Posts Tagged ‘Central Park 19th century’

Everyone loved Central Park’s mineral water spa

August 14, 2017

You know how clean-eating New Yorkers never go anywhere without a bottle of water? Well, water—specifically mineral water—was a huge health trend in the 19th century city too.

Drinking and bathing in it was known as the “water cure,” which supposedly could treat fever, digestive complaints, and other body issues, as Ann Haddad wrote in in a blog post for the Merchant’s House Museum.

Wealthy New Yorkers took advantage of water curatives hawked by trendy hydrotherapists. They also headed upstate to visit the newly popular mineral spring resort spas.

For those of more modest means, an alternative came to Central Park in 1869: a mineral water “spa” that served several different types of spring-fed water.

The spa was the idea of a mineral water company owner, Carl Schultz, who (along with doctors touting the powers of H20) petitioned the Board of Health to allow him to open a venue in the park that would dispense water.

“The pavilion was erected in 1867 at the request of numerous physicians who felt that here was an opportunity of combining a mineral water cure with exercise in the open air,” recalled Scientific American in 1905.

After getting the go-ahead, Schultz had Central Park co-designers Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould build a delightful, Moorish style pavilion north of the Sheep Meadow at about 72nd Street.

“The waters are of two kinds: first the natural mineral waters from all the famous springs at home and abroad, and second mineral waters prepared artificially and scientifically, thus ensuring a definite chemical combination at all times,” wrote Scientific American.

The mineral water pavilion wasn’t just about clean water. It offered “morning summer recitals as an entertainment for the water-ingesting masses,” stated Ann Haddad.

Morning was an especially popular time at the mineral water pavilion, as seen above in an 1872 Harper’s illustration. According to the caption, these were Jewish New Yorkers socializing and enjoying the refreshing water.

Trends come and go, of course. After the turn of the century, with clean Croton-delivered water available to almost every home in New York City, the popularity of Central Park’s mineral water pavilion took a dive.

By 1960, the colorful little building with the fanciful roof was demolished. Today, the location is marked on park maps as “Mineral Springs,” a testament to the spa’s 19th century popularity.

[Photos NYPL Digital Collection]

The girls leading New York’s maypole dances

May 4, 2015

Depending on your age and social class, May Day in the New York of a century ago meant either labor demonstrations or maypoles.

For kids, especially little girls, maypoles were the thing. These tall wood poles, symbolic of trees, were decorated with strips of ribbon, which each girl would hold while moving in a circle around the pole.

Maypoledancecentralpark1905

This rejoicing of the return of spring has its roots in Northern European cultures. Since so many New Yorkers came from this part of the world at the time, the tradition carried over.

Maypolecentralpark1912bain

Central Park was a popular site for Maypole dances. But the neighborhood parks springing up at the time also hosted them, usually for poorer kids with much less decorative poles.

Their pole isn’t as fancy and instead of ribbon they’re using string, but these girls in Seward Park in 1890 refused to be left out of the tradition.

Maypolesewardpark1890

Maypole processions were a common sight in city neighborhoods, and they were led by girls, as this New York Times article from 1886 explains:

“On the morning of the eventful day the May Queen, decked out in her summer best and her hair garlanded with flowers, leads a procession of her associates to the park,” wrote the Times.

Maypoleeastside1898The May Queen was picked by popular vote in the neighborhood.

“Her especial favorite among the small boys, graciously permitted to accompany the party, carries the May pole.”

“The parents of some of the children accompany the party ostensibly to keep the peace, but in reality because they enjoy themselves fully as much as the children do.”

“Throughout the month of May, these little parties are a familiar sight on the streets.”

[Top image: NYPL; second, Bain Collection, LOC; third and fourth, NYPL]

The Victorian sisters who haunt Central Park

May 30, 2013

New York is a city haunted by many ghosts—including those of two 19th-century sisters who lived on Central Park South and reportedly died within months of each other in 1880.

Their names were Janet and Rosetta Van Der Voort. Their wealthy father was the original helicopter parent—supposedly so overprotective of his girls, he wouldn’t let them leave their home unaccompanied.

19th-Century Print of Skaters in Central Park

One of the few places they were allowed to visit alone, however, was the Central Park Pond at the southeast corner of the park, near 59th Street. There, they went ice skating in the winter. (Above sketch: Central Park skaters in 1875)

“The sisters grew so close as they grew older that they spurned all potential suitors, dying as spinsters,” reported a 1997 New York Times article.

Agnestaitskatingincentralpark1934

“But, as legend has it, the Van Der Voort sisters, decked out in the same red and purple outfits they wore more than 100 years ago, sometimes return to the pond to figure-skate, in the summer as well as the winter, haunting parents on Central Park South who continue to keep their daughters prisoner.”

[Above: Agnes Tait’s Skating in Central Park, 1934]

Another version of the story has them skating in a different part of the park. “Their ghosts were first spotted during World War I skating side by side on the frozen lake in Central Park,” wrote Dennis William Huack in his book Haunted Places.

“They were both dressed in huge bustles: one in a red dress, the other in a purple dress. The skating ghosts have been seen many times since, their silver skates gliding just above the ice in a never-ending series of figure eights.”