This painting, by John O’Brian Inman, depicts a lovely nighttime scene at the lake in Central Park, with Bethesda Fountain in the background.
Ice skating became hugely popular in the second half of the 19th century. Skating clubs formed, and tens of thousands of New Yorkers would show up during prime winter days at the lakes of the city’s new parks.
Central Park officials had a way of letting skaters know when it was safe to go on the ice: A red ball would be raised from a bell tower in the park, near where Belvedere Castle is today. A red pennant hoisted over the middle of the lake, however, was a warning that the ice was dangerous.