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

Olmsted’s Many Projects Beyond Central Park

Frederick Law Olmsted

Frederick Law Olmsted, a master of his craft

There isn’t enough space on a single post to outline all of Olmsted’s other projects beyond Central Park.

Suffice it to say that they start with Prospect Park in Brooklyn and run clear across the country where he designed the master plan for the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University in Palo Alto.

The quality of his work was recognized by his contemporaries, who showered him with dozens of prestigious commissions. His inspired plans set a standard for excellence that continues to influence landscape architecture in the United States to this day.

But that wasn’t all that occupied his unbounded energy. His other lines of achievement included his activism in conservation and the National Park system, as well as providing medical services to the Union Army during the Civil War.

Oh, and by the way, Olmsted turned out to be a very late bloomer who didn’t find his footing as a landscape architect until his mid-thirties! So I guess that means there’s hope for the rest of us (including, I might add, Christopher Middleton, the main character in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story).

Olmsted, Yosemite, and the Tender Beginnings of Our National Park System

Yosemite

Imagine yourself seeing this …

During a brief stint as superintendent of the Mariposa Mining Estate operations in 1863, Olmsted took a side trip to Yosemite Valley. Both himself and the others with him were among the first white people to lay eyes on this natural wonder. Olmsted immediately fell in love with what he saw.

Yosemite Falls

…and this…

When Congress granted the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the State of California in 1864, Olmsted was appointed by California Governor Frederick Low to lead the nine-member Yosemite Commission. His 1865 report, “The Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Big Tree Grove,” was suppressed by those in favor of development and then lost until 1952. However, in his report he underscored:

–the importance of contact with wilderness for human well-being,
–the effect of beautiful scenery on human perception, and
–the moral responsibility of governments to preserve regions of  extraordinary natural beauty for the benefit of all the people.

Yosemite

…and this for the very first time.

The report includes thoughtful suggestions for managing the park for human enjoyment with minimal harm to the natural environment. Olmsted even created a resource inventory, a statement of purpose, and a park plan with goals and guidelines—using park planning principles that are still in use today.

Yosemite

Well, you can still do so today, thanks in part to the extraordinary vision of Frederick Law Olmsted

In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, Christopher Middleton,my main character, writes his journal on a trip to Yosemite with his great aunt. I did this to underscore the far-reaching influence that Olmsted had, not just on landscape architecture, but the preservation of our natural resources as a whole.

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.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

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!

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!

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.

 

 

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.