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

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

 

 

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!!

 

Is There Really a Secret Model Of Central Park Dating Back to the 1860s?

A Bird's Eye View of Central Park

A bird’s eye view of the park that Christopher crosses each morning

I don’t know if Olmsted and Vaux created a scaled-down version of Central Park as they developed their design. So far, I’ve only been able to locate the drawings they submitted for the original competition (their so-called ‘Greensward Plan’). Yet, the possibility of there being a secret model hidden away in an apartment was too inviting an idea for me not to include in my book, Central Park Story.

I’m including an aerial view, so you can imagine Christopher  comparing what he sees on his early morning walks in the park with the model he discovers in his Aunt B’s closet.

 

Homelessness in New York City

Homeless man in Central Park

Homeless man in Central Park (2014). Could be you, or me.

Over 100,000 people go homeless in NYC every single year. Of those, at least 38,000 live in shelters.

This is a statistic from 2003, over ten years ago. Since then, the number of homeless in shelters and on the street has nearly doubled!

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes feel more kinship with the homeless than with the rest of humanity. Their life seems more real to me because it’s more immediate and desperate. At certain key points of my life, I’ve also felt I was only a few steps away from where they were. As a struggling writer, I may find myself in that position again.

Probably the first thing we can do to help solve this ongoing problem is to realize that, in a very real sense, we are them and they are us. That, at least, would be a start.

I purposefully contrasted the scene of Christopher and Ashley having dessert at Serendipity in Central Park Story Book One with Christopher running into Old As Time, a homeless man who lives in the park, in order to show the seeming unreality of one versus the hard reality of the other.

May we have eyes to see every man and woman as ourselves. Otherwise, the problem isn’t with the homeless, the problem is us.

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!

 

 

Sir Walter Scott, I presume?

Statue of Sir Walter Scot

Sir Walter Scott, I presume?

The statues along Central Park’s Literary Walk are an odd lot of characters, to say the least!

First of all, there aren’t any American writers or poets, with the sole exception of Fitz Greene Halleck (whom most people never heard of). Blatantly missing are dozens of literary luminaries of the 19th and 20th centuries–Longfellow, Poe, Whitman, Frost, to name just a few. So what happened?

It turns out that getting a statue erected in the park was more a matter of arm-twisting than notoriety. No one set out to create a visual catalog of America’s literary giants in Central Park. They simply liked someone and lobbied to have his statue installed there–very American, right?

America was also less than a century old in the mid-1800s and was still borrowing heavily against the European culture from which it emerged, which helps explain the presence of statues such as William Shakespeare and Robert Burns, for instance.

In the case of Sir Walter Scott (see pic), one can imagine another, perhaps more meaningful, connection. His historical novel Ivanhoe, which was very popular in the 19th century, was about the emergence of an egalitarian society from the darkness of the Middle Ages–much like the United States emerging from the struggles of the Revolution and the Civil War.

Christopher Middleton, being a lazy student by nature, has to be force-fed information both at school as well as  in the park in Central Park Story Book One, though the idea of an egalitarian, as opposed to a class-based society, soon becomes a major issue for him in his struggles to deal with the world around him.

 

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!

 

Take a Brief Tour of Central Park…

North End of Central Park

Take a tour of Central Park from two different perspectives!

There are two  tours I want you to see: one from the human perspective and another from the perspective of, well, the birds who call it home (click here to view both).

The first video features a number of places that Christopher frequents in Book One of Central Park Story, but given that Jennifer is an avid birder, I decided to add one from a slightly different point of view–one that I’m sure she would both appreciate and approve of!

The Cooper-Hewitt Museum: A Nice Side Trip

Mansion-with-wisteria

The backyard of the Carnegie Mansion where his daughter presumably played to her heart’s content

I always felt a close affinity to the Carnegie Mansion at 91st and Fifth, now known as the Cooper Hewitt Museum.

My mother’s apartment was a few blocks uptown, and we would walk past it on our way to church or whenever I went for a jog around the reservoir.

Now that I’m several decades older, my curiosity about its origins has been piqued, and I looked it up online.

The mansion was built in 1901 at the request of Carnegie who asked for a plain but roomy house with a garden for his daughter to play in. Plain it isn’t. Roomy it is. It has 60 ‘roomies’, as a matter of fact!

Carnegie had just finished publishing his book, The Gospel of Wealth, a year earlier in 1900, in which he declared that to die a wealthy man was ‘to die in disgrace’ and that one’s wealth, however great or small, should be distributed beforehand to the benefit of all.

You can almost hear the echo of people screaming ‘No!’ up and down Millionaires Row on Fifth Avenue to this day. But Carnegie, if nothing else, never paid much attention to what others thought of his methods. He proceeded to give away 350 million dollars (several billion in today’s terms) until his death in 1919, leaving only a meager $30 million to be distributed afterwards.

After his wife passed away in 1946, the mansion was donated by the Carnegie Corporation to the Smithsonian Institute and, around the time I began living in the neighborhood, was renovated and converted into the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, a museum devoted to several hundred years of design innovations, which explains why I was never knew much about it.

Christopher Middleton, in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, also walks past this iconic landmark, though he has other, more important things on his mind, like talking statues and cockatrices flying around Belvedere Castle!