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

 

When Did Thanksgiving Start in the US?

Norman-Rockwell-Thanksgiving-thanksgiving

The spirit of Thanksgiving endures despite the vagaries of time…

The answer isn’t as simple as you might think.

President Washington proclaimed the first nationwide thanksgiving celebration in America by marking November 26, 1789, “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God”.

However, from the time of Washington until the time of Lincoln, the date when it was celebrated varied from state to state.

The first time Thanksgiving was celebrated on the same date by all states was in 1863 by presidential proclamation from Abraham Lincoln in an attempt to foster a sense of American unity toward the end of the Civil War; but due to the South’s refusal to recognize Lincoln’s authority, a nationwide Thanksgiving date was not fully realized until Reconstruction was completed in the 1870s.

Finally, in 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt changed the date from the last Thursday of November to the third Thursday of the month to lift the country’s spirit in the midst of a global war.

Fortunately, the spirit in which Thanksgiving was begun in the 1700s, and which I try to preserve in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, persists “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God”.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Summerstage, New York Marathon, Rock Concerts, Shakespeare–How Much More Can You Fit Into a City Park?

New York Marathon

Feeling claustrophobic? The New York Marathon will test you to the max.

How many different free cultural activities can you fit inside a city park?

If you want to know the answer, you needn’t look any further than Central Park in Manhattan.

First, you have all of the free performing arts festivals such as Central Park Summerstage and the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, which take place every summer and are free admission.

Add to that the New York Marathon, an annual event since 1970 which has ballooned to over 50,000 participants, and traditionally ends in Central Park.

Shakespeare in the Park

Shakespeare in the Park with the Castle in the background…pretty magical, no?

Then there’s Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater which features the best of Shakespeare and has been attended by over five million spectators since its opening in 1962 (also free on a ‘first come first serve’ basis).

Speaking of the  60s, let’s not forget the many free rock concerts such as Simon and Garfunkle, Carole King, America, Elton John…the list goes on and on.

Simon and Garfunkle concert

A mere 500,000 people attended a concert bu Simon and Garfunkel in 1981!

But if you think the list ends there, think again; which is why I had to be extremely selective in deciding which free cultural events to include in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.

 

 

Mixing Potassium Permanganate and Ethanol…Better Think Twice!

As Christopher Middleton’s chemistry teacher learns in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, it’s probably best not to mix potassium permanganate and ethanol or you might experience the following: