She sits high above the passersby at the end of the Central Park Mall which culminates at Bethesda Terrace. Drawn from the Gospel of St. John, the Angel of the Waters attracts more visitors than any other place in the park. Central Park is featured in over 240 feature films and many more television shows and the Bethesda Fountain that our angel sits on, is the most filmed location in the park. It was famously featured in the movie “Angels in America” based on the play of the same name by Tony Kushner.
“I think that that angel is the most beautiful angel on earth,” says Kushner in an interview with Ric Burns. “It is a very American angel. I think she has a very homespun quality. Her dress is not completely full-length. It sort of stops at her ankles. I think Emma Stebbins, the woman who sculpted her, got a lot of bad reviews when the statue was unveiled, because critics, who are always wrong about everything, said, ‘she looks like a milkmaid.’ This is not a grand beautiful angel. This is sort of a lumpy peasant girl angel. And I think that that’s true to a certain extent. It’s part of what makes her exquisite. I love this gesture as if she’s reaching out and touching something incredibly specific, and incredibly precious, and within reach.”
Kushner tells us in the film and original script that the statue commemorates those who died in the Union Army in American Civil War. This is actually incorrect. The fountain was built to celebrate the opening of the Croton Aqueduct which brings fresh water to New York City from upstate NY. In the most recent edition of Angels in America, this fact has been corrected. Here’s the closing sequence from the film which takes place at the fountain. Prior tells us how this is his favorite place in the park and explains the story of the Bethesda Fountain told in the Bible: