Secrets of the Parks

1. The High Line Cowboys

Image Courtesy Friends of the High Line
Image Courtesy Friends of the High Line

Have you ever wondered why exactly everybody’s favorite elevated park is just that – elevated? As it turns out, The High Line occupies a site with a not-so-tidy history. In 1851, the West Side railroad line was introduced to accommodate and fuel the city’s booming economy. The train line, however, was built at street level on 10th Avenue, meaning that the safety of the well-populated neighborhood was very much at risk. According to the Bowery Boys, in 1905 the Evening World claimed that the trains were responsible for the death of one victim per week, earning the avenue the fond nickname Death Avenue. 

The city’s short-term solution for the dilemma? Cowboys, of sorts. They introduced railroad men who would gallop ahead of the train on horseback, signaling its arrival with trumpets, Paul Revere-style. Their efforts weren’t enough, however, and so the West Side Elevated Highway was introduced in 1934. For almost fifty years, the tracks served trains and boxcars traveling up and down the West Side, until their abandonment in 1980.

2. Washington Square Staircase

Image Courtesy Gothamist
Image Courtesy Gothamist

Inside the western half of the Washington Square Arch is a spiral staircase. Climbing this would bring one up to the structure’s rooftop and offer views stretching the length of Fifth Avenue. Sadly, the general public isn’t privy to this staircase.

The Arch’s flat roof and prime views, however, are the perfect spot for a party, and a lock and a rule weren’t enough to stop artists Gertrude Dick, Marcel Duchamp, and John Sloan from inviting themselves upstairs. On a winter night in 1917, the group now known as “The Arch Conspirators” was feeling rebellious, and the men were itching to call their beloved Washington Square an independent republic. Atop the Arch, they drank tea around a fire, flew balloons and lanterns, and shot off cap pistols into the air.

3. Central Park’s Near-Miss

Image Courtesy Atlas Obscura
Image Courtesy Atlas Obscura

According to the Bowery Boys, there’s a small, rusty bolt peeking out of a piece of rock in the southern half of Central Park. But they’re not telling where!

Of course, few would go out searching for the said small, rusty bolt without incentive. But apparently, as geographers hypothesized in 2004 upon the spike’s discovery, it is one of the bolts used in John Randel, Jr.’s survey of Manhattan in the 1810s. Tasked with the mission of creating New York City’s trademark grid system, his team marked spots at the intersection of streets-and-avenues-to-be with bolts. Before the idea for Central Park was proposed, the grid would have usurped the whole area. So, today it remains, allegedly – a reminder of what might not have been!

4. Beneath Bryant Park

Image Courtesy BuzzFeed
Image Courtesy BuzzFeed

It’s not so much what’s in Bryant Park, but what’s beneath it. Everybody knows that the park is located in the main branch of the New York Public Library’s backyard, but not many realize that just beneath lies the library’s underground vault of archives. The space spans over 120,000 square feet,  shelving more than 3.2 million books! And we bet many of them have secrets of their own…

5. Lady Madison Square Park

Image Courtesy Untapped Cities
Image Courtesy Untapped Cities

Lady Liberty reigns as the city’s symbol of freedom and democracy, welcoming the “tired and “poor” into the New York Harbor. If you’re wondering why this is relevant to Madison Square Park, that’s because for six years, the park was instrumental in securing the funds for the Lady’s statue and base.

Sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the creator of the Statue, completed the massive lady in sections; after all,  she does weigh a hefty 450,000 pounds. He first got to work on her right hand, bearer of the torch. Once he completed it, he strategically shipped the said 37-foot hand and torch ahead to America, on a “grand fundraising tour.” First, it debuted in Philadelphia in honor of the 1876 Centennial Exposition, where visitors could pay fifty cents to climb up a ladder inside the arm and come up on the torch’s balcony. From there, the arm made its way to Madison Square Park, where it sat upon a pedestal waiting for the funds necessary to get the rest of its body built. And such is Madison Square Park’s role in the triumphant oxidized copper-skinned Lady’s life.