Archive for the ‘Central Park Story – Book Four’ 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.

 

Skateboarding in Central Park in 1965

skateboarding

Skateboarding in Central Park in 1965 before anyone knew what to wear in the sport

You probably think you’ve seen it all when it comes to New York, but New Yorkers like to have the last word on every subject–skateboarding being no exception.

In the pic to the right, a well-heeled New Yorker takes a ride on a board in Central Park well before skateboarding became ‘cool’. And, in case you’re wondering what New Yorkers might have come up with regarding the final word in skateboarding, get a load of this:

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.

 

New York Historical Society–A Great Place for a School Outing (and an Argument)

Newyorkhistoricalsociety

Looks like a bank…Guess what? It’s architects specialized in designing banks!

The New-York Historical Society (not to be confused with the Museum of the City of New York) at the corner of 77th Street and Central Park West is the oldest museum in New York City and predates the founding of the Metropolitan Museum by nearly 70 years. Its art holdings comprise more than 1.6 million works. Among them are a world-class collection of Hudson River School paintings, including major works by Thomas Cole and Frederick Church.

It’s proximity to my fictitious Central Park School in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, made it an easy choice as a location for a confrontation between my main character, Christopher Middleton, and his girlfriend, Ashley. What better place than a museum for an argument?

 

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.

 

Is Something Really Buried Under Cleopatra’s Needle in Central Park?

Obelisk in Central Park

Here’s an artist’s rendition of the obelisk being installed in the park. He put the Brooklyn Bridge, completed a few years earlier, in the background, though the bridge would not have been visible from the park when the obelisk was installed.

The Obelisk, nicknamed Cleopatra’s Needle, is the oldest man-made object in Central Park…by around four thousand years!

It is one of a pair that were commissioned for Heliopolis on the banks of the Nile in 1450 BC by an Egyptian pharaoh who wished to celebrate his 30 years of reign. The twin monuments were then moved to Alexandria in 18AD where they remained until one obelisk was moved to London in 1878. The second, erected two years later in Central Park, was offered by the Egyptian Khedive to America in exchange for funds to modernize his country.

As you can see from the picture to the right, moving the 69-foot, 220-ton granite monument from Egypt to New York was an arduous and delicate process. It took 112 days from the time the Obelisk first landed on the banks of the Hudson until it reached its future position in the park. Laborers inched the monument on parallel beams, aided by roll boxes and a pile-driver engine. Thousands turned out on January 22, 1881 to marvel as the obelisk was turned upright.

Obelisk in Central Park

The Obelisk as it appears today. I wonder if Pharaoh Thutmose III ever dreamed that his monument would end up in a park on the other side of the world?

To add some mystery to an already mysterious object, a well-known journalist named William Henry Hurlburt buried a time capsule beneath the monolith. In his box, he included an 1870 U.S. census, a Bible, a Webster’s Dictionary, the complete works of Shakespeare, a guide to Egypt, and a facsimile of the Declaration of Independence. Last but not least, another smaller box was placed in the capsule by the man who orchestrated the purchase and transportation of the Obelisk. He will probably be the only person to know its contents…at least until some archaeologists decide to excavate the remains of New York City some four thousand years from now!

Buskers In Central Park: An Unexpected Treat

No blog on Central Park would be complete without mentioning the buskers that frequent the Promenade, the Terrace, and the Castle.

Their talent, virtuosity, and, on occasion, genius, add a new dimension to the cultural milieu of the park.

Though Olmsted and Vaux never would have imagined such performances taking place beyond the confines of the Naumberg Bandshell where formal concerts were sometimes held, it demonstrates the flexibility of their original design that it could accommodate such changes in the future.

In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, Christopher Middleton, the main character, happens upon an unusual performance on the Bethesda Terrace, conducted by none other than the Mad Hatter himself!

Here’s one of the many performances that take place along the Mall on a sunny afternoon: