Posts Tagged ‘Secrets of Central Park’

What makes Central Park’s “whisper bench” so unusual and enchanting

June 10, 2022

Some parts of Central Park encourage loud noise—the ballfields, the playgrounds, and the areas under Bethesda Terrace and certain bridges, where buskers play to enthusiastic crowds.

Other sections call for quiet and softness, and park visitors know to lower their voices. That’s where the whisper bench, inside the lush and lovely Shakespeare Garden, comes in.

Officially known as the Charles B. Stover bench, this smooth granite half-circle earned its nickname “because a whisper spoken into one end of the bench can be heard on the other side,” explains the Central Park Conservatory.

The 20-foot bench that curls inward at the ends is unlike any of the 10,000 mostly wood benches spread out across Central Park. It’s also one of the park’s most enchanting places to sit, surrounded by four shady acres of flowers, herbs, and trees mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays and poems.

The Shakespeare Garden was a favorite of Charles Stover, who served as city parks commissioner in the 1910s. Stover was a longtime advocate for New York’s parks and playgrounds, according to the Conservatory.

The bench bearing his name was dedicated in 1936, two decades after the Garden was established. Since then, it’s been popular with curious park-goers who test out the acoustics, as well as those seeking peace and contemplation. It’s also a romantic setting, so expect couples to stop and sit close.

There’s another place in Manhattan also famous for whispers: the “whispering gallery” of Grand Central Terminal. It’s on the lower level of the station. Supposedly if you stand against the wall and whisper, your words can be heard across the space thanks to the vaulted ceilings.

The wild history of Central Park’s Ramble Cave

February 27, 2017

It’s known as the Ramble Cave or Indian Cave, its remains viewed today from a footpath through the Ramble Arch in the woodsy, boulder-strewn Ramble section of Central Park, just below 79th Street.

caverambleeasternside

The cave was discovered by workers building the park in the 1850s. Designers Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted incorporated it into their plans for the Ramble (below, in 1900), which they envisioned to be “a wild garden.”

cavemcnyx2010-11-1419therambleincentralparkUnfortunately for urban explorers, both ends of the cave (one was accessible through the lake, the other beside the Ramble Arch) were sealed in 1934.

Yet in the years it existed, it earned an early reputation as a place of fun and adventure—then something more disturbing.

First, the fun part. Unsurprisingly, the cave was a thrill for kids, an “Eldorado of pleasures.”

“See that stone bridge half hid by flowering vines,” explains an 1877 children’s magazine article about the park. “And this place? What’s here? A cave! The boys go into the black hole in the rock and the girls timidly follow.”

cavenypl1863thecavefromtheramble

The cave was also tinged with romance, a “bold and romantic rock chamber” as an 1861 Harper’s Monthly article described it.

“It is a romantic rock fissure, which opens northward at the base of the western slope of the Ramble, and southward upon a little arm of the lake,” stated an 1866 guide.

caveramblerunawaynytheadline1897It might also be the same “wild but beautiful” cave where one 15-year-old runaway hid for a month in 1897, worrying her immigrant parents before being found by police, sitting on a rock and soon forced out.

But after the turn of the century, based on newspaper accounts, the cave gained a darker edge.

In 1904, an artist was found guilty of disorderly conduct after another man, a baker, claimed that the artist walked him to the “Indian Cave” with the intent of robbing him.

cavenypl1863rusticarch

Twenty-five years later, 335 men—some found hanging out in the cave—were charged with the crime of “annoying women.”

cavesuicideheadlinenytHarassment is one thing—suicide another. In 1904, a man killed himself with a shot to the heart on the steps of the cave. “My name is boy,” a note in his pocket said, reported the New York Times. “No relatives in this country.”

And in 1908, another man slit his throat with a razor there, telling a cop, “one of the sparrows told me to do it,” according to the Sun.

All of this unsavory activity led park officials to shut the cave off to the public.

cavecloseupeasternsideramblearchThe lakeside opening was bricked off and the Ramble entrance blocked by boulders and dirt.

Walk by the Ramble Arch today, and you wouldn’t know a cave used to be here—though the remains of a staircase that once led to it can be seen by eagle-eyed explorers.

[Second photo: The Ramble in 1900, MCNY, x2010.11.1419; third photo: The cave from the Ramble, NYPL 1863; fourth image: New York Times headline 1897; fifth photo: the Ramble arch near the cave, NYPL, 1863; sixth image: New York Times headline, 1904]

The panther on the hunt in Central Park

January 28, 2013

Joggers and cyclists hurtling up East Drive near the Ramble are always mistaking this sculpture for the real thing.

Centralparkpanther

Perched on top of a steep hill at about 76th Street and looking like he’s ready to pounce, it’s a ferocious panther in bronze, officially titled “Still Hunt.” Here’s the park from the panther’s point of view.

PanthercentralparkcloseCreated in 1883 by Georgia-born sculptor Edward Kemeys, it’s one of the few sculptures in Central Park meant to look natural and blend in—which is why it has no plaque and makes passersby do a double take.

Kemeys, who helped build Central Park and was inspired by the real-life animals at the Central Park Zoo (then called the Menagerie) was an animalier, and his jaguars, lions, and other creatures are on display in cities across the country.

The Central Park panther isn’t Kemeys’ only panther in New York City. His “Panther and Cubs” bronze sculpture belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, about six blocks north.

A whimsical Victorian fountain in Central Park

August 20, 2012

Bethesda Fountain is the one tourists flock to. But just to the west is an ornate beauty dating to 1860, made with frosted glass bowl lamps, gilded black goblets, Minton tiles and topped by a golden spire.

This is Cherry Hill Fountain, in a part of the park overlooking the Lake and near the Ramble ringed by cherry trees.

It’s delicate and pretty, but it also served a purpose, providing “people on horseback or in carriages a place to rest, admire the view of the Lake, and water their animals” in the trough at the base.

Used as a parking lot for many years, it was finally restored in the 1990s. Once again, its gentle waters flow through eight ornate flowers.

It’s one of those hiding-in-plain-sight gems that most people walk right by on their way to some other park attraction.

Horses are no longer allowed to drink from it (as they do in this 1870s photo), but it’s still a lovely scenic spot.

[Photo at left: Central Park Conservatory]