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

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


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




Turtle Pond: Where Dragonflies Magically Turn into Dragons


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!

Ah! Those Magnificent Elms!

Elms in Central Park

Elms along the Promenade in Central Park

As an artist brought up on a farm, Christopher Middleton would naturally notice the elms on his very first day in the city.

Not so, when it came to my own first year in the Big A. Like most kids, I took them for granted even when my mother pointed them out (she grew up in Boston where there used to be tons of elms). So I was surprised to discover many years later that the elms in Central Park are one of the last remaining stands.

A devastating disease called ‘Dutch Elm’ wiped out the vast majority of them in the mid 19th Century. Somehow the ones in New York City were spared. Divine providence? Perhaps. Especially given that Olmsted made use of these magnificent trees to create a sense of space similar to the vaulted interior of a cathedral. In fact, the walk that leads to the Bethesda Terrace used to be called ‘Cathedral Walk’.

The elms didn’t always gain favor with the Divine, however. When the park was under construction and the public demanded large trees, already-mature elms were selected and transplanted there. Despite the promise of $30 for any that survived beyond the first three years, they soon died. More were planted as seedlings and those matured yet experienced a similar fate to their predecessors in the 1890s. The elms we see today were planted in the 1920s and are close to 100 years old. Someone must have finally figured out how to grow them!

Imagine what these wonderful trees have ‘seen’ in all this time?! Christopher isn’t the only one who has a story to tell about the sights and sounds of the park!

Here’s a recent article written in the New York Times that talks about this often-overlooked,  ‘hidden’ treasure.


The Arcade at the Bethesda Terrace: a Playground for the Imagination


The staircase leading to the underground arcade from the Mall

In case you aren’t familiar with the definition of an arcade, it’s a succession of arches, each counter-thrusting the next and supported by columns or piers. The beauty of its design is that it creates a quasi-interior space that can both protect from the elements while, at the same time, lend a sense of being outdoors.

In the case of the underground arcade at the Bethesda Terrace, its creators, Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould, took it one step further: not only did they design it to offer an intimate view of the fountain and the Ramble beyond, but they made it a world unto itself.

Its highlight is the magnificent Minton tile ceiling designed by Mould, who also conceived the decorative carvings throughout the rest of the terrace.


A view of both the Minton tiles on the ceiling and the trompe l’oeil paintings on the walls

Installed in 1869, there are more than 15,000 encaustic tiles, made by England’s famed Minton Tile Company. Encaustic tiles, originally created to cover floors, are made of individual colored clays pressed and fired into the tile to form the design. Bethesda arcade is the only place in the world where these Minton tiles are used for a ceiling.

As if this wasn’t enough of a delight for the eye, the niches that flank the walls of the arcade are covered with trompe l’oeil paintings.


…and finally, a view of the Angel of the Waters and the Bethesda Fountain at the opposite end of the arcade. What an incredible space!

Being a writer of fantasy novels, the illusions created for these niches immediately set my imagination on fire, and I imagined a hidden staircase buried in one of their paintings, which Christopher Middleton, the main character in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, discovers on his way home from school.




Bet You Have No Idea What a Lemniscate Is!

a lemniscate

Here’s what a lemniscate looks like…

In algebraic geometry, a lemniscate is any of several figure-eight shaped curves. The word comes from the Latin, “lēmniscātus” meaning “decorated with ribbons”, which may come from the ancient Greek island of Lemnos where ribbons were worn as decorations.

If you still don’t know what a lemniscate is (I admit I’m not much of a mathematician myself), know that you’re not alone. Christopher Middleton’s first reaction when his girlfriend mentions the word ‘lemniscate’ in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, is “A lemon WHAT?”

Olmsted’s Ever-Abiding Love for Central Park

Frederick Law Olmsted

Frederick Law Olmsted  as an ambitious and passionate young man

‘Love’ isn’t exactly a word that was bandied about in the 19th Century. Times were tough in a country that had to go through a devastating Civil War and for people who had to work hard for everything they put on the table.

So when it comes to Olmsted’s feelings about his work on Central Park, one might have expected a similar degree of practical reserve.

Not so.

As he stated in one of his letters: ‘There is no other place in the world that is more home to me. I love it through and through, and all the more for the trials it has cost me.’

Written in 1865, the trials he is referring to were the obstacles to the park’s completion put in his way by the political powers of his time.

When the park was finally completed and the Angel of the Waters  installed on top of the Bethesda Fountain, it was Olmsted and Vaux who suggested that it be dedicated, not to some politically correct cause like might have happened today, but to Love itself.

To capture the deep sentiment that Olmsted held for this remarkable urban space, I have Christopher Middleton, the main character in my young adult adventure series Central Park Story, echo these same feelings, down to the very words that Olmsted used himself.


Robert Burns’ Inspired Poem ‘A Red Red Rose!’

Robert Burns

The Robert Burns statue that sits on the Promenade looks ready to pen another masterpiece.

Most people know that Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796)  was a Scottish poet and lyricist widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland.

What most people don’t know about is his connection to Bob Dylan–a lyrical poet and a romantic of our own times.

When asked what he felt was the greatest inspiration for his song writing, Dylan didn’t hesitate to mention the poem, ‘A Red Red Rose!’  by our dear ‘Robbie’ Burns.

In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, Christopher Middleton, the main character, also finds this poem to be an inspiration that takes him to new heights in his relationship with his friend, Jennifer.

In case you don’t already have the poem memorized (smile), here it is:

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee well, my only Luve
And fare thee well, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.

Olmsted’s Many Projects Beyond Central Park

Frederick Law Olmsted

Frederick Law Olmsted, a master of his craft

There isn’t enough space on a single post to outline all of Olmsted’s other projects beyond Central Park.

Suffice it to say that they start with Prospect Park in Brooklyn and run clear across the country where he designed the master plan for the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University in Palo Alto.

The quality of his work was recognized by his contemporaries, who showered him with dozens of prestigious commissions. His inspired plans set a standard for excellence that continues to influence landscape architecture in the United States to this day.

But that wasn’t all that occupied his unbounded energy. His other lines of achievement included his activism in conservation and the National Park system, as well as providing medical services to the Union Army during the Civil War.

Oh, and by the way, Olmsted turned out to be a very late bloomer who didn’t find his footing as a landscape architect until his mid-thirties! So I guess that means there’s hope for the rest of us (including, I might add, Christopher Middleton, the main character in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story).