Archive for the ‘central park’ Category

The wild history of Central Park’s Ramble Cave

February 27, 2017

It’s known as the Ramble Cave or Indian Cave, its remains viewed today from a footpath through the Ramble Arch in the woodsy, boulder-strewn Ramble section of Central Park, just below 79th Street.

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The cave was discovered by workers building the park in the 1850s. Designers Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted incorporated it into their plans for the Ramble (below, in 1900), which they envisioned to be “a wild garden.”

cavemcnyx2010-11-1419therambleincentralparkUnfortunately for urban explorers, both ends of the cave (one was accessible through the lake, the other beside the Ramble Arch) were sealed in 1934.

Yet in the years it existed, it earned an early reputation as a place of fun and adventure—then something more disturbing.

First, the fun part. Unsurprisingly, the cave was a thrill for kids, an “Eldorado of pleasures.”

“See that stone bridge half hid by flowering vines,” explains an 1877 children’s magazine article about the park. “And this place? What’s here? A cave! The boys go into the black hole in the rock and the girls timidly follow.”

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The cave was also tinged with romance, a “bold and romantic rock chamber” as an 1861 Harper’s Monthly article described it.

“It is a romantic rock fissure, which opens northward at the base of the western slope of the Ramble, and southward upon a little arm of the lake,” stated an 1866 guide.

caveramblerunawaynytheadline1897It might also be the same “wild but beautiful” cave where one 15-year-old runaway hid for a month in 1897, worrying her immigrant parents before being found by police, sitting on a rock and soon forced out.

But after the turn of the century, based on newspaper accounts, the cave gained a darker edge.

In 1904, an artist was found guilty of disorderly conduct after another man, a baker, claimed that the artist walked him to the “Indian Cave” with the intent of robbing him.

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Twenty-five years later, 335 men—some found hanging out in the cave—were charged with the crime of “annoying women.”

cavesuicideheadlinenytHarassment is one thing—suicide another. In 1904, a man killed himself with a shot to the heart on the steps of the cave. “My name is boy,” a note in his pocket said, reported the New York Times. “No relatives in this country.”

And in 1908, another man slit his throat with a razor there, telling a cop, “one of the sparrows told me to do it,” according to the Sun.

All of this unsavory activity led park officials to shut the cave off to the public.

cavecloseupeasternsideramblearchThe lakeside opening was bricked off and the Ramble entrance blocked by boulders and dirt.

Walk by the Ramble Arch today, and you wouldn’t know a cave used to be here—though the remains of a staircase that once led to it can be seen by eagle-eyed explorers.

[Second photo: The Ramble in 1900, MCNY, x2010.11.1419; third photo: The cave from the Ramble, NYPL 1863; fourth image: New York Times headline 1897; fifth photo: the Ramble arch near the cave, NYPL, 1863; sixth image: New York Times headline, 1904]

Old men, a folded chessboard, and Central Park

February 6, 2017

Time stands still in this May 1946 photo, which captures two “old timers,” as the caption states, immersed in a game of chess while surrounded by the beauty and tranquility of Central Park.

Perhaps they were among the former residents of Central Park’s Depression-era Hooverville, a pop-up city of shacks and forgotten men?

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It’s part of the digitized American Cities collection at the National Archives, which deserves a long thumbing through.

Chess wasn’t the only game older men played in New York City parks. Bocce courts ruled parks in Italian-American neighborhoods, with groups of often Italian Americans crowding green spaces in Lower Manhattan.

One girl’s 1899 travel diary of New York City

January 16, 2017

On a January day, 12-year-old Naomi King and her parents left their Indiana home for a vacation in New York City.

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After arriving and meeting up with Naomi’s older sister Josie, a Manhattan resident, the family settled into the West 118th Street home of their host, a Mrs. Purdy.

naomicentralparkmallThrough early February they did what most first-time tourists do: they visited museums and Central Park (left), window-shopped stores, took in the Bowery, and saw the seashore at Coney Island.

What makes King’s visit so unique is that it occurred in January 1899.

And because King kept a travel diary (part of the Archives & Manuscripts Collection at the NYPL), contemporary readers get to experience the Gilded Age city as it appeared through her impressionable eyes.

naomicentralparkbandLike any trend-driven tween, King wrote about the clothes displayed in stores like Stern’s (top image) in the Ladies Mile shopping district.

“We got off [the Broadway car] at 23rd Street and Josie took us to the Stern Brothers, one of the large and select dry goods houses where we saw the latest fashions,” she wrote.

She saw “all the new spring styles [and] the new spring color: amethyst, purple, or violet in all shades [and] stripes extending to gentlemen’s cravats in Roman colors.”

naomizoo1895mcny93-1-1-18316The family strolled the mall in Central Park “under the arches of the beautiful trees whose branches interlaced overhead” and saw the bandstand (above) “where Sousa’s celebrated band plays all during the summer. . . . “

They were impressed by the lions (left) and hippos at the zoo. “Beside [the lions was] the royal Bengal tiger and his mate next to him in a separate cage, while a horrid hyena paced up and down his cage.”

King and her parents gawked at the mansions of Fifth Avenue. “We passed Mr. Cornelius Vanderbilt’s mansion, Mrs. W.K. Vanderbilt’s elegant residence (below right). . . . “

naomiwkvanderbiltmansion“A little farther on we saw old Mr. Vanderbilt’s residence and a wealthy gentleman Mr. Rockefeller whose mansion is even finer than the Vanderbilts.'”

For reasons that aren’t clear, the family visited some of the city’s notorious charitable institutions, which King wrote about movingly.

On Randall’s Island at the House of Refuge (below), kind of a 19th century reform school, she saw boys working in the institution’s laundry department.

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“We passed however a large hall of locked cells which the larger boys sleep,” she wrote. “They lock them up to prevent making their escape.”

Also on Randall’s Island, she was distraught by a hospital for abandoned babies—a terrible problem in the post–Civil War city.

TheGildedAgeinNewYorkcover“We . . . went to the baby residence, the home of the little waifs who were picked up out of the city’s ash barrels and dark alleyways. They looked so frail in their white  cot beds. . . . There are so many babies and yet not one little face that looked like another.”

What became of King after her visit I wish I knew.

But her travel diary stands as a testament to the wonder and tragedy of New York on the cusp of the 20th century.

The Gilded Age in New York includes these excerpts from King’s diary—as well as diary excerpts from other New Yorkers of the era. Many thanks to the NYPL for permission to cite the text in the book.

[Top three photos: NYPL Digital Collection; fourth photo, MCNY: 93.1.1.18316; sixth photo, MCNY: 91.69.1811915]

The beauty and magic of New York City on skates

January 5, 2017

What is it about skating that captivated so many New York City illustrators and painters during the 19th and early 20th centuries?

[Below, “Skating in Central Park,” 1910]

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It could be the challenge of capturing the motions of skating, the gliding or rolling skaters do, kind of an unchoreographed dance even the clumsiest person can master.

Or perhaps in the case of ice skating, artists can’t resist the glorious winter colors that frame New York’s frozen ponds and lakes.

[“Skaters, Central Park,” 1912]

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Skating might also have been seen as a little risque. During the Gilded Age, ice skating was one of the few social activities men and women could do together without upsetting the boundaries of the era’s gender-specific spheres.

[“Roller Skating Rink,” 1906]

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Ashcan School artist William Glackens painted these three images of New Yorkers on skates. He may have simply enjoyed depicting spirited scenes of day-to-day life in the city where he lived and worked (his studio was on Ninth Street off Fifth Avenue).

The roller skating rink painting, however, stems from an actual trip to a city rink Glackens made with Robert Henri and other Ashcan painters.

“The hilarious evening, in which Glackens was the first to fall, encapsulates the artist’s fascination with the modern city and its popular attractions,” wrote the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which has this work in its collection.

Bare trees and orange-brown hills in Central Park

January 2, 2017

Leon Kroll’s “Scene in Central Park” gives viewers the park as he saw it in 1922. It must be winter, or close to it: the landscape is all orange and brown and green amid bare trees.

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Now the question is, which bridge is this. Gapstow over the lake?

Meet the original Upper West Side old-timers

December 5, 2016

Think wistfully about the Upper West Side of the past, and enormous rent-stabilized apartments, independent bookstores, and grittier streets might come to mind.

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But for the members of a group called Ye Olde Settlers’ Association of Ye West Side, the neighborhood they mourned was a bucolic one of farms and country estates.

yeoldsettlersnytimes1912That’s because the Ye Olde Settlers were the original Upper West Side old-timers.

The 80 founders had lived in small villages like Bloomingdale and Harsenville in the 19th century. As the city’s population ballooned, they watched their stretch of Manhattan get carved up, paved over, and urbanized—all within a few decades.

And just like longtime New Yorkers do today, these senior citizens enjoyed getting together to talk about the good old days in the ‘hood.

yeoldsettlersapthorp1885mcnyx2010-11-6201

“Once a year that young but thoroughly New York organization known as Ye Olde Settlers’ Association of Ye West Side holds a dinner and induces many of its members to give reminiscences of the days when houses were few, apartments were none, and transportation on the West Side was chiefly accomplished by old-fashioned horse cars on Eighth Avenue…” wrote the New York Times in January 1915.

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What exactly did they gather to remember? The Apthorp farm for one, with its stately mansion. In 1908, the Apthorp apartment residence replaced the farm on West End Avenue and 78th Street.

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They also recalled Manhattan Square (created before Central Park at 77th Street, now the site of the Museum of Natural History), mayor Fernando Wood’s estate (Broadway at 76th Street), and the Furniss estate (Riverside Drive and 100th Street).

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Formed in 1911, Ye Olde Settlers published yearbooks (with some fascinating historical tidbits) into the 1920s. But like the West Side of old, the group died out without ceremony.

[Top photo: Furniss Estate, MCNY, x2010.11.14452; second image: New York Times, March 24, 1912; third image: Apthorp Mansion, MCNY, x2010.11.6201; fourth image: New York Times, January 24, 1915; sixth image: Ye Old Settlers’ yearbook, 1921]

4 minutes of Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, 1945

November 24, 2016

Didn’t get up in time to watch this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade—in person or on TV?

No problem. Instead, travel back in time to 1945 and take a look at this vintage parade footage, which offers excellent views of mid-century Central Park West, clowns who are not scary, and parade floats inspired by fairy tales rather than blockbuster movies.

1945 was a milestone year for the parade, which started in 1924: it had been suspended for the three previous years because of rubber and helium shortages brought on by World War II, according to AM New York.

The beginning and end of the Brooklyn Marathon

November 7, 2016

Runners have been crossing the Central Park finish line of the New York City Marathon, cheered on by thousands of fans, since 1970.

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But Brooklyn beat Manhattan on the marathon front by decades. Starting in 1908, Brooklyn began holding its own marathon—on chilly February 12, President Lincoln’s birthday, no less.

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For the 1909 race, “the runners started at the Thirteenth Armory in Crown Heights, ran along Ocean Parkway, then past Coney Island’s silent amusements to Sea Gate and back, a 26-mile run,” wrote John Manbeck in Chronicles of Historic Brooklyn.

brooklynmarathonsecondplace1909

These photos from 1909 show us the 150 runners at the start being sent off by thousands of onlookers . . . and then the first and second-place winners.

The marathon appears to have been held in fits and starts and modified versions through the 1920s, then quietly disappeared.

[Photos: Bain Collection, LOC]

The yellow trolley cars of Columbus Circle

September 12, 2016

In the 1930s, New York was still a city of trolley cars—like the yellow trolleys whizzing (or lumbering?) through Columbus Circle in this 1931 postcard.

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By 1956, the last Brooklyn trolley lines bit the dust, victims of the popularity and ease of cars and buses as well as the difficulty of maintaining tracks on city streets.

But this postcard freezes the New York trolley in time, with embedded metal rails crisscrossing one of Manhattan’s few traffic circles.

Looking east, we’re at the doorstep of Central Park, and steps away from the wealth and glamour of then-new hotels like the Pierre and Sherry-Netherland on Fifth Avenue.

A desperate appeal to save the city’s sick babies

July 25, 2016

In 1911, a card went out to city residents asking for donations to help fund a precious commodity.

Over a thousand “little white hearses passed through the streets of New York City in two weeks last summer,” the card read. “One-eighth of the 123,433 little ones born during the year . . . died under 12 months.”

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One of the causes of this appalling infant mortality rate? A lack of access to clean, fresh milk among New York’s poorest families.

Milk in the 19th century had a deservedly bad reputation, with much of New York’s supply coming from “‘swill’ milk stables attached to breweries and distilleries in the city,” explains this post.

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“The cows in these stables ate the leftover grains from the fermentation process in the brewery or distillery. Unfortunately, the milk produced from these stables was very low quality and often full of bacteria. Even milk brought to the city from the country was often adulterated with water and carrying bacteria.”

With the rise of pasteurization, officials began touting milk as a healthy part of a child’s diet. There were still a lot of bad, or “loose” milk for sale at corner groceries though.

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Sp safe milk stations went up around the city (above). Some were funded by individual philanthropists; the dairies in Central and Prospects Parks were built to offer clean milk.

Other milk depots were run by the New York Milk Committee—which also sent nurses into poor families’ homes to help spread the word about hygiene and good nutrition.

Were they successful? In the summer of 1911, the Committee sold an average of 3,800 quarts of milk a day through its depots at below cost, serving 5,000 babies and attracting twice as many mothers as expected.

[Many thanks to the New York Academy of Medicine Library, which has this card and more in its Milk Committee Ephemera Collection]