A Whopping Seventeen Concerts Will Take Place in Central Park this June 21st

harmonica concert in central park
Anyone can join in this harmonica concert, even Mike Bloomberg

For many, Central Park conjures up images of woodlands, meadows, and lakes. But some people associate the park with something else, drum circles, saxophonists playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to children, and diehard hippies strumming out Beatles songs. On June 21, there will be even more street musicians in the park though. Or perhaps we should call them lake musicians.

Each year on the first day of summer Make Music New York takes to the streets with over a thousand free open air musical performances. When we say music, we’re talking anything and everything: funk, punk, jazz, you name it. The festival is showing Central Park some love too, bringing two classical concerts to The Lake, five folk music performances at The Great Hill, traditional Indian music at The Dairy, three free for all concerts that anyone can join, a string orchestra, and a French hip-hop concert by IAM.

Lake Music
At 7:30am and 8:15pm, six trombones standing on opposite sides of The Lake will face their conductor situated in a boat in between them to play Canadian Composer R. Murray Schafer’s Music for Wilderness Lake. At 5pm, a 144 singers will perform Schafer’s 50 minute piece Credo which was intended to be sung by twelve separate but coordinated choirs. As if that wasn’t spectacular enough, the will do this while sitting in boats on The Lake. The Lake is found in the center of the park at 72nd Street. If you need more help, check out our map of the park.

Hill Folk
At 11:00am, singer/song writer Cynthia Goddeau kicks things off, guitar in hand with an hour set. Then at 12 noon, singer Elaine Romanelli, who’s been compared to Sarah McLachlan, switches things up when she steps behind the piano. Later at 2:00pm, Joe Miller brings some country flair to his folk music in an acoustic guitar and vocals set. Immediately after at 3:00pm, coffeeshop and bar veteran Paul Tabachneck will share covers of his favorite pop-rock songs and some originals of his own. Finally at 4:00pm, The Folk Music Society of New York and NYCStreetsingers shares an hour and a half of old fashioned folk goodness. The Great Hill is found on the West Side of the park at 104th Street. If you need more help, check out our map of the park.

Never Too Late To String
The New York Late Starters String Orchestra claims The Great Hill at 6:30pm to perform chamber music. Their chamber orchestra is comprised of amateur adult performers who discovered their passion for music later in life. Stop by and hear this unique group comprised of players from 18 to 80 years of age give an hour and a half concert. The Great is found on the West Side of the park at 104th Street. If you need more help, check out our map of the park.

That Time You Performed In Central Park
Throughout the day there are three “mass appeal” concerts. In other words, anyone can join one of these concert if they want to. At 4:00pm, flutists will gather at Wollman Rink (approximately where 63rd Street and Sixth Avenue would be) for a two hour concert of prepared pieces with sightseeing performances. For more info contact [email protected]. At 6:00pm, you can bring a harmonica to Stranger’s Gate (106th Street and Central Park West) even if you’ve never played one before in your life. After a quick harmonica lesson, everyone will perform in an interactive concert. Contact Jia-Ye He at [email protected] to sign up. Lastly, at 7pm, accordionist Melissa Elledge will lead an all-accordion performance of “In C” (1964) by Terry Riley which anyone may join at Dalehead Arch (64th Street on the west side of the park). To sign up, and get sheet music, email [email protected]. If you need more help, check out our map of the park.

Journey Through India
Experience India in front of a Swedish Cottage with ensembles directly from India. Featured performers include vocalist Falu and group at 4:00pm. At 5:30pm, Jin Won, Woman of Tabla from Taalika, followed by Taalim Tabla Trio/men of Tabla (Kaumil Shah, Michael Lukshis, and Archit Krishna) Lastly, at 6:45pm the Hindustani Vocalist Samarth Nagarkar. If you need more help, check out our map of the park.

Summer Stages Makes Music Again
Maybe it was planned or maybe it was serendipity, but it just so happens that French Hip-Hop group IAM is performing at Rumsey Playfield (in the center of the park below 72nd Street) at 7pm. The group incorporates the sounds of Ancient Egypt, Africa, China, Japan, India and American music. They’re recent album, Paid in Full, was called “the greatest Hip-Hop album of all time” by Rolling Stone. If you need more help, check out our map of the park.

You might be tempted to say something like “only in New York” but Make Music NY happens simultaneously with similar festivities in over 500 cities globally. If you feel like doing more than just watching, MMNY is looking for some volunteers for the day to help row singers into location, hand out programs and other such things. You can email [email protected] if you want to volunteer.

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The Rocking Chair Riots

The Central Park Mall in 1901
The Central Park Mall in 1901

New York is an amazing city, we’ve got more than 8 million residents who speak one or more of the 800 languages found here. Every year over 47 million tourists come to see our skyscrapers, sample our many cuisines, fill our Broadway theatres, and stroll through Central Park. Naturally with so many people sharing these crowded streets, we don’t always see eye to eye. One thing we can all agree on though is despite its many wonders New York is often lacking in creature comforts. Have you ever run from establishment to establishment trying to find a bathroom in SoHo? In the last few years however, one thing had gotten easier, finding a place to sit. Janette Sadik-Khan, the Commissioner of the New York Department of Transportation, has created a large number of pedestrian plazas where once there were roads and equipped them with tables and chairs for all to use. This was exactly the opposite of what happened in 1901 however, the year of New York’s Rocking Chair Riots.

Nestled between 66th and 72nd Street, The Mall is the only formal gathering area which was planned in Central Park. Seen as a necessity for a great park, the elm lined path’s intent was to move visitors to the center of the park, additionally serving as a promenade and resting place. The area quickly attracted the city’s upper class citizens who used it to socialize and show off their fine clothing and carriages. For some time, lower class citizens avoided The Mall and spent the majority of their visit in the further south Children’s District. This changed however around the turn of the century as street cars made travel to Central Park easier for the ever growing population of New York’s working class. Lower class citizens began to spend time in areas they’d not traditionally frequented, including The Mall.

A man by the name of Oscar F Spate saw this as an opportunity to make some money, $250 to $300 per day (approximately $7,150 to $8,600 today) by his estimates, charging people three to five cents to sit in rocking chairs placed in the city’s parks.

His idea is that under the pay system, lazy loungers, none too clean, who heretofore monopolized the benches, will hereafter have all the room they want, and that others can group together by moving their chairs to places which suit them – that is by posting for the privilege. – The New York Times, 1901

In other words, if you’re wealthy and don’t want to sit by a poor person, you can pay to sit in a more desirable rocking chair. Spate approached president of the Park Commission, George C. Clausen in April of 1901 with his idea, explaining that it was already being done in London and Paris. It’s worth mentioning that to this day you can pay for chairs in London’s Hyde Park. Clausen happily gave Spate a permit for the price of $500 ($14,300 today) per year.

And so in May of the same year, elegant green rocking chairs were placed alongside the existing free park benches in the Central Park Mall and further downtown in Madison Square Park. Accompanying them were burly attendants dressed in gray who would approach those who sat in the chairs to ask them to pay for the privilege of sitting.

Despite it’s European roots, New Yorkers where not impressed by this new business model. The attendants who made a mere $1 per day (about $28 today) were berated on a regular basis. One of them reported to the press that approximately 1 in 50 people who sat on the chairs actually chose to remain in the seat and pay the requested fee. In June of 1901, Alderman Randolf Guggenheimer, the equivalent to today’s Speaker of the City Council, told the New York Times, “It is ridiculous for the Park Commission to grant such a permit. The parks belong to the people and should be free to all… there is no propriety in providing elegant seats to those who can pay for them and allow those who cannot pay to put up with poorer seats or no seats at all.”

Alderman Guggenheimer intended to do something about the chairs but before he got the chance to, things began to heat up, literally. Late June and early July brought temperatures in the high 90s to New York. With no air conditioning to soothe them, about 1,700 New Yorkers died or were hospitalized with heat related afflictions. Residents sought the refuge of their beloved parks only to find that most of the “free benches” had been removed and those that were left were not protected by the shade of the trees. In defiance, people ignored attendants and sat in the chairs. Initially they were forcefully removed but eventually crowds of people outnumbered the attendants and even threw stones at them. Before long, riots broke out in Madison Square Park. Uptown in Central Park, people began marching with signs protesting Clausen and Spate’s actions. Oscar Spate countered the reaction by informing attendants to stack the chairs in a heap and to only give them out when people paid for them. The protesters resolved to pay for the chairs only so that they could smash them on the ground.

The city did little to protect Mr. Spate or his chairs and his attendants became frustrated and quit their jobs. Meanwhile, a man named Max Radt, vice-president of Jefferson State Bank sued The Park Board in New York’s Supreme Court. The following ruling was issued eliminating Oscar Spate’s contract with Clausen:

It appeared upon the trial that, as an incident to the privilege given to Spate under his agreement, the ordinary park benches were, in or about the month of May, 1901, removed from shady spots to make way for his chairs, and that any person who was either unwilling or too poor to pay for a chair would have to either swelter on a free bench in the sun or seek shade, fresh air, rest or relief from excessive heat in some other place than in the public parks.

It seems to me that the agreement in question is a pernicious one, and that the “special privileges” therein conferred are utterly opposed to our institutions. The parks are for the people, and not for any particular class of the people. At all times a source of health and enjoyment, they are especially refreshing during summer, when relief may be had from the torrid heat in the shade of their beautiful trees. To sustain the privileges of the defendant Spate would be tantamount to holding that the natural benefits derived from our parks could be bought and sold, and that a special tax could be imposed as a prerequisite to admission within their boundaries…

As the agreement made with Spate is, in my opinion, plainly illegal, and in derogation of public right, it follows that the plaintiff, a taxpayer, can invoke the power of the court, and there must be judgment for plaintiff, with costs.

Upon this ruling, Spate gave up his business and Clausen purchased the remaining chairs and placed them in the park with a sign on each which read, “For the exclusive use of women and children. Free.”

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Brooklyn graveyard which inspired Central Park is on exhibit

Green-Wood Cemetery

In 1838, the city of Brooklyn (when it was the country’s third largest city) opened one of America’s most important green spaces, Green-wood Cemetery and it’s the topic of an entire exhibit at The Museum of The City of New York. If it seems odd to think of the opening of a cemetery as a significant historic event, it’s merely because you lack the context of the era. In the thirty years prior to Green-wood, New York City had nearly tripled in size. The opening of the Erie Canal brought major goods to New York from the land past the once impenetrable Appellation Mountains and people from all over the world were flocking to the city to make their fortunes. Unfortunately, building was happening so quickly that many of the smaller gardens and wooded areas that once existed were being used to build tenements (a multi-occupancy building) as opposed to the single family homes which had dominated the city at one point. Those who grew up in New York barely recognized their home. Green spaces were disappearing as were plots in the smaller church graveyards in Lower Manhattan. Many of New York’s citizens wound up being buried in a potter’s field that used to occupy the land where Washington Square Park now sits.

Across the river in Brooklyn, Henry Evelyn Pierrepont, a city planner who would become known as “Brooklyn’s first citizen” because of his passion for the city, was already planning a solution… Green-wood Cemetery. The 478 acres instantly became the en vogue place to be buried but something else happened too. The cemetery, unique large in its scale became a tourist destination. Originally it served as a sort of outdoor museums a place to remember significant individuals but soon people began to visit Green-wood and several other urban cemeteries which were now being built, to enjoy its beauty as a garden. This behavior sparked one of New York’s most prominent landscape architects, Andrew Jackson Downing, to become one of the most influential proponents for the creation of a public park in New York City.

Judging from the crowds of people in carriages, and on foot, which I find constantly thronging Green-wood…I think it is plain enough how much our citizens, of all classes, would enjoy public parks on a similar scale. Indeed, the only drawback to these beautiful and highly kept cemeteries, to my taste, is the gala-day air of recreation they present. People seem to go there to enjoy themselves, and not to indulge in any serious recollections or regrets. Can you doubt that if our large towns had suburban pleasure grounds, like Green-wood, (excepting the monuments)…they would become the constant resort of the citizens, or that, being so, they would tend to soften and allay some of the
feverish unrest of business which seems to have possession of most Americans, body and soul?

Now, if hundreds of thousands of the inhabitants of cities, like New York, will…incur the expense and trouble of going five or six miles to visit Greenwood [sic], we think it may safely be estimated that a much larger number would resort to a public garden…. That such a project, carefully planned, and liberally and judiciously carried out, would not
only pay, in money, but largely civilize and refine the national character, foster the love of rural beauty, and increase the knowledge of and taste for rare and beautiful trees and plants, we cannot entertain a reasonable doubt.

While a trip to Green-wood Cemetery today would only cost $2.50 in subway fare, public transit of this sort did not exist at the time, electricity didn’t even exist nor did a bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn. These sorts of excursions showed a strong desire to connect with the outdoors. Downing went on to point out in other publications the oddity of spending leisure time among the deceased. Later he went to Europe to study the parks that existed there and when he returned he brought back Calvert Vaux who would one day design Central Park with Fredrick Law Olmsted. Downing’s writings stirred something in the people of time and it was not long before political candidates were talking about the creation of a new public park… a Central Park.

Pilot's Monument

Over the years many notable people have been buried in the cemetery including William Magear “Boss” Tweed, Leonard Bernstein, DeWitt Clinton, Horrace Greeley, and Peter Cooper. Starting on May 15th, The City of The Museum of New York will have a whole exhibit about Green-wood called “A Beautiful Way to Go.” It will cover the history, architecture, and also feature artifacts and art influenced by the cemetery itself. If you’ve never been to an exhibit at the museum, this would be a great one to start out with.

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Something’s Fishy: Fishzilla Flops in Potomac and Queens Waters

Northern Snakehead
Northern Snakehead

During the past few days news outlets have been reporting on the dangers of the northern snakehead, a supposedly invasive species of fish that may now be living in Harlem Meer. It’s possible that the fish could drastically alter the ecosystem of the park’s most popular fishing hole. However, the fish has failed to be quite as significant of an issue as foretold in other North American waters.

America was first alerted about a dangerous, invasive species of fish, “a companion for the Creature from the Black Lagoon” according to the Baltimore Sun, in 2002 when one was discovered in a pond in Crofton, Maryland. Experts and media outlets speculated that the fish would breed at an alarming rate and decimate fish populations as it has razor sharp teeth and feeds on other fish. The fish also possesses a unique ability to survive out of water for quite some while due to bronchial organs which allow it to breath out of water and its ability to secrete mucus thus protecting itself from dry elements. Fearing that the fish would start hopping out of the water and spreading to other sources eventually destroying entire ecosystems of fish, the state of Maryland dumped a pestiside into the pond which killed everything living in the water.

Meanwhile the snakehead was already colonizing the Potomac River. Dumping pesticides in a pond may be questionable but it certainly wouldn’t be acceptable in a river. So instead, local agencies monitored the situation and suprisingly in the past ten years they’ve not witnessed any behavior which seems to indicate reason for alarm. John Odenkirk, a Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, told the Washington Post that the snakeheads are “a lazy fish.” Apparently they barely use their razor sharp teeth. They inhale small fish whole that happen to swim by their mouths. According to the Washington Post, there also doesn’t seem to be an adverse effect on other fish populations.

Odenkirk doesn’t think that snakeheads have made any significant impact on the Potomac’s ecosystem, but it may be a few more years before biologists can say with certainty how snakeheads fit into the river’s not-so-natural waters. But so far, snakeheads aren’t gobbling up every living thing in sight — unless it’s small and swims near their lazy heads.

This information seems to be consistent with the information collected by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation who has been studying snakeheads that were discovered in two connected lakes in Queens back in 2005.

Despite being in suitable habitat, the Queens northern snakehead population has not increased as has been observed in other cases. Potential causal factors in this lack of or delay in population increase include water quality and presence of other fish species, although the exact reasons for slow population growth are unknown.

Could it be possible that the snakehead’s reputation has been enhanced by the media? An article published in 2002 by the Washington Post titled, “Freakish Fish Causes Fear in Md” a Maryland biologist was quoted as saying, “It’s the baddest bunny in the bush. It has no known predators in this environment, can grow to 15 pounds, and it can get up and walk. What more do you need?” This was actually a misnomer. The fish cannot walk. In the past few days at least ten major media outlets have released horrific predictions about the gruesome “frankenfish” or “fishzilla” that will destroy Central Park’s Harlem Meer. Yet, there’s not been a single location in the United States that has actually experienced problems resulting from introduction to the snakehead. Is there cause for alarm? Or have we all been perpetuating a whopping fish tale?

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