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

Bet You Didn’t Know Even Half of These Amazing Facts About Central Park

Painting of Central Park dated 1863

A pictorial rendering of Central Park dated 1863

I spent several years researching Central Park for my ongoing young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, and, in the process, I came across a number of features of the park that surprised and, in some cases, shocked me.

Here are a few of them, and I’d be most curious to know if you were aware of any of them yourself:

–The Mall is the only formal aspect of the park, the rest of the park being devoted to nature.

–The Mall points due north (the rest of the city points north east, so the Mall is at an angle to the actual grid of the city).

–There are three waterfalls in the park, all of them run artificially by hidden pumps.

–The Ramble Lake is terraced with concrete and is only seven feet deep in the middle (it used to be a swamp). This was done to protect skaters when it was used as a skating rink from the 1860s to the 1950s.

–A cave was discovered in the Ramble when the park was under construction. It was a popular tourist attraction until the 1920’s when someone was found murdered there, and it was finally sealed. It was called the Indian Cave because it was assumed to have been used by Indians as a shelter before New York was settled by white men.

–A village of freed slaves once existed in the area near Belvedere Castle, and was abandoned in the 1850s when the park was being built.

–More dynamite was used in the construction of Central Park than was used in the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War.

–A casino once stood where the Naumberg Bandshell stands today. It was frequented by the mayor (Jimmy Walker) as well as a by gangsters, and was only torn down in the Great Depression under Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. Its menu was more expensive than that of the Plaza Hotel at 59th Street and Central Park South (a rib steak cost a whopping one dollar!)

–A herd of sheep used to graze in the Sheep Meadow but were removed during the Great Depression when people started slaughtering them for food.

–General George Washington’s main headquarters was once located next to the Harlem Meer in the northeastern end of the park (Fort Fish). Washington was forced to abandon it under threat by the British and didn’t return to reclaim New York until after the Revolutionary War was over. (He was made president in Federal Hall on Wall Street).

–an actual fort (block house) still stands in the northwest corner of the park at 110th Street. It was built in 1812 to help defend the city from the British. The British never came, but the block house remains there to this day.

–The north end of the park was designed to resemble the Adirondack region of New York, a region that was popular with the wealthy as a location for their summer homes.

–The northeastern side of the park was used as an encampment by Union troops during the Civil War and housed an orphanage called St. Vincent’s where Frederick Law Olmsted and his family once lived.

And the list goes on…but at least it gives you a taste about what an amazing cultural treasure the park really is!

Belvedere Castle in Central Park

View of Central Park today (2015)

 

 

Montessori Schools and the Future of Education

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori was an amazing educator who emphasized engaging and exploration as opposed to being spoon-fed information

More than 100 years ago, Dr. Maria Montessori, Italy’s first female physician, inspired the birth of a worldwide educational movement.

Drawing upon her scientific background and clinical understanding, Dr. Montessori observed how young people learn best when engaged in purposeful activity rather than being fed information. She recognized that children’s cognitive growth and development requires the construction of an educational framework that respects individuality and fulfills the needs of the ‘whole child.’

Her pioneering work created a blueprint for nurturing all children— from gifted to learning disabled—to become self-motivated, independent, and life-long learners.

Throughout my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, education is a theme. I didn’t intend for my books to be only amusing or exciting (of course,  I tried to make them that, as well!). I wanted them to pique the imagination as well as help the reader come to terms with issues, such as education, in their broadest sense.

 

Thoreau’s Walden–Not Your Typical Backyard Camping Trip

Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond

Thoreau’s cabin near Walden Pond

Walden, a book by by noted Transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau,  is part personal declaration of independence, part social experiment, and part manual for self-reliance. Published in 1854, it details Thoreau’s experiences over the course of two years, two months, and two days in a cabin he built near Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts.

By immersing himself in nature, Thoreau hoped to gain a more objective understanding of society through personal introspection which, in many ways is what happens to Christopher Middleton, the main character in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.

Of course, it wouldn’t be possible without a little imagination and fantasy mixed in, but I wanted to prove to my readers, both young and old, that there are no limitations when it comes to nature.

 

School Rankings: What’s Really Behind the Numbers?

groton school

Groton School outside of Boston which I attended from grades 8-12 followed the same boring conveyor-belt approach to education that you find in the rest of the country–only in this case, for the highly-privileged few

In order to get a high ranking for a private school these days, you need to offer a low student-to-faculty ratio, a challenging curriculum, and an excellent reputation for college prep.

You could say the same about colleges and grad school rankings.

Add to this the more general principle that input equals output, meaning if you select the right quality of student coming in, the product coming out will be consistent with your ranking, and voila, you have a formula for a fabulous ranking!

But is this what education is truly about?

I attended some of the best schools in the country, but came out the other end realizing that a fabulous education isn’t just for the carefully selected few in our society; it’s a basic human right, and everyone (I mean EVERYONE) has an inner genius that is fully capable of being unfolded, if given the right set of circumstances in which to blossom.

This is why I tried to interweave the theme of a more natural system of education throughout my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, and emphasize that everyone’s needs for an excellent education can and should be fulfilled–not just those of the privileged few.

 

It Took More Gunpowder Than Was Used in the Battle of Gettysburg to Construct Central Park

Gettysburg

More casualties were suffered at Gettysburg than in any other battle in the Civil War

In Book One of my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, Christopher Middleton, the main character,  mentions that it took more gunpowder than was used in the Battle of Gettysburg to construct Central Park.

I also have one of the statues (yes, the statues talk in my books) compare Christopher’s personal challenges to the famous battle.

So, what exactly happened at Gettysburg on those three fateful days in July of 1863 to make it such a potent symbol?

The short answer is that it marked the point in the Civil War where the Confederacy shifted from being on the offensive to being primarily defensive, and although the war would continue, battle after bloody battle, for another two years, never would the South work their way this far north again.

Gettysburg

The Civil War was also the first war where photographs of the casualties were taken

Gettysburg cost a total of 50,000 casualties combined, most of them caused by the same gunpowder that made Central Park what it is today, so the battle proved an apt symbol both for the park, as well as my main character’s own internal battles.

 

 

 

Was the Central Park Dairy Ever a Dairy?

If you’ve ever gone to the Central Park Carousel or the Wollman’s Skating Rink, you’ve probably run into the Central Park Dairy along the way.

The Central Park Dairy

The Central Park Dairy, a Victorian Gothic masterpiece…

Built in 1870, it’s an exquisite example of Victorian Gothic architecture, with a little bit of gingerbread house thrown in.

The loggia (where Christopher Middleton’s Aunt B imagines herself playing in Central Park Story Book Two) is a masterpiece on its own (see photo below) while the rest is brimming with delightful details.

The Loggia of the Dairy

…and its loggia, a perfect place to escape from the oppressive heat of the summer, don’t you think?

Calvert Vaux’s greatest masterpiece is still considered to be the Central Park Mall and the Bethesda Terrace that sits at its head, but it’s buildings like the Dairy that, on a smaller, more intimate scale, show the real depth of his genius.

Oh, and yes, it once supplied fresh milk to the children of the city before becoming the information center and gift shop that it is today!

 

Turtle Pond: Where Dragonflies Magically Turn into Dragons

dragonfly

A rare species of dragonfly inhabits the pond in front of Belvedere Castle.

The pond in front of Belvedere Castle is a miniature nature preserve that, over the years, has attracted everything from ducks and turtles to a rare species of dragonfly that hasn’t been seen in the park in decades.

Being a designated quiet zone, it’s a perfect place for a writer to let his or her imagination run wild. In my case, that meant making the connection between the dragonflies that frequent its pond and the mythical dragon, or cockatrice, that graces the entrance to the castle on the promontory above.

In case you don’t know what a cockatrice is, they are mythical creatures with the head of a rooster, the body of a snake, and the wings of a bat.

Bronze Cockatrice at Belvedere Castle

The bronze image of the cockatrice that sits above the entrance to Belvedere Castle

Since cockatrices can’t be killed except by seeing their own reflection, I decided to make use of the pond as a mirror, and instead of killing them off, I had them turn into the rare species of dragonfly that lives on its pond!

Such is the freedom of a writer. He can turn anything into anything else with the flick of a pen.

If you want to see how it all unfolds, you might want to read Central Park Story Book One!

Cockatrices: Coming Face-to-Face With One’s Worst Fears

th

The cockatrice . . . not your typical house pet!

Behind every myth lies a truth, and the the myth of the cockatrice is no exception.

With the head of a rooster, the body of a snake, and the wings of a bat, this mythical creature is a composite of all that we fear most.

When I chose it as an embodiment of all the evil that my main character, Christopher Middleton, learns to face in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, I was looking to add a degree of excitement. However when I dug a little deeper and found that the nasty creature can only be killed by looking at its own reflection, the truth behind it gradually struck home: the only way that we can truly get rid of our worst fears is to turn around and face them.

Cleopatra’s Needle Behind the Met: Was it Really Cleopatra’s Needle?

Cleopatra's Needle

This is how it looked in 1881 in Alexandria, Egypt

Thutmose III would have taken offense at hearing it called ‘Cleopatra’s Needle’. The obelisk was over 1000 years old by the time Cleopatra was even born!

Thutmose III made this monument as an everlasting testament to his reign, and he clearly had a high opinion of himself because its inscriptions compare him to the gods.

Unfortunately, even Thutmose’s desire for immortality proved no match for the wear and tear of the industrial revolution. After it was transported from Alexandria to Central Park and dedicated in 1881, it took only a few decades of acid rain to erase a great deal of his claims.

Cleopatra's Needle

…and now in Central Park, NYC.

Regardless, I make full use of it as a place of mystery in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.

 

Alexander Hamilton: A True New Yorker

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton: a true blue New Yorker

Alexander Hamilton was a Federalist (believer in a strong central government) and a capitalist (he was the creator of the Central Bank). Though he was one of the founding fathers and signatories of the Declaration of Independence and put his life on the line for his country (he was Washington’s chief of staff during the Revolution) he is somewhat controversial in that he was ultimately an elitist.

For that reason, I try to portray him as both an ally and an adversary to my main character, Christopher Middleton, in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story. But one thing about the man is beyond controversy: he was a devoted  New Yorker, having lived the majority of his life in the city  and having retired and died there, too.

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton dressed for success

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