Archive for the ‘central park’ Category

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]

A Midcentury artist’s muted Manhattan beauty

November 2, 2020

You’ve seen paintings of Washington Square, Greenwich Village markets, and the New York Harbor before. But through the eyes and brush of Bela de Tirefort, these and other city scenes take on a muted, Impressionist beauty.

“6th Avenue El,” 1940

I didn’t find much information about De Tirefort’s early years. Born in Austria in 1894, he made his way to New York City and became instrumental in organizing outdoor art fairs, included something called the Greenwich Village Art Fair (maybe the Washington Square Outdoor Art Fair, which got its start in 1931?).

“Bleecker Square,” 1961

He organized an art fair in Brooklyn outside Grand Army Plaza in 1932, which the Brooklyn Daily Eagle seemed to get a kick out of. “Brooklyn is still the city of churches and homes—to artists,” the Eagle wrote. “Neurotic, erotic, exotic, and degenerative ‘art’ may go in Greenwich Village, but Brooklyn likes its art conservative.”

“Evening, Central Park” undated

De Tirefort comes off like a pragmatic artist in his reply to the Eagle: “We are not here to argue with the public. We are here to sell. We are guests. We do not want to offend.”

“Brooklyn Bridge,” undated

It’s not clear where de Tirefort himself lived, but Greenwich Village is a good guess. Many of his paintings focus on Washington Square Park, Bleecker Street’s Little Italy, and other Village icons. He also sold his painting directly from Washington Square, stated 1stdibs.com.

“Hansom Carriage Central Park” 1940

He tended to bathe his scenes in soft tones and thick brush strokes, presenting evocative city scenes that feel dreamlike but with decidedly Modernist touches.

“Park View, New York City” 1961

Through the 1940s and 1950s, de Tirefort exhibited his paintings in galleries and made a living as a working artist. In 1966, he moved to South Florida, where he died at age 99 in 1993, according to his obituary in the Tampa Bay Times.

“New York Harbor From the East River” 1951

“Using muted tones, strong silhouettes, and incisive textures, his paintings capture the structure of the city in the decades between the Great Depression, the Second World War, and the growth of the New York art scene,” wrote 1stdibs.com.

De Tirefort in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza, 1932

De Tirefort’s work, often up for sale at auctions, commands the kind of prices you’d expect from a chronicler of Midcentury New York’s poetic moments and elusive beauty.

[Images 1-7, mutualart.com; eighth image: Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1932]

Five ghosts who supposedly haunt the Dakota

October 26, 2020

New York City has no shortage of reportedly haunted houses—from the East Fourth Street home of 19th century merchant Seabury Tredwell and his large family to the Morris-Jumel mansion in Washington Heights, where a rich widow born in the 1770s lived out her days.

But when it comes to haunted houses that truly look spooky, the Dakota wins hands-down.

This landmark 1884 luxury apartment building on Central Park West and 72nd Street—with its steep roof, dormer windows, corner pavilions, and other architectural features that blend German Renaissance and Gothic Revival styles—is exactly the kind of place you would expect spirits to be hanging around.

One of these Dakota spirits is that of a strange little girl, reportedly first seen by workmen sometime in the 20th century.

“A beautiful blond child suddenly appeared in the corridor, wearing high white stockings, patent leather shoes with silver buckles, and a dress of yellow taffeta that seemed to come from another century,” wrote Stephen Birmingham in Life at the Dakota.

“She was bouncing a red ball. ‘It’s my birthday’ she said and, still bouncing her ball she disappeared down the corridor. The description of the little in the yellow dress matched no child then in the building, and she has never been identified.”

The little girl is still seen by residents today, “greeting them with a smile and a wave” from lower floor windows, reported a 2015 ABC News article.

Another ghost, “the man with the wig,” might have been that of the man who developed the Dakota, Edward Cabot Clark (above, left).

This apparition—with a short beard, large nose, and wire glasses, not unlike Clark’s—visited an electrician in the basement in the 1930s four times.

Each time, “the man glared fiercely at [the electrician] for several moments, then reached up, snatched off the wig he was wearing and shook it angrily in [the electrician’s] face,” wrote Birmingham, adding that Clark indeed wore a wig.

A ghost with a little boy’s face also apparently paid a visit to the building as well. It happened in the 1960s, when a “construction worker who was working near the apartments stated he saw a figure with the body of a man but the face of a young boy,” reported nyghosts.com.

This creepy specter didn’t say anything but made the workers feel “like they were being closely watched,” according to the site.

Finally, one Dakota ghost is also the building’s most famous former resident: John Lennon.

Some time before he was shot to death in the archway of the Dakota on December 8, 1980, Lennon himself reported seeing a woman he dubbed the “crying lady ghost,” which other residents supposedly spotted as well, according to the 2010 book, Ghosthunting in New York City.

After Lennon’s death, two people claimed to see his spirit at the entrance of the Dakota in 1983 “with an eerie glow about him,” stated Ghosthunting. One of the ghost spotters wanted to talk to John, but because of the way he looked at her she decided not to approach him, the book explained.

That wasn’t the only Lennon ghost experience. “Surely the most reliable and believable sighting of John Lennon’s ghost comes from his wife, Yoko,” Ghosthunting continued. “She saw him seated at his piano in their apartment. He looked at her and said, ‘Don’t be afraid, I am still with you.'”

[Top image: Wikipedia; second image: NYPL; third image: Wikipedia; fourth image: MCNY 2013.3.1.401; sixth image: MCNY 2013.3.2.1759; seventh image: Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images; eighth image: Office of Metropolitan History]