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

When Did Thanksgiving Start in the US?

Norman-Rockwell-Thanksgiving-thanksgiving

The spirit of Thanksgiving endures despite the vagaries of time…

The answer isn’t as simple as you might think.

President Washington proclaimed the first nationwide thanksgiving celebration in America by marking November 26, 1789, “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God”.

However, from the time of Washington until the time of Lincoln, the date when it was celebrated varied from state to state.

The first time Thanksgiving was celebrated on the same date by all states was in 1863 by presidential proclamation from Abraham Lincoln in an attempt to foster a sense of American unity toward the end of the Civil War; but due to the South’s refusal to recognize Lincoln’s authority, a nationwide Thanksgiving date was not fully realized until Reconstruction was completed in the 1870s.

Finally, in 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt changed the date from the last Thursday of November to the third Thursday of the month to lift the country’s spirit in the midst of a global war.

Fortunately, the spirit in which Thanksgiving was begun in the 1700s, and which I try to preserve in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, persists “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God”.

 

 

 

 

 

Central Park: A Gallery of Images

Yosemite Park

Olmsted and Vaux tried to capture the beauty of nature, so evident in the unique glory of our country…

In the original plan for Central Park (called ‘the Greensward Plan’) Olmsted and Vaux’s desire was that visitors would feel as though they were walking through a gallery of images, not unlike a series of paintings.

This was no accident. It ran in tandem to what was already going on in the art world since the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Early nineteenth century America was in desperate need of an artistic expression that was unique unto itself. This was not only due to the newness of the country but to the brewing conflict between the industrial north and the slave-based south. If such a unifying expression could be found, it was hoped that it might help assuage the ever-increasing tension between the two.

Central Park

…and bring it into an urban setting in a series of images akin to viewing a gallery of inspiring paintings…

The Hudson River School with its many talented artists, from Frederick Church to Thomas Cole, helped to fill this growing need.

They chose the natural beauty of the country as their focal point and elevated their romanticized images to realm of the Divine.

In their own landscape designs, Olmsted and Vaux picked up on this theme of Nature as our savior, and created a park to be viewed as a series of inspiring scenes or vistas.

Although the park has devoted more and still more space for recreational uses over the ensuing years, I try to underline this original intent throughout my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.

Thomas Cole painting

…like this one, by Thomas Cole, painted in 1836

 

Are There Really Eight Gates That Meet in Central Park?

Central Park

There are eighteen named gates that surround the five mile periphery of Central Park–eight of which bear the names of professions that Olmsted tried and abandoned in his lifetime.

Anyone who has read up to books Three and Four of my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, will know that Christopher Middleton, the main character, goes in search of a key that is buried where ‘the eight gates meet’ (something that he reads in his great grandfather’s diary).

But are there really eight gates that meet in the park?

In fact, there are eighteen gates, or entrances; and, no, they don’t meet anywhere in particular but are spread all over the park’s five mile periphery. However, there happen to be eight gates that have to do with the various professions that Olmsted attempted in his lifetime (and, in most cases, abandoned); and if one were to draw straight lines between those eight gates, they do, in fact, form a very small triangle near the obelisk behind the Met–an area where a key might be buried (smile).

Such a compelling detail was something that I couldn’t pass up adding in my book, and decided to incorporate it into Christopher’s quest for the ultimate truths in his life. At the same time, it gave me the opportunity to add yet another historical dimension  by allowing me to describe Olmsted’s professions that the reader might not otherwise come to know on his or her own.

 

Summerstage, New York Marathon, Rock Concerts, Shakespeare–How Much More Can You Fit Into a City Park?

New York Marathon

Feeling claustrophobic? The New York Marathon will test you to the max.

How many different free cultural activities can you fit inside a city park?

If you want to know the answer, you needn’t look any further than Central Park in Manhattan.

First, you have all of the free performing arts festivals such as Central Park Summerstage and the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, which take place every summer and are free admission.

Add to that the New York Marathon, an annual event since 1970 which has ballooned to over 50,000 participants, and traditionally ends in Central Park.

Shakespeare in the Park

Shakespeare in the Park with the Castle in the background…pretty magical, no?

Then there’s Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater which features the best of Shakespeare and has been attended by over five million spectators since its opening in 1962 (also free on a ‘first come first serve’ basis).

Speaking of the  60s, let’s not forget the many free rock concerts such as Simon and Garfunkle, Carole King, America, Elton John…the list goes on and on.

Simon and Garfunkle concert

A mere 500,000 people attended a concert bu Simon and Garfunkel in 1981!

But if you think the list ends there, think again; which is why I had to be extremely selective in deciding which free cultural events to include in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.

 

 

Frederick Law Olmsted: The Revered Father of Landscape Architecture

Portrait_of_Frederick_Law_Olmsted

Portrait of Frederick Law Olmsted

In the 19th Century, there simply was no profession called Landscape Architecture. Law, Business, and Medicine–yes. Landscaping, however, fell under the auspices of horticulture, while architecture was a profession unto itself.

Given that it had to be created out of thin air, it’s no wonder it took some time for Frederick Law Olmsted to discover the passion that was to become its seed.

In fact, it happened almost by chance. He was at loose ends (as usual) and in sore need of money when he heard of a competition to create a plan for a park in the middle of New York City.

Calvert Vaux, a respected architect, asked if Olmsted might like to partner with him and submit a proposal. The answer was an immediate ‘yes’, and thus began one of the most amazingly productive partnerships and careers of the 19th Century which, quite literally, changed the landscape of America forever.

Making Frederick Law Olmsted’s Christopher’s great, great, great grandfather is, of course, completely fictitious, as explained in the preface of Central Park Story Book One. Even so, I wanted to see Olmsted’s legacy carried on in spirit. Hence, the character of Christopher Middleton was born!

 

Christoforo Colombo, not Christopher Columbus?

Statue of Christopher Columbus

Statue of Christopher Columbus counting the floors of the building on the other side of the Fifth Avenue

Yes, Columbus was Italian, so his first name was actually ‘Christoforo’ not ‘Christopher’.

But who cares about the spelling of his name? The main thing is that, if it wasn’t for Columbus, or Colombo, there wouldn’t be a Central Park Mall or a Central Park, or even a New York City.

When Christopher first sees his statue in the early morning fog at the foot of the promenade, he also misses a few minor details and thinks he’s wearing a miniskirt in the shape of a mushroom (possibly his robes being lifted by the wind).  What truly shocks him, however, is what happens next (see Central Park Story Book One)!

 

Mountain Lion, Cougar, Panther or Leopard? Which One is It?

Still Hunt statue in Central Park

Imagine coming across this while jogging in the park!

If you’ve ever gone for a jog along the Central Park Drive near 76th Street, you probably experienced the same shock as I did when I first spotted the menacing statue to the left.

It’s a very naturalistic sculpture of, well, let’s just say a ‘cougar’ for the time being. It was made by a man named Edward Kerneys in the 1880s and placed on a ledge in its current position in 1937. Since then, it must have scared millions of unsuspecting joggers and other innocent passers-by!

I’ve seen it called ever name in the big cat book, so I finally decided to look it up to see which one it really is.

It turns out that, yes, it’s a cougar (aka, mountain lion). It could also be called a panther but panthers encompass leopards and other big cats (except lions) and panthers that aren’t cougars give out a horrific cry whereas cougars only hiss and purr.

Still Hunt statue in Central Park

Lunch from the perspective of a cougar

This one definitely doesn’t look like it’s purring. At least, that’s what Christopher Middleton finds out when he heads past it in Central Park Story Book One.

The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir–a Billion Gallons of Beauty

The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir

For most of my youth, I was fortunate to be able to look out the windows of my mother’s apartment and see the reservoir in Central Park.

I didn’t care about its history. I didn’t care that it was a reservoir that supplied water to my sink and shower. What I cared about was that it took me miles away from the city and across imaginary oceans to places hitherto unknown.

I would take out my 80-power telescope and watch the winter birds that would land there by the hundreds, looking for a rare one and, as I grew older, would jog around its mile-long periphery to clear my mind of the cares of my life.

The reservoir wasn’t always this picturesque and beautiful however. The original one didn’t have the naturalistic edge that Olmsted and Vaux designed. It was square and looked awkwardly out of place in a city park. Fortunately, the older one was abandoned and the current one constructed to look more like a lake than a reservoir.

In Central Park Story Book One, Christopher jogs around it’s periphery on his way to beat Devon in tennis but it plays a more significant role in Book Three when it leads him on an adventure that even my childhood imagination could never have dreamed of happening!

Serendipity’s Shot at the World’s Most Expensive Sugar High!

World's most expensive dessert

Where’s the ice cream?

Forget about Christopher’s favorite triple fudge chocolate ice cream sprinkled with Godiva chocolate bits and gummy bears. Get a load of this over-the-top dessert served at Serendipity III to the tune of $1000! (Yes, that’s a one with three zeros after it!)

The description alone is worth at least a dollar or two: ‘made with 5 scoops of the Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream, Madagascar vanilla covered in 23K edible gold leaf, drizzled with the world’s most expensive chocolate, Amedei Porcelana, and covered with chunks of Chuao chocolate. It is suffused with exotic candied fruits from Paris, gold dragees, truffles and Marzipan Cherries and topped with a tiny glass bowl of Grand Passion Caviar. It’s sweetened and infused with passion fruit, orange, and Armagnac. The sundae is served in a baccarat Harcourt crystal goblet with an 18K gold spoon, a petite mother of pearl spoon, and topped with a gilded sugar flower by Ron Ben-Israel.’

World's most expensive dessert

Here’s seconds, though I still don’t see the ice cream.

Had enough? If not, they serve another sundae that costs a mere $25K (I’m not bothering with all the zeros) and needless to say, set another world record. For myself, I think I’ll stick with one of the thousand dollar variety (I’m on a tight budget these days).

To tell you the truth, I ate at Serendipity with my mother on a special occasion (I forget what it was). I think I wanted a banana split but wasn’t sure my mother could afford it, so I ordered a scoop of vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce instead. I ended up getting the banana split as I recall. That to me was enough to set a world record. The desserts that Christopher and Ashley enjoy in my young adult fantasy series Central Park Story or the over the top dessert to the right never even came to mind. But I loved the banana split.

 

World's most expensive dessert

Enough! I’m totally sick, but I finally found the ice cream. It was melted on the bottom!

 

 

Bethedsa Terrace–the Heart and Soul of Central Park

The Bethesda Terrace and Fountain

A view of the Bethesda Terrace and the Angel of the Waters with the Ramble in the background

It amazes me that the only formal element that Olmsted and Vaux envisioned for Central Park is the Mall that leads to the Bethesda Terrace. The rest of the park is, quite simply, devoted to nature.

When I looked at thirty-odd original submissions in the competition to create America’s premier urban park, most of them were full of formal elements–everything from parade grounds to Eurpean-style gardens!

It’s a tribute to Olmsted and Vaux that they were able to capture the spirit of their fledgling country through their realization that nature was what set it apart.

That’s what makes the Mall and the Terrace true works of genius. They lead one through a kind of open air church to the altar of Nature Herself.

There’s too much to say on this subject to fit in a simple blog. In fact, it’s part of what inspired me to write my young adult adventure series Central Park Story,  but in a single stroke, Vaux managed to bring man and Nature back together in the true spirit of harmony and peace.

The Underground Arcade at the Bethesda Terrace

The mysterious and beautiful arcade in front of the terrace from where one can view the Angel of the Waters and the Ramble beyond

He even suggested that the statue of the Angel that graces the terrace be dedicated to Love, and one can understand why. Only love could have formed such a work of simplicity with the potential to draw man and nature back together as one.

As you will hopefully discover when you read in Central Park StoryBook Two, this isn’t lost on Christopher in his search for meaning in his own chaotic life.