Posts Tagged ‘Olmsted and Vaux’

The odd death of the man who built Central Park

September 6, 2011

Central Park may be his magnum opus. But Calvert Vaux was also the architect or co-designer behind so many late 19th century New York treasures—like the original structures for the Museum of Natural History and Metropolitan Museum of Art.

So it had to have been a shock to New Yorkers to open the newspaper on November 21, 1895, and read headlines proclaiming that 70-year-old Vaux had gone missing.

Vaux, who lived in Manhattan, was staying at his son’s house “on 20th Avenue between Bath and Benson Avenues,” in Brooklyn, reported The New York Times.

“Mr. Vaux had left in his son’s house a gold watch and chain and his vest. It is believed he had about $2 in change in his pockets.”

Hotels, hospitals, even Prospect Park were all searched. But Vaux was nowhere to be found.

The next day’s paper reported grim news: Vaux’s body was found in Gravesend Bay.

It’s assumed that he “fell off the pier in an attack of dizziness or faintness,” the Times stated.

His son denied suicide and “murder was not even suggested.” But to this day, Vaux’s death is almost always characterized as “mysterious.

[Above, Bow Bridge, one of the lovely bridges, arches, and other structures Vaux incorporated in his Central Park design, in a NYPL photo]

The cat and bird carving in Prospect Park

June 11, 2011

It’s hiding in plain sight in the middle of the park. But it’s lovely and worth looking out for.

At Concert Grove there is a long low wall—built in 1874 as a place where carriages could be fastened.

(Today it’s known as Harry’s Wall, after Harry Murphy, a co-founder of the Prospect Park Track Club—which designated the wall as a starting or ending point for races.)

At the end of the wall is a stone entryway carved with images of leaves, branches, and flowers—as well as a couple of birds, one who is currently in the sights of a cat, ready to pounce.

(Is that a cat? Not the kind prowling the park these days, at least)

It’s a lot like the stone carvings of Central Park’s Bethesda Terrace. No wonder: Both parks were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.

Central Park came first, but supposedly Olmsted and Vaux considered Prospect Park the better one.