Central Park a masterpiece to be marveled at, meandered through
In 1877, Montreal fired Mount Royal Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted. Thus, his masterwork created 20 years before, Central Park, stands alone. True, we don’t have many mountains, but we have 200 more acres, more monuments and far more eccentricity.
When I visited Mount Royal Park last year, it was pouring rain, whereas Central Park is invariably sunny.
Thus, these past weeks I dug up a few rare factoids (and a few earthworms). I offer them alphabetically here and in our May issue.
ANDERSEN, HANS CHRISTIAN: Not on the Literary Walk (q.v.), but overlooking the sailboat-filled Conservatory Water is a statue of Hans Christian Andersen created in 1956. The book he is “reading” is The Ugly Duckling, and many a beautiful duck—as well as beatific child—climbs upon his lap. But he is more than a bronze statue. On summer weekends, storytellers from around the world read their tales to entranced children (and frequently curious ducks!).
BOW BRIDGE: Bow Bridge (the arch resembles an archer’s bow) is the most beautiful of the 30-odd bridges in the park, but under the bridge lies war. Look carefully and you’ll see the ball bearings are cannon balls, from factories preparing for the Civil War.
CANINES: Every shape, size, colour and breed promenade in Central Park. The bust of Balto the Eskimo Husky is especially loved. He had led his team 965 kilometres with an antitoxin to Nome, curbing an outbreak of diphtheria. Balto came to his own unveiling a few years before his peaceful death.
DIMENSIONS: 150 acres in seven water bodies, 250 acres of lawns, 136 acres of woodlands. More than 9 1/2 kilometres around, from the north (125th St. to 59th St., making up six per cent of Manhattan. Thirty-five million people come each year, (that’s 100,000 a day, or 2,500 for each acre). The greatest crowd was 850,000 on July 5, 1986, to celebrate the Statue of Liberty Centenary.
EQUESTRIA: From the start, horses were the means of transport on the Bridle Path. More common are horse and carriage. For about $50 (be sure to bargain), you can ride for 125 kilometres, from Lennon’s Strawberry Fields to Lennon’s apartment house, the Dakota. Some say it’s the most romantic way to see the park. I prefer the endless stroll.
FLYING FAUNA, ETC.: Nearly 300 different kinds of birds, plus coyotes, squirrels, worms, raccoons, rabbits and ground hogs. The most vicious animals are the snapping turtles. I saw one take down a Mallard-roit baby duck!!
GREENSWARD: Created in 1858, today, not only is the sward greener than ever but every single tree and bush is entered into a database for monitoring at the Central Park Conservancy. So essential to the quality of air, Central Park is called “the lungs of New York City.”
HELIOPOLIS: The oldest statuary in Central Park goes back to 1600 BC, a 68-foot-high obelisk dedicated to Pharaoh Thutmosis III in the capital of Heliopolis. Called inanely Cleopatra’s Needle (she wasn’t around for another millennium and a half), it is equally inane that the government of Egypt frequently complains that they want it returned.
INFORMATION: Thousands of sites, but http://www.centralpark.com/ has more information that you can shake an American elm stick at. Very unusual is Central Park Tours (718-419-3222, firstname.lastname@example.org), which not only has group and private tours, but has movie-background tours, “wild” backpacker tours in the northern park and anything else you can conceive.
JOHN LENNON: More music. Strawberry Fields, between 71st and 74th Sts., was dedicated to John Lennon in 1985 (he died in ’80) and serves as a tribute to his life and music.
KATYDIDS AND CRICKETS: And other tiny creatures. Insect people come from around the world to examine bugs here. But the best place to see them all is the Rainforest in the zoo.
LITERARY WALK AND MALL: The so-called Literary Walk does have a few literary statues, like Robert Burns and St. Walter Scott. But most artists are scattered throughout the park. The less obscure include Shakespeare, Thomas More, composers Beethoven and Victor Herbert, Hans Christian Andersen (and Alice in Wonderland). On the northern end is The Mall, the only orthodox straight area in the Park, the quadruple rows of Olmsted’s beloved elm trees forms a canopy. The original purpose was for “proper people” to parade their parasols and pantaloons, for pedestrians to gape at other pedestrians. New York-born composer Gian-Carlo Menotti was so enchanted with its citizens who came here at sundown after work that he named his famous opera A Mall and the Night Visitors.
MOVIES: Try to find the backgrounds for Taxi Driver, Wall Street, Crocodile Dundee, The Producers, Godspell, Prisoner of Second Avenue, Independence Day, King of New York, Barefoot in the Park, etc. My favourites are the Lake, where Manchurian Candidate Laurence Harvey plunked himself when a bartender told him to “Go jump in the lake.” And Marathon Man, opening with Dustin Hoffman running around the Reservoir, finishing with Lawrence Olivier losing life and diamonds inside the Reservoir. Remember “Is it safe? Is it safe??” Brrrr.
Next month, The Senior Times reveals the nastiest poem, the mystery ceiling and homicidal Bird of the Bard.