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

Old As Time and the Issue of Homelessness in NYC

Homeless man in Central Park

Homeless man in Central Park. Is he really any different than you or me?

Old As Time is a character I created in order to put a face on the homeless problem in New York City.

Despite the great leaps of progress the city has made in the area of crime, the homeless situation has only worsened over the same span of time.

As of March 2015, over 60,ooo sought refuge in city shelters every night, up a dramatic 12% from the previous year. Yet building more shelters or even offering housing subsidies to the homeless isn’t the answer. Homelessness is a profound reminder that something is lacking at the very foundation of the society we claim to be are a part of.

Perhaps Christopher, the main character in Central Park Story Book One, has a valid point: only in a society that is democratic in the true sense of the word, where people are viewed as equals and afforded equal opportunities from education on up, can such blemishes be fully eradicated.

 

A Geometric Pattern Buried in the Design of Central Park? Does it Really Exist?

Central Park Map

Map of Central Park. Is there really a hidden geometric design buried in this image?

When I first began researching Central Park Story, a young adult adventure series set in Central Park in NYC,  I came across a number of features in the park that I considered highly unusual.

First, the promenade that extends from the Olmsted Flower Bed and ends at the Bethesda Terrace points due north (rather than in line with the grid of the city). Second, it points directly at Belvedere Castle on the opposite side of the Ramble. Third, the distance from the flower bed to the angel and from the angel to the castle in the north are exactly the same. And fourth, if you used both of these distances as the diameter of two separate but equal circles, the perimeter of each circle passes either through or close by eight familiar landmarks in the park.

Was this deliberate on the part of the designers of the park or merely coincidental?

One can be certain that Calvert Vaux (Olmsted’s architectural partner who originally designed the Mall) consciously chose to point the promenade due north, but the rest? That’s anyone’s guess.

However, as a writer of fiction I wasn’t going to let this discovery go to waste, and decided to make it a part of a puzzle that Christopher Middleton, the main character of my story, must solve in order to avert a disaster that would otherwise engulf the city.

Still, it made me wonder how many more amazing things are contained in the park–something that I plan to enumerate in my next post, so stay tuned!

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!

 

Olmsted’s Final Commission: The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC

Biltmore Estate

Not your typical house in the country, the Biltmore featured massive gardens and a 125,000 acre backyard!

George Washington Vanderbilt, the youngest son of the railroad magnate, Cornelius Vanderbilt, fell in love with the magical mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, on a visit there with his mother, and commissioned Richard Morris Hunt to build a 175,000 square foot home on the banks of the French Broad River (yes, those are three zeros!).

Vanderbilt  envisioned a park-like setting for his new home and commissioned Olmsted to design the extensive grounds. However, Olmsted was not impressed with the condition of the 125,000 acres that surrounded the house (yes, those are three zeros, again!) and advised Vanderbilt to turn them into a park, establishing the first forestry education program in the U.S.

Of course, Olmsted made sure to incorporate 75 acres of formal gardens directly around the house, including an Italian formal garden, a walled garden, a shrub and rose garden, numerous fountains, and a conservatory with individual rooms for palms and orchids.

Biltmore Estate

‘Have a walk around the garden, but don’t be late for lunch!’

By the time it was nearing completion in 1895, thirty years after completion of his work on Central Park in New York City, Olmsted was already slipping into senility and his son, Rick, had to finish the project. But what a project, and what a fitting farewell to one of the greatest geniuses ever to grace the field of landscape architecture!

 

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