Archive for the ‘central park’ Category

The forgotten Gilded Age model who posed for Central Park’s most famous statue

December 13, 2021

If you’ve ever passed the Sherman monument at the Fifth Avenue and 59th Street entrance to Central Park, then you’ve seen her likeness before—she’s the Greek goddess Victory, with wings and sandals, leading General Sherman astride his horse to Civil War triumph.

But who was the real-life woman who lent her image to this Augustus Saint-Gaudens sculpture, which has stood at Grand Army Plaza since 1903?

Researchers, including her own descendants, have pieced together some of her story as a sought-after model in Gilded Age New York, and it holds some surprises.

With Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the sculptor of the Sherman monument, in an 1897 sketch by Anders Zorn

She was born Harriette Eugenia Dickerson in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1873. “Research, including findings by her cousin Amir Bey, shows that before the Civil War the government designated Anderson’s family ‘free colored persons’; they owned land and earned wages,” stated the New York Times in August 2021.

“But the brutal enforcement of Jim Crow laws in the South and financial hardship eventually drove Anderson and many of her relatives northward,” the Times continued.

She and her mother moved to New York, probably the 1890s. They settled into a “sepia-colored brick building on Amsterdam Avenue at Ninety-Fourth Street,” wrote Eve M. Kahn in an October 2021 article for The Magazine Antiques. (Below, Amsterdam Avenue at 93rd Street in 1910)

Amsterdam Avenue at 93rd Street in 1910, a block from where Anderson lived in the 1890s

Going by the name Hettie Anderson, she began working as a seamstress “and occasionally as a store clerk, while modeling and likely studying at the then-new Art Students’ League on West Fifty-Seventh Street,” stated Kahn.

Anderson was soon in demand as an artist’s model, and she was lauded for her looks. “The recognized ‘Trilby’ of Gotham is Miss H.E. Anderson,” wrote the New York Commercial in 1896, referring to the artist model in the George du Maurier novel. “She is a charming young woman, whose beauty of form and face make her in constant demand among artists.”

Those artists included Saint-Gaudens, Daniel Chester French, and John La Farge. “Miss Anderson’s coloring is quite as exquisite as her shapeliness,” the Commercial stated. “She is richly brunette in type, with creamy skin, crisp curling hair, and warm brown eyes.”

Whether the artists who she posed for knew she was African American is unclear. “New York census takers listed her as ‘white,’ wrote Kahn. “But she definitely did not ‘pass’ or ‘cross the line’—that is, she did not hide her ethnicity by cutting off family members.”

After the turn of the century, she continued modeling, and Saint-Gaudens used her likeness on $20 coins and also gave her the portrait bust he used when working on the Sherman monument.

“Anderson’s likeness can be seen in French’s sculptures at Congress Park in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; in cemeteries in northern New Jersey and Concord, Mass.; and in entryways to the St. Louis Art Museum and Boston Public Library,” wrote the Times.

She might also be the model for Adolph Alexander Weinman’s “Civic Fame,” on top of the Manhattan Municipal Building (above)—though Audrey Munson, another top model of the era, is often credited for that 1914 sculpture.

In the 1910s, modeling jobs became harder to come by. French and sculptor Evelyn Beatrice Longman helped her find work as a classroom attendant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, wrote Kahn, and by the 1920s, her health was failing.

Daniel Chester French’s “Spirit of Life,” in Saratoga Springs, based on Anderson

According to [her brother] Charles’s granddaughters, she suffered a breakdown after seeing a lover killed in traffic on Amsterdam Avenue,” stated Kahn. “Every evening, she would inexplicably open and shut a window, shouting the name of a cousin, Sarah ‘Sallie’ Wallace Arnett, a church leader who likely disapproved of modeling careers.”

Like many models then and now, her name was mostly forgotten as the decades went on. She died in 1938, and “her death certificate listed ‘model’ as her profession,” wrote Kahn, adding that she and her mother are buried in her hometown of Columbia.

For any readers interested in learning more about Hettie Anderson, Landmark West! is hosting a Zoom event featuring author and scholar Eve Kahn. The event is on December 15 from 6-7 p.m., and Ephemeral readers can get a complementary ticket by contacting ephemeralnewyork @ gmail or via DM.

[Second image: Wikipedia; third image: NYPL Digital Collection; fourth, fifth, and sixth images: Wikipedia]

The understated war memorials inside a private Central Park South club

November 8, 2021

The New York Athletic Cub on Central Park South might sound like a strange place to honor Veterans Day. But if the doormen let you take a look around this “Italian Renaissance Palazzo style” club founded in 1868, wander through the cavernous lobby.

On the right amid the club chairs and lounge areas is an entire wall with a plaque dedicated to the New York Athletic Club members who served in World War II. Within the plaque is a list of men who make up their “honored dead.”

World War II isn’t the only war worthy of a memorial. Besides the WWII wall are smaller plaques honoring those who died in Korea and Vietnam.

To my knowledge, the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq don’t have their own monuments inside the building—which opened in 1930 at Seventh Avenue on the former site of the magnificent circa-1880s Navarro Flats, one of the city’s most spectacular apartment complexes.

But there is a plaque commemorating the event that started those wars, listing the names of club members who were killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11.

When rich New Yorkers and their horses took to Central Park’s new carriage drive

September 20, 2021

Central Park was a work in progress when Winslow Homer produced this richly detailed scene in 1860. But that didn’t stop New York’s fashionable set from coming out to the park in stylish carriages to see and be seen in a daily ritual known as the “carriage parade.”

Every afternoon between 4-5 p.m., the east side carriage drive from 59th Street to the Mall came alive, explained Lloyd Morris in Incredible New York. “In the continuous procession of equipages you saw everyone who counted: the aristocracy, the new smart set, the parvenus, the celebrities, the deplorably notorious.”

Perhaps Homer isn’t capturing just the carriage parade but the various ways Gotham’s wealthy and their horses used new park. Take the woman in the foreground, for example. Thanks to the carriage drive, riding was now socially acceptable for ladies, according to Morris.

“The fashionable hour for equestriennes was before breakfast,” he wrote. “You could see them elegantly togged out in silk hat draped with a flying veil, tight buttoned bodice and flowing skirts….A lady riding alone was invariably attended by a liveried groom or a riding master.”

Men in positions of power indulged in the trotting fad, riding expensive fast horses to Harlem Lane and back to the park. “When General Grant visited the city at the end of the Civil War, one of his first requests was to be taken out to Harlem Lane,” stated Morris. “He shared New York’s passion for trotters, and agreed that ‘the road’ of a late afternoon was one of the most thrilling sights in the country.”

[Lithograph: up for auction at Invaluable]

What happened to the big whale at the Central Park Children’s Zoo?

September 16, 2021

If you were young in New York City in the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s, then you probably remember the thrill of visiting Jonah’s Whale at the Children’s Zoo in Central Park, with that smiling open mouth you could practically walk into.

Jonah’s Whale had been part of the Children’s Zoo since its 1961 opening, according to The New York Times. But this star zoo attraction got the boot in the mid-1990s, after the zoo fell into disrepair and the whale was “derided as kitsch,” as the Times put it.

“A new generation of sober-minded zookeepers, trained to re-create natural habitats, questioned its educational value,” the Times wrote. “And critics wondered whether a sculpture depicting the biblical tale of Jonah, who spent three nights in the belly of a whale, was appropriate in a public park.”

In the mid-1990s, Jonah’s Whale was carted away to the Rockaways, where it was supposed to live in a happy retirement. But apparently the whale was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, per a 2014 article in Rockawave, which covered an attempt to raise money to rebuild it.

The fate of Whalemina, as the whale was renamed in the Rockaways, isn’t clear. But Baby Boomer and Gen X New Yorkers surely are hoping that this zoo icon is safe and in one piece again somewhere.

[Top image: eBay; second image: NYC Parks]

The Central Park spring that provided water for a forgotten village

July 12, 2021

It looks more like a large puddle than a source of fresh water. But close to Central Park West and about 82nd Street at Summit Rock is something unusual: one of the few remaining natural springs in Central Park.

Tanner’s Spring, 2021

It’s called Tanner’s Spring, and there’s a story behind that name. In the summer of 1880, Dr. Henry Samuel Tanner became the most famous man in the U.S. when he launched a 40-day fast, abstaining from all food and drink except for the “pure” water from this spring—which then became a local attraction associated with health and wellness.

But Tanner’s Spring has an earlier 19th century distinction: It may have been the water source that allowed Seneca Village to flourish, according to the Central Park Conservatory.

What was called “Dr. Tanner’s Well” in the caption looked different in 1899 in this NYPL Digital Collection image

Seneca Village has been described as a small community of roughly 300 people in this rocky, hilly section of Manhattan between 82nd and 89th Streets and Seventh and Eighth Avenues, stated educational material from the New-York Historical Society.

From the 1820s to the 1850s, Seneca Village was a mostly African American enclave also home to Irish and German immigrants. Three churches, a school, cemeteries, and small houses with gardens made this outpost a true village similar to the many villages dotting uptown Manhattan in the mid-19th century, albeit a small one.

Not identified as Seneca Village, but an idea of what the community may have looked like, from the NYPL

“Historians speculate that Black New Yorkers living downtown began moving to Seneca Village in part to escape the racist climate and unhealthy conditions of Lower Manhattan,” wrote the Central Park Conservatory. Here, Black residents, who likely worked in the service trades, were also property owners.

In pre-Croton New York, the many streams across Manhattan were vital, and Seneca Village wouldn’t have thrived without this one. Even after the Croton Aqueduct opened in 1842, water from the nearby Receiving Reservoir wasn’t accessible; it was piped to the Distributing Reservoir on 42nd Street and then to downtown homes and businesses.

Egbert L. Viele’s 1865 “Sanitary and Topographical” map shows the spring where Seneca Village once stood.

Much is still unknown about Seneca Village—but its demise is no mystery.

When city officials decided to build New York’s great park here, they seized the land via eminent domain in the mid-1850s and kicked out everyone living within the boundaries of the yet-to-be-built park, including residents of Seneca Village. Roughly 1,600 people were forced out, and at least some land owners were paid by the city.

The spring is behind a short wire fence

Forgotten for more than a century, Seneca Village is the subject of renewed interest. Historians have discovered stone foundation walls and thousands of artifacts, including the handle of a pitcher that one can imagine held fresh, cool drinking water from nearby Tanner’s Spring.

A 1908 fountain where Central Park horses can drink

April 26, 2021

It’s not Central Park’s most ornate horse water fountain. That honor likely goes to the Victorian-era Cherry Hill fountain, which to my knowledge no longer works but is quite beautiful, with frosted glass lamps and black goblets.

But the bathtub-shaped granite trough at the Sixth Avenue entrance to Central Park also contains a fountain—bringing fresh water to the animals that Henry Bergh, founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1866, dubbed the “mute servants of mankind.”

The fountain was donated to the ASPCA by a Mrs. Henry C. Russell in 1908. Where the fountain was originally installed isn’t clear, but in 1983 it was found at Kennedy Airport’s “animal shelter,” according to a 1988 New York Daily News article, and then brought to City Hall Park.

After a Central Park carriage horse “swooned” in the summer heat in 1988, an outcry prompted the city to move Mrs. Russell’s fountain—now 113 years old—to this spot beside the park, near a line of waiting horses and their drivers.

Central Park’s Mother Goose statue tells many stories

February 1, 2021

Most of Central Park’s wonderful statues tell just one story. The Mother Goose statue, at Rumsey Playfield on the East Drive near 72nd Street, tells many.

Amid the main granite carving of a woman flying on top of a goose—complete with a pointy hat, purse, cloak, buckled shoe, and one unhappy-looking cat riding the clouds—are five bas reliefs of the most beloved Mother Goose fables.

Humpty Dumpty (below), Old King Cole, Little Jack Horner, Mother Hubbard, and Mary and her little lamb are all represented in this whimsical statue dedicated in 1938, explains NYC Parks.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the artist behind these nursery rhyme characters is Frederick George Richard Roth, a city native. Hired in the 1930s as the chief sculptor of the New York City parks department, Roth is the creator behind many other enchanting animal sculptures in Central Park.

“Roth is responsible for a number of other sculptures in the Park as well, including Balto, the Sophie Loeb Fountain, Dancing Goat, and Honey Bear,” states the Central Park Conservatory. He also made the limestone reliefs of animals in and around the Central Park Zoo and Prospect Park Zoo, according to NYC Parks.

Also close to this kid-friendly part of the park are the Hans Christian Anderson and the Ugly Duckling statue and two Alice in Wonderlands, one at East Drive and 75th Street and the other inside Levin Playground (East Drive and 77th Street), the latter created by Roth in 1936.

The entrance to Rumsey Playfield (formerly Rumsey Playground, and before that the Central Park Casino) is just beyond the Mother Goose statue. There, two granite carvings of a boy and a girl bundled up in the cold—one astride a sled, the other on a bench—guard the entrance to the field.

Were these also done by Roth? I didn’t turn up anything about the sculptor, but they’re similarly whimsical and looking ready for this week’s weather.

The nude statue outside Alice Vanderbilt’s window

January 25, 2021

In 1916, when the Pulitzer Fountain was completed at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, all of Grand Army Plaza dazzled.

Funded by New York World publisher Henry Pulitzer (who left 50K in his will to create it), the elegant fountain features stepped ornamental basins topped by a shell holding a bronze female figure in the center. The statue represents Pomona, the Greek goddess of abundance.

Like many allegorical female statues, Pomona doesn’t have a stitch on. Holding a basket of fruit, she’s in a slight crouching position, her front facing Central Park and her backside aimed at 58th Street.

And no one seemed to have a problem with that—except, supposedly, the very rich widow living out her days in a 137-room mansion that spanned 57th to 58th Street, and whose bedroom window had a direct view of Pomona’s nude butt.

This wasn’t just any wealthy widow. The mansion (below in 1908, behind the Plaza) was the home of Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt II, aka Alice Vanderbilt. In the Gilded Age, the family- and charity-focused Alice was considered less ostentatious than her social-climbing sister-in-law, Alva Vanderbilt.

But in her day, Alice also had a full calendar of society events. This mother of seven even wore the best gown to Alva’s famous 1883 masquerade ball: an electric dress that actually lit up thanks to a portable battery pack (below).

Looking out your window and seeing a naked butt every day isn’t the worst thing. But as the story goes, it really bothered Alice.

“One is not surprised to learn that Alice Vanderbilt was indignant when the city fathers permitted the statue of the nude lady surmounting the fountain to present her backside to her bedroom,” wrote Louis Auchincloss in The Vanderbilt Era: Profiles of a Gilded Age.

In response, Alice reportedly had her bedroom moved across the mansion, so she wouldn’t be subjected to the buttocks of the naked goddess.

Alice would have been 71 when the statue began bubbling water, and she stayed in the mansion until the mid-1920s, eventually relocating to another, more manageable house at One East 67th Street.

In 1927, she sold her 58th Street mansion. A week before it was to be demolished later that year, she had the house opened to the public, “charging fifty cents’ admission to raise money for charity,” wrote Wayne Craven in Gilded Mansions: Grand Architecture and High Society.

Bergdorf Goodman replaced Alice’s mansion, and the department store still occupies the site today…reportedly with no complaints from customers about Pomona’s butt.

[Third and fourth photos: Wikipedia]

An early image of ice skaters in Central Park

January 11, 2021

The building of Central Park began in 1858. Later that year, the first section opened to the public: the “skating pond,” aka the Lake.

You’ve probably seen paintings and illustrations of 19th century New Yorkers ice skating in Central Park and on the ponds of Brooklyn. But this Currier & Ives lithograph (after a painting by Charles Parsons) might be the earliest.

In “Central-Park Winter, the Skating Pond,” it’s 1862, the middle of the Civil War. Yet the frozen pond is a scene of pure joy: couples in fancy skating outfits (yep, they were a thing) glided together, a rare opportunity for socially acceptable coed mingling.

Kids play, adults fall, a dog is getting in on the fun, and everyone is enthralled by the magic of the ice under Bow Bridge.

[Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art]

The Pilgrim statue standing alone in Central Park

November 23, 2020

Central Park has 29 statues, some popular (like Balto, the hero sled dog) and others more obscure (Fitz-Greene Halleck, anyone?)

But standing high and alone on eponymously named Pilgrim Hill is a statue of a Pilgrim, one of the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620 from England seeking religious freedom in the New World.

“An early American settler stands confidently with one hand leaning on the muzzle of a flintlock musket,” writes Centralparknyc.org, describing the statue. “On the pedestal beneath him are four bas reliefs referencing the era—including the Mayflower—as well as an inscription: “To commemorate the Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers on Plymouth Rock: December 21, 1620.”

The bronze statue, by John Quincy Adams Ward, was commissioned and dedicated here in July 1885 by the New England Society to mark the group’s 75th anniversary, according to NYC Parks. (A procession heading to the site passed President Grant’s house on East 66th Street, and an ill Grant saluted from his window, newspaper accounts noted.)

Whatever one thinks about early settlers to America these days, it’s worth noting that this year marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrims.

With Thanksgiving days away, consider heading over the Pilgrim Hill and seeing this mostly forgotten figure. The bas reliefs of the Mayflower and other symbols tell more of the Pilgrims’ story.

[Top photo: centralpark.com]