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

Did George Washington Sleep in Central Park?

McGowen's Pass

A map of McGowan’s Pass and the Old Post Road leading to it, dating to 1776, around the time Washington would have marched this way

Although it’s safe to say that Washington never slept there, he definitely passed through what would later become Central Park on two important occasions.

In the first, he led his army through McGowan’s Pass, just south of what is today the Harlem Meer, to engage the British forces that had landed on Long Island.

After the British surrender at Yorktown, Washington passed this way yet again, this time to take possession of the city he was forced to relinquish after his defeat at the Battle of Long Island, seven years earlier.

Blending fact with fantasy, I have Christopher Middleton, the main character in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, meet General Washington at the pass, and give the general some timely intelligence that allows him to avoid capture by the British forces.

Another Famous Tavern in Central Park?

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McGowans Pass Tavern in 1915 before it was sold and demolished.

When someone speaks of a tavern in Central Park, they are invariably referring to the Tavern on the Green at 68th Street and Central Park West. However, there used to be another tavern at what is  now 104th Street and Fifth Avenue. It was known first as the ‘Black Horse Tavern’ (prior to the the Revolutionary War), McGowan’s Tavern (from 1756 through the Revolutionary period) and then McGowan Pass Tavern (until it was demolished in 1915).

In 1752, the Continental Congress met there, and no doubt it was a watering hole for both patriots and British alike during the Revolutionary War.

In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, I revive it’s early history as McGowan’s Tavern when I have Christopher meet the proprietor’s son, Andrew, who helps him to escape the British.

 

Homeless in Central Park During the Great Depression

Central Park Homeless Encampment

A homeless encampment at the north end of the park in the early 1930s. Will it happen again?

Imagine strolling through Central Park and stumbling across an encampment for the homeless.

Such an encampment actually existed during the first years of the Great Depression (see pic to the right).

Times were tough, and people were desperate (sound familiar?).

Even though public sentiment was firmly on the side of the Hooverville residents, the Parks Commissioner was forced to raze it due to lack of sanitary conditions.

With homelessness in the city having recently topped 60,ooo for the first time ever (2015), it’s not that hard to imagine something similar happening today.

For this reason, I have tried to highlight the problem of homelessness in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.

 

The Park from 106th Street to 110th Street

North End of Central Park

One of several cascades to be found in the north end of Central Park

Using the power of eminent domain, the city acquired 840 acres for the building of Central Park. The resultant area spans two and a half miles from 59th Street in the south to 110th Street in the north, and half a mile from Fifth Avenue in the east to Eighth Avenue in the west. However, the land that was first chosen in the 1850s was several dozen acres smaller than the one that I described. Only in 1863 did  the city decide that the rocky area just north of the original piece was ill-suited for urban development and, hence, the land from 106th Street to 110th Street was added.

Due to ongoing budget constraints and the tight financial control of Andrew Green, the city comptroller at the time, this northernmost area was less meticulously designed than the rest of the park, lending it a more untamed appearance. However, Olmsted and Vaux made excellent use of these constraints by making it reminiscent of their beloved Adirondack region, with its undulating hills and waterfalls, proving once again, their genius in working with whatever obstacles were put in their way.

In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, I also made use of the north end of the park by turning it into a wilderness that Christopher Middleton, the main character in my story, stumbles upon and explores.

 

 

 

 

The Naming of the Gates from 1862 to 1999…Talk About a Time Lapse!

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The various gates to the park were meant to be unobtrusive yet, at the same time, inviting.

In 1862, the NYC Board of Commissioners decided to give names to the various ‘gates’ or entrances of Central Park. Most of the names were never carved in their designated places but nevertheless persisted in subsequent maps.

There are 18 original names in all: Artisans’, Artists’, Boys’, Children’s, Engineers’, Farmers’, Girls’, The Gate of All Saints, Hunters’, Mariners’, Merchants’, Miners’, Pioneers’, Scholars’, Strangers’, Warriors’, Women’s and Woodmen’s.

Those few that were actually carved include the Scholars’ Gate at 60th Street and Fifth; the Engineers’ Gate at 90th Street and Fifth; the Mariners’ Gate at 85th Street and Central Park West; the Inventors’ Gate at 72nd Street and Fifth; the Children’s Gate at 64th Street and Fifth Avenue and the ’76th Street’ Gate at 76th Street and Fifth.

Mr. Moses, a city commissioner, added the  numerical ’76th Street’ gate to the park in the 1950s, violating an explicit proviso in the 1862 report by the park’s commissioners that clearly stated: ”The monotonous numerical system used to distinguish the thoroughfares of New York is at once felt to be unsuitable for park use.”

Mr. Moses also changed the name of Children’s Gate at 72nd Street to the Inventors’ Gate. Just beyond this gate, a statue of Samuel F. B. Morse, the inventor of the telegraph, was added, and a new Children’s Gate was designated further south next to the zoo.

The names that hadn’t been carved, altered, or moved, were finally added in 1999 under the direction of the Central Park Conservancy.

Since many of the names refer to professions that Olmsted actually took part in himself (eight out of eighteen, according to my count!), one assumes he had at least some input into their actual naming. Hence, I made use of the various gates in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, by having them refer to specific occupations Olmsted engaged in during his lifetime and weaving them into my plot.

 

The Conservatory Garden at 106th Street: A Relatively Undiscovered Treasure

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One enters the Conservatory Garden through the Vanderbilt Gate that used to sit in front of the Vanderbilt mansion on 58th Street and Fifth.

The Conservatory Garden at 106th Street wasn’t fully renovated until 1983, so it’s no wonder it’s still somewhat unknown.

Prior to the 1980s, I would have called it the’ haunted garden’, since it was in a neighborhood where one was more likely to get mugged than smell the roses (I lived just eight blocks south in the 1970s and was once mugged in the same area).

Rescued and restored by the Conservancy as a part of its ongoing restoration of the park, it is now a delight to the senses. Passing through the Vanderbilt Gate (retrieved after one hundred years in storage),  one comes across three distinct gardens–Italian, English and French–sitting side by side, each one offering its own unique style and horticultural display.

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An aerial view of the Italian Garden. A visual delight!

Had this garden (the only truly formal garden in Central Park) been in the south rather than the north end of the park, it would certainly have been flooded with thousands more tourists every day. Being in a less frequented spot, one can actually sit by the fountains on a sunny afternoon and feel as if one has the entire garden to oneself!

Given my own mixed memories of the area, I have Christopher Middleton, the main character in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, both delighted and threatened when he happens upon it himself.

 

What Did Olmsted Do Before Creating Central Park?

FrederickLawOlmsted

Frederick Law Olmsted already eyeing his next career

It might be easier to answer the question: what didn’t Olmsted do before designing Central Park?

To say he was a late-bloomer is an understatement. He bounced from one failed career to another well into his thirties. Add to that his entrenched restlessness, and you have a formula for a near endless array of attempted occupations.

I count at least eight: student (he dropped in and out of school for at least a decade), farmer (attempted twice, then abandoned altogether), sailor (all the way to China and back on a merchant vessel that almost mutinied), writer (books ranging from his travels in England to slavery in the South of the US), head of the United States Sanitary Commission (the precursor to the Red Cross that aided the wounded Union soldiers in the Civil War), mining supervisor (until the company went belly-up in a scandal) and, last but not least, landscape architect.

Since there was no profession that went by the name of landscape architecture in the mid-nineteenth century (Olmsted’s son, Rick, spearheaded the first graduate program of landscape architecture long after his father’s death) then you can add to the list of Olmsted’s occupations, artist and engineer, both wrapped into one.

To help illustrate Olmsted’s circuitous career path, I have Christopher Middleton, the main character in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, run through a similar maze of adventure that echo what Olmsted attempted during his own lifetime.

 

Traveling on the Santa Maria–Not Exactly a Ride on the Queen Mary

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Christoforo Columbo (aka, Christopher Columbus), ‘Great Admiral of All the Ocean’, as he fancied himself being called…

As everyone knows, Columbus had three ships on his maiden voyage to the New World, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.

Unlike the other two, more agile boats, the flagship Santa Maria was a carrack. Fat and slow, she was designed for hauling cargo (read ‘gold’), not for exploration.

Slow as the Santa Maria was, the voyage itself was not without drama. The ship was forced off course; mutiny was threatened; instead of discovering the western passage to China, Columbus and his crew ran aground in San Salvador, Cuba and the Dominican Republic (ho hum!). Finally, the Santa Maria collided with a reef on Christmas Day and had to be salvaged for its timber.

ReplicaCarabelas

…and his flagship, the Santa Maria. Not unlike an oreo cookie with a big bite taken out of the middle, no?

I tried to weave at least some of these colorful elements into Christopher Middleton’s own ‘voyage’ across the Central Park reservoir in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, and highlight what actually took place on Columbus’ historic voyage to the new world.

A Jousting Tournament in Central Park?

Jousting

Medieval Jousting…not my idea of a relaxing afternoon in the country

Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott, was the first historical novel of its kind and set off a train of similar type novels.

By today’s standards its plot seems cookie-cutter with lots of valiant fighting and flag-waving tournaments, but one has to remember that it was the original cookie cutter back in 1820 when it was penned.

Seeing as there’s already a statue of Sir Scott on Literary Walk, I decided to make Sir Scott and his novel, Ivanhoe, a part of my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.

Of course, this required some creativity. The castle was obvious. Belvedere Castle is the most prominent landmark in the park, sitting on top of a 90-foot bluff that overlooks a pond and a field. The statue of King Jagiello with his two crossed swords that stands a few hundred yards away, proved to be another convenient element. But where was I to find a horse for Christopher Middleton, the main character, to ride in a tournament? Then I remembered the horses on the carousel next to the Dairy. Ridiculous as it may seem, I have Christopher ride a wooden horse from the carousel!

 

 

 

 

Webster’s 1820 Speech at Plymouth Really Rocked!

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Daniel Webster about to give his Plymouth Rock Oration at 72nd Street on the west side of the park…

On a cold December 20th in 1820, Daniel Webster gave an oration commemorating the bicentennial of the Pilgrim’s landing in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

‘There is a local feeling connected with this occasion too strong to be resisted,’ he said, ‘a sort of genius of the place which inspires and awes us…’ And he went on to describe in vivid detail what he thought it might have been like for these adventurous Europeans when they first set foot in North America.

Though some might consider it a bit of  a stretch, I find it no coincidence that the monolithic statue of Webster and the statue of the Pilgrim face each other from opposite sides of the park, as if Webster were giving his speech and the Pilgrim were listening.

pilgrim

…and the Pilgrim statue on the east side of the park at 72nd Street near Fifth Avenue listening in.

No doubt the park commissioners were aware of Webster’s famous oration and so decided to place the statues accordingly.

In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, I have Webster give a modified version of his Plymouth speech to the Pilgrim as a sort of modern day re-enactment in honor of their being on opposite sides of the park.