Posts Tagged ‘Central Park Reservoir’

The “Boy Mayor” who cleaned up city politics

August 16, 2012

Sworn in when he was just 34, reformist John Purroy Mitchel became New York’s second-youngest mayor ever in 1914.

His age set him apart from his predecessors—as did his mission: to get rid of the corruption that had infiltrated city politics since Tammany rule in the 1800s.

“While in office Mitchel cut waste, improved accounting practices, and worked to professionalize the city’s civil service by standardizing salaries and work guidelines for municipal employees,” explains Columbia University (Mitchel was part of the class of 1899.)

He also cut police graft and created the first zoning laws, and four years later ran a reelection campaign that endorsed a national draft.

Tammany bosses were determined to beat him in 1917, and he was defeated by Tammany-backed John Hylan.

After losing the election, he enlisted in the Air Service and prepped to fight in World War I. On a training mission in Louisiana in 1918, he fell from his plane and was killed.

[Above: Mitchel throwing out the first pitch at the Polo Grounds in 1916]

Mitchel was memorialized all over the metro area: two flagstaffs in Bryant Park, Mitchel Air Force Base in Long Island, and this plaque at the entrance to the Central Park Reservoir.


The Central Park Reservoir’s suicide fence

August 16, 2011

The Central Park Reservoir (renamed for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in 1994) has always inspired New Yorkers—who gaze at it, jog around it, and got their water from it between 1862 to 1993, when it was deemed obsolete.

And on a grim note, many city residents were also inspired to jump the four-foot cast-iron fence around it and commit suicide.

That original fence “was sufficient to prevent anyone from accidentally falling into the reservoir, but did not prevent self-destruction,” a March 10, 1926 New York Times piece explained it gently.

“Few months pass that police of the Arsenal Station in the park are not called upon to make a report of death by drowning in the reservoir.”

As a result of all the suicides, city officials later that year put up a 10-foot chain link fence with barbed wire at the top.

[Photo at top right, from a 1999 City Review article; undated NYPL photo, above left ]

Sure it stopped people from hurling themselves into the water. But it was also ugly.

Calls were made for it to be taken down in the 1990s, but it wasn’t until 2003 that the Parks Department replaced it with a copy of the original 1862 fence—the one encircling the Reservoir today (above photo).

A vintage postcard of Central Park in the 1950s

May 18, 2011

It’s a beautiful view of what looks like Harlem Meer at the North end of the park. Or is it supposed to be the reservoir, since there’s a fence around it?

This postcard look a little, well, off—with patchy trees and strangely blocky apartment buildings on the Fifth Avenue side.

The postmark is stamped 1952—almost 60 years ago.