Central Park Story.

The first is that the length of the Mall itself doesn’t run parallel to Fifth Avenue as it might appear, but rather diagonal to it. This is because it was designed to point due north while the city itself was on a slightly different grid. When I was visiting the Mall a year or two ago, I checked it out to be absolutely sure this is the case, and yes, the Mall does in fact point due north.

North is, of course, where the north star is located–the star by which navigators used to sail. It remains the only still point in the night sky. In that sense, it can be viewed as the innermost soul or ‘genius’ of nature, if you will, which is what Olmsted and Vaux sought to capture in their design of the park itself.

Another interesting aspect of the Mall is that if you stand at the foot of the promenade and look due north at the Angel of the Waters and the Bethesda Fountain, it appears as if she were standing on the promenade itself. The fountain is invisible from that perspective, and it doesn’t take much of an imagination to visualize her walking among the pedestrians as if she had joined us mortals on earth.

Vaux, the designer of the terrace and the Mall, suggested the statue be dedicated to Love, making it a powerful symbol, indeed: the descent of Love on earth from the center of our universe.

As you will discover for yourself should you read Central Park Story Book Two, I play on these themes as Christopher Middleton, the main character, uncovers the park’s deepest secrets!

 

A Secret Map of Central Park?

Painting of Central Park dated 1863

A pictorial rendering of Central Park from the 1860s where you can see the Mall pointing toward Belvedere Castle in front of the Croton Reservoir

There may or may not be a secret map of Central Park. I will leave that up to your imagination.

What is clear is that Vaux designed the Mall to point in a straight line (due north, as a matter of fact), starting from the Olmsted Flower Bed and heading straight past the Bethesda Terrace, ending at Belvedere Castle.

This, of course, makes perfect sense as Olmsted would have wanted to highlight his beloved Ramble and Vaux would have enjoyed adding a point of architectural interest in the background. It all fits together very nicely.

The uncanny thing, however, is that you can also create two identical circles using the distance from the Olmsted Flower Bed to the Bethesda Terrace as the diameter of one and the distance from the terrace to the castle as the other, while having the circumferences of each pass through eight significant landmarks in the park.

Looking at the northern circle, for instance (running clockwise from the terrace), its circumference passes through Hernshead Promontory, Balcony Bridge, the Swedish Cottage, Belvedere Castle, the Still Hunt Statue, and the Loeb Boathouse, ending back at the terrace; while the circumference of the southern circle runs past the Pilgrim Statue, the 107th Infantry Regiment Memorial, the statue of Balto, the Olmsted Flower Bed, Literary Walk, the Dairy, the Carousel, the former Mineral Water Spa (now a food concession), and Cherry Hill, ending back at the terrace.

I found this to be more than a coincidence and wasn’t going to let it pass without making full use of it in my book; hence, the idea of creating a secret map, divided in two, each containing its own separate circle, and hidden in two separate apartments in the city.

If you’re still shaking your head and thinking, that’s all very well and good, but a number of the places you mentioned (such as the 107th Infantry Regiment Memorial and the statue of Balto) weren’t even conceived of during Olmsted and Vaux’s lifetimes, then, rather than try to explain, I invite you to read Central Park Story, Book Two and decide for yourself…

A map of Central Park dated 1870

…and a topographical map of the park (dated 1870) where you can see how deliberately the Mall was laid out with respect to the castle

 

 

Calvert Vaux, Olmsted’s (Oftentimes Forgotten) Partner

Images of Olmsted and Vaux, the creators of Central Park

Calvert Vaux (right) was Olmsted’s tried and true, yet not fully appreciated, partner in the creation of Central Park

It’s hard to justify history giving second billing to Calvert Vaux, Olmsted’s partner in the creation of Central Park, but that’s exactly what happened, at least in the 19th century.

Vaux approached Olmsted, asking if he would partner with him in submitting a design for the contest. In addition to collaborating with Olmsted, it was Vaux who was in charge of all of the park’s architectural elements–the thirty-six bridges (each one completely different from the others), the magnificent Belvedere Castle, the Sheepfold (now The Tavern on the Green), the gothic Dairy, and most important, the Mall and the Terrace that overlooks the Ramble.

The Gothic Bridge in Central Park designed by Calvert Vaux

The Gothic Bridge that Vaux designed that stands just west of the reservoir–just one of thirty-six amazing bridges in the park

Maybe his somewhat diminished status was because he was humble enough (or wise enough) to let architecture assume second place to the focal point of the park which is nature herself, but it strikes me that it might have had just as much to do with certain prejudices of his time.

At just over five feet tall, he was an unassuming man. He was also prone to stuttering. And, perhaps most significantly, he wasn’t a native-born American but emigrated from Great Britain…Three strikes and you’re out!

Detail of the Gothic Bridge in Central Park

A close up of the Gothic Bridge that Vaux designed. Exquisite!

Whatever the reasons for his being relegated to second billing behind Olmsted, he was a genius of an architect and should be afforded his rightful place as Olmsted’s tried and true partner in the creation of one of the most amazing parks in the history of the world.

In Central Park Story, I made Christopher Middleton’s friend, Jennifer, very much an outsider like Vaux himself, his great (times three) granddaughter, to emphasize the point that everyone deserves to be appreciated for who they are.

Giving an Oral Report at School…Yuch!

An entire class of students asleep at school

If you’re lucky, this is all that will happen when you give an oral report in school!

This pic shows one of the results of giving an oral report at school. I’ll let you imagine some that are much worse. Better yet, I’ll let you read Central Park Story, Book One and find out for yourself when Christopher gives his report on the design and construction of Central Park.

The Greensward Plan: Roadmap for the Making of Central Park

Central Park before construction

This is what Central Park looked like before it became a city park–swampy, rocky, hilly–in other words, a piece of work.

If you think mowing the lawn is a pain in the butt, how about making Central Park out of what you see to the right? It makes mowing the  lawn look kind of like, well, a walk in the park.

It took moving 2.5 million cubic yards of stone and earth, planting 270,ooo trees and shrubs, and more gunpowder than was used in the Battle of Gettysburg to finish it off (see Christopher Middleton’s class speech in Central Park Story, Book One). Olmsted and Vaux may as well have been trying to construct a park on the surface of the moon!

It was tough going, to be sure, and continually exceeded budget (it ended up costing the city over $5 million dollars, which roughly translates into $500 million in 2015 dollars). Still, with the 2 1/2 mile long and 1/2 mile wide property being valued at close to a trillion dollars today, I’d say it managed a pretty decent return on its original investment, wouldn’t you? (smile)

 

 

 

 

William Shakespeare Makes an Unexpected Appearance at the Delacorte Theater!

The Statue of William Shakespeare at the foot of Literary Walk

William Shakespeare giving some thought to his next play as he stands at the foot of Literary Walk

Exactly how and where the bard makes his appearance is something I’ll let you discover as you read Central Park Story Book One, but he’s too important a person not to give top billing in my book, so I have him appear (unexpectedly, of course) in several of my scenes.

The statue to the right isn’t at the Delacorte Theater where his plays are performed each summer. It stands on Literary Walk next to the Olmsted Flower Bed at the foot of the promenade among other literary giants, such as Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott.

You may have noticed that his head is both prominent and bald. This is no accident. In the nineteenth century, prominent balding heads were considered a mark of intellectual superiority (an early form of racial profiling, I suppose). You see examples of this in the statue of Sir Walter Scott as well as other scholars in the same area whose craniums are also overinflated.

Too bad that balding in no longer trendy, or a lot of follicular-challenged men today would feel a lot better than they do!

The Delacorte Theater in the Heart of Central Park

The Delacorte Theater at night with a view of Belvedere Castle in the background

Pretty amazing location for a theater, no? That’s Belvedere Castle in the background, by the way.

The Delacorte Theater is an amazing cultural venue in the heart of Central Park. Performances are free (tickets are on a first come first serve basis) and it offers a wide range of entertainment, including many of Shakespeare’s plays…

Okay, I admit I’ve never actually been there myself. Not that I haven’t wanted to go. It’s just that it’s a summer event, and I haven’t spent a summer in the city since I was in my early teens.

That didn’t stop me from imagining a performance of Romeo and Juliet and including it in Central Park Story Book One. After all, that’s what fiction is all about, right? (smile)

Hansel and Gretel: an Awesome Fairy Tale!

Christopher stops to watch a performance of Hansel and Gretel in the Swedish Cottage in Central Park

Hansel and Gretel…what an awesome story! Imagine yourself in their shoes (or wooden clogs)!

Hansel and Gretel has to be one of the most awesome children’s stories every written.

First of all,  two kids find themselves abandoned in the deep, dark woods of Germany. Scary stuff, indeed! Then they find their way out by following a trail of breadcrumbs that they purposefully left behind. Pretty neat trick! Last but not least, they discover a house made entirely of candy (Yum!) but are captured and held prisoner by a witch (Yikes!) that they toss in an oven and burn to a crisp (Go for it!!).

Marionette performances of Hansel and Gretel, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Sleeping Beauty are offered regularly at the Swedish Cottage next to Belvedere Castle; and if you ever find yourself in the area and at loose ends, and want to take a step back into childhood yourself you might want to take a peek. Christopher and his girlfriend, Jennifer, stop to watch one of the performances themselves (Central Park Story Book One) only to see something even more frightening than a witch being tossed in an oven!

Christopher stops at the Swedish Cottage in Central Park to watch Hansel and Gretel

The jig is up, Witchy-Witch! It’s into the oven with you!!