I am not aware that Frederick Law Olmsted ever kept a personal diary. Certainly he wrote numerous letters, many of which are preserved in the Library of Congress, as well as several extensive travelogs that formed the basis of several books. Yet, when he wrote the following biographical fragment in one of his letters: ‘I was very active, imaginative, inventive, impulsive, enterprising, trustful, and heedless, which makes for what is generally called a troublesome and mischievous boy,’ I couldn’t help but have Christopher Middleton, the main character of my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, discover a secret diary in which Olmsted divulges his private thoughts.
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Statistically-speaking, the answer is yes. It’s a lot safer walking in Central Park today than it was in the past.
That’s not to say one should be carefree about it. There are still plenty of ways one can dramatically increase one’s chances of an encounter with a mugger.
I started this post to highlight the fact that the area around Central Park where I grew up is a lot safer today than it was in the 1960s, and why I didn’t include a mugging scene in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story. However, I ended up looking at theft statistics in not just Central Park, but all of NY State, to see how they lined up with my perception of reality.
In 2013 alone there were only 1458 reported thefts in NY State (including NYC). In 1965, on the other hand, the number was over 253,000!
Those of a more cynical persuasion might be quick to point out that the muggings haven’t diminished. They simply migrated to the financial district downtown. leading to the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer, and hence the richer neighborhoods becoming safer. But it’s still amazing how more overt forms of theft have precipitously dropped over the years.
Is it due to better city management, or is it a by-product of better technology and surveillance? No one seems to have a definitive answer.
One thing is for sure: one can still increase one’s chances of being mugged by doing the wrong things. For this reason, I am including a link to an article that outlines five significant ways to help prevent your ever being mugged yourself!
Although there is no material connection between the two, the Central Park Cave made me think of Tom Sawyer’s cave in Twain’s famous, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
The Mark Twain Cave in Hannibal, Missouri, covers some six and a half miles consisting of four entrances and 260 passages, while the Central Park Cave consists of a single large room.
Discovered by excavators when the park was under construction, it might have been a shelter used by Indians in the past.
The staircase leading to the wall that now covers the entrance is still visible from the Ramble and only adds to its mystery.
In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, I imagine the cave having a hidden corridor that leads underneath the Bethesda Fountain, not unlike Twain’s cave in Hannibal.
If Twain could stretch the truth, then so could I!
Situated at 58th Street and Fifth just opposite Central Park, Bergdorf Goodman is about as iconic a store as you could imagine.
Just prior to the purchase of the property by Mr. Goodman, it was the Cornelius Vanderbilt estate, whose massive gate now graces the entrance to the Conservatory Garden at 106th Street.
So many references in films have been made to this famous store, they could probably be turned into a movie themselves.
For that reason, as well as the fact that it is located a block from Central Park, I make it a preferred shopping oasis for Ashley Ferguson, one of the main characters in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.
European parks had their not-so-humble origins as playgrounds for royalty. Olmsted visited many of these parks on his overseas tours and took voluminous notes of what he saw. Much of what he saw he tried to avoid in his design of Central Park.
Rather than massive fountains, overbearing statues, and cleverly manicured gardens, he and his partner, Calvert Vaux, allowed for only one simple, but beautiful, fountain, one beautiful but elegant statue (the Angel of the Waters on the Terrace) and zero manicured gardens (the Conservatory Garden at 106th Street was only added after Olmsted and Vaux had passed on).
The result was a striking degree of relaxed elegance through naturalistic beauty and simplicity. Their goal throughout was to let nature be the central focus. After all, wasn’t it nature and our natural resources that made our country stand out from its European counterparts?
Throughout my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, I have tried to underline the unique vision that Olmsted and Vaux brought to the idea of a public park.
Probably the most influential innovation in the Central Park design was the “separate circulation” system for pedestrians, horseback riders, and carriages along with the sunken traverse roadways that allowed commercial traffic to pass to the other side of the city unnoticed.
The overpasses along the traverses allowed visitors to walk from south to north end of the park without being aware of the traffic that made its way from east to west, while the three separate circulation systems allowed visitors to pass one another without getting in each others way. This allowed one and all to spend their time enjoying the serenity and beauty of nature which was the sole purpose of creating the park in the first place.
Calvert Vaux designed 36 unique bridges and arches, no two alike, that would allow this clever circulation system to work.
He could have designed them according to the same basic template. Instead, he came up with an array of designs, from stone to iron, to massive boulders, that boggle the imagination.
Try coming up with 36 unique designs for bridges yourself, and you will see what a genius he was.
“Nature” is an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, published in 1836. In it, Emerson put forth the foundation of Transcendentalism, which suggests that the divine, or God, suffuses nature, and that reality can only be understood by studying nature.
Emerson explains that to experience the “wholeness” with nature for which mankind is naturally suited, we must be separate ourselves from the flaws and distractions imposed on us by society. He believed that solitude is the single most important mechanism through which we can fully engage with the world of nature.
Whether Olmsted ever read “Nature” is impossible to know (Olmsted’s education was sporadic and piecemeal, at best), but his design of Central Park certainly acts as a living illustration of Emerson’s philosophy of Transcendentalism.
Olmsted’s goal was to suffuse nature back into the soul of each visitor to the park by creating a sense of nature’s wholeness that was completely separate from the distractions of the surrounding city. He did so by creating inspiring vista after inspiring vista, as if one were walking down a gallery of paintings, until one made contact with the inner genius of nature herself.
If Emerson brought the philosophy of Transcendentalism to the intellectual world of his day, it is fair to say that Olmsted brought it to the urban world.
In my own, lesser way, I try to bring it to the world of teenagers in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.
It is well-known that, ever since the 1950s, American schools have been in crisis mode, falling behind other countries such as Russia and Japan and China in core subjects such as mathematics and science.
Congress passed the National Defense of Education Act in 1958, and over the ensuing years, a series of other legislative acts, in an attempt to rectify these problems; but according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in 2012, American students ranked 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading compared to students in 27 other countries.
To give you an idea of just how big a drop that is, America once ranked #1.
So, what is the cause, and what can be done to stop its seemingly inexorable slide?
In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, I attempt to resolve the issue by asking a slightly different question: what is education and how exactly do we learn? If we know the answer to that, the former question might become moot.
To cut to the chase, I don’t offer my readers a scientifically precise answer. After all, I am writing a fictional story meant to entertain! But in clarifying (and dramatizing) the issues, I suggest that a more open curriculum where mentoring plays a major role, is absolutely key.
This puts the burden, not on the curriculum or even the students. but on the quality and training of the teachers and the way they teach.
As is the teacher, so is the student.
The Guggenheim Museum at 89th Street and Fifth was first conceived as a “temple of the spirit” that would facilitate a new way of looking at modern art.
Numerous locations in Manhattan were considered, but Mr. Guggenheim felt that the site’s proximity to Central Park was important. The park afforded relief from the city, while the building itself embodies architect, Frank Lloyd Wright’s, desire “to render the inherent plasticity of organic forms in architecture.”
In an equally subtle manner, this masterpiece of architecture embodies the same principle Olmsted himself espoused in the construction of his beloved park; that nature rules supreme.
I attempt to echo these same sentiments in the thoughts and actions of Christopher Middleton, the protagonist of my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, who uses nature as a catalyst for change in his own life.
“Mad as a March hare” is a common English phrase, both now and in Lewis Carroll’s time.
It is reported in The Annotated Alice by Martin Gardner that this proverb is based on popular belief about the hares’ behavior at the beginning of the breeding season. Early in the season, unreceptive females often use their forelegs to repel overenthusiastic males.
Like the Mad Hatter, the March Hare feels compelled to behave as though it is always tea-time because the Hatter “murdered the time”. One of the original illustrations even shows him with straw on his head, a common way to depict madness in Victorian times.
In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, the Hare comes across as being more pragmatic than mad (after all the Hatter is mad enough!), forever checking the time and claiming to be late for one thing or the other.