History Archives - Central Park

Loaded Cannon Found In New York’s Central Park

New York (CNN) — This could have caused a major blast from the past.

Workers cleaning a cannon, last fired more than 200 years ago, were shocked to find Friday that it was still loaded with gunpowder, wadding and a cannonball.

The preservation workers from New York’s Central Park Conservancy were removing rust from the antique cannon, which once fired munitions aboard the British warship HMS Hussar, when they made the explosive discovery, New York police Detective Brian Sessa said.

Dena Libner, a spokeswoman for the Central Park Conservancy, said the workers found the munitions after removing a concrete plug from the mouth of the cannon.

Workers immediately called 911, and technicians determined that the gunpowder was still active.

Authorities removed about 1.8 pounds of black gunpowder from the scene and took it to a gun range for disposal, the detective said.

Libner said the cannon was a gift from an anonymous donor to the city in 1865 and was stored for a period of time because of vandalism concerns.

It is now part of the organization’s restoration program, she said.

“We silenced British cannon fire in 1776, and we don’t want to hear it again in Central Park,” New York police said in a statement to CNN affiliate WCBS.

The loaded artillery piece was one of two Revolutionary War-era cannons being stored at the park’s Ramble shed, near the 79th Street transverse, according to the affiliate.

“This was an amazing surprise,” John Moore, author of the upcoming book “The Secrets of Central Park,” told WCBS. “It was there for so many years, and people were sitting on it when it was a loaded cannon.”

The Hussar sank in November 1780, according to the New York Journal of American History.

Happy Birthday Frederick Law Olmsted!

Today marks the 199th birthday for visionary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, famous for co-designing many well-known urban parks with his senior partner Calvert Vaux, including Central Park and Prospect Park. Olmsted spent his first two adult decades searching for a calling while remaining financially dependent on his father, a prosperous dry goods merchant and descendant of a prominent Puritan family in Hartford, Connecticut. (Raised a Congregationalist, Olmsted avoided organized religion in later years.) He was driven by a sense of duty but found pursuing a career for money distasteful. Because a case of sumac poisoning weakened his eyes, Olmsted’s formal education — a combination of common and boarding schools — ended when he was eighteen. While his brother andEdward Law Olmsted closest friends were attending Yale, he tried a year as a clerk in a New York dry goods house and another year at sea. Neither pursuit proved agreeable. In the mid-1840s he prepared for what he thought would be a suitable profession as a gentleman farmer by living and studying with several prominent agriculturalists, among them George Geddes, whose upstate New York farm had won the state agricultural society prize for exemplary management. When his father bought him farms first in Connecticut and then on Staten Island, Olmsted envisioned himself as a “country squire” with a responsibility to disseminate scientific knowledge and rural taste.

As a youth, Frederick Law Olmsted traveled through the New England countryside with his father, who admired rural scenery; and as a young gentleman farmer, he read the latest literature on art criticism (including Ruskin’s Modern Painters), on horticulture, and on English landscape gardening. He wrote articles for Downing’s Horticulturalist on pear and apple farming and another on the attractions of Liverpool’s Birkenhead Park. With the rural improvement movement at its peak, he also helped organize an agricultural society on Staten Island for the promotion of rural tastes and scientific agriculture. But while Olmsted learned the art of landscape appreciation and the latest theories in rural improvement, he gained little experience in the work of design.

In the 1850s, Olmsted abandoned model farming for journalism, another field in which he hoped “to take up and keep a position as a recognized literateur, a man of influence in literary matters.” Following a trip to England, he published Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England, which combined observations on the English social landscape with sentimental invocations of “Old England for ever! — Amen.” He took several journeys through the American South and sent a series of letters to the New York Times that formed the basis for his three influential books on southern mores and the economic conditions of slavery. In 1855 Olmsted became both a managing editor of Putnam’s Magazine and a partner (again through his father’s investment) in the publishing house of Dix and Edwards, which was publishing his second book.  The Dix and Edwards firm became an early casualty of the 1857 depression. A family friend, Park Commissioner Charles Elliott, encouraged Olmsted to apply for the post of the park superintendent, and he did so.

All text from:

The Park and the People

Courtesy of Barbara Blackmar & Roy Rosenzweig

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Huddlestone Arch

Huddlestone Arch

Huddlestone Arch

Huddlestone Arch, just south of Lasker Rink, looks as if it was formed by some benevolent act of nature, rather than being carefully crafted over 150 years ago.  It is in a part of the park that is much more natural, unspoiled, and much less utilized, bordering the Harlem Meer, while providing a less-trafficked retreat off the beaten path. Calvert Vaux designed the arch to seamlessly fit into the local scenery, its massive stones carrying the park drive overhead and shielding the trickling brook below.

The bridge is also striking for the immense size of its boulders. One lodged in the base is reputed to weigh close to one hundred tons. Vaux’s instructions to the men building Huddlestone were to choose boulders lying around the park that were most reminiscent of untamed nature.  A stream, parallel to the footpath, runs through Huddlestone’s archway, disappearing from view at the northern end, when suddenly the natural juxtaposition of trees, rocks, and a brook is unfortunately ruptured by asphalt, fences, and the concrete mass of the Lasker Rink. In season, one of the attractions of Huddlestone is the lacelike vines that spill over the cyclopean rock on the bridge’s south side.

Huddlestone Arch offers a gateway to the northern end of the Ravine and the bucolic splendor of the park’s secluded northern woods and is well worth a trip to the lesser known section of the park. Walking a short way up the Ravine to Loch you’ll find yourself out of sight and hearing from the bustling city just a few hundred feet away, a glance around you and you could easily believe you were hiking somewhere in the Catskills.

Cleopatra’s Needle

Cleopatra's Needle

Cleopatra's Needle

Probably the strangest monument in Central Park is the 71 foot, 244 ton Obelisk, or Cleopatra’s Needle. Easily the oldest man made object in the park it is located in what is now a secluded bower directly behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The obelisk was erected in Heliopolis around 1500 BC and was moved to Alexandria around 12 B.C. by Rome’s Augustus Caesar. By then, the lower corners of the stones had been broken off, so the Romans had bronze supports in the form of sea crabs placed under them. (Two of the original crabs are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the other two were stolen in Egypt.) There it remained until 1879 when it was shipped to the United States. This was either as a gift of the Khedive of Egypt, who offered it to the U. S. as a token of good faith to help stimulate economic relations between the two countries. Or it was swiped by William H. Vanderbilt against the wishes of the Egyptians. It depends on who you ask.

Even more unlikely than the actual presence of the monument in Central Park is the monumental moving job undertaken to get it here. Stand at the bottom and look up and imagine taking it down, putting it in a ship in 1879, sailing across the ocean and up the Hudson and than moving across town, (The cross town journey alone took more than 4 months!), and then setting it upright again on Greywacke Knoll, its present site. The installation was completed in 1881. This Herculean feat was accomplished by a U.S. Navy engineer, Lieutenant-Commander Henry Honeychurch Gorringe.

Location: East Side drive at 81st Street

The nickname “Cleopatra’s Needle” has in fact nothing to do with Cleopatra, but was a self serving tribute to Egypt’s Thutmosis III