What is Central Park? It is wonderful, that’s what it is. It is a large, unique urban park in New York City which provides many opportunities for people to enjoy themselves. They can stroll in it, sit and rest in it, read, eat their lunch, watch people, walk their dog (picking up after them, of course), picnic —and a lot more. If you live in the city, you know this. If you visit the city, you know this. And if you’ve only seen the largest city in the United States in films, you have seen the park. It has been a key part of over 300 films. For example, When Harry Met Sally; Hannah and Her Sisters; Home Alone 2; Hair; Sex and the City.
It opened in 1858. It covers 843 acres. In 2013, it had 40 million visitors. It contains 29 sculptures. One is of a famous, life-saving dog: Balto. Google him. It contains Strawberry Fields, 2.5 acres dedicated to the memory of John Lennon. It has 4 artificial lakes and 235 species of birds and over 25,000 trees. In it, are: boats and kayaks, horse drawn carriage rides, joggers and professional distance racers, 2 ice skating rinks, a carousel, and 21 playgrounds for children. Free classical music can be found there and concerts (eg, Barbra Streisand, The Supremes, Paul Simon (and Art Garfunkel), Andrea Bocelli).
Those are facts. But there is this, too…There are 9,485 benches. You sit on them, of course. But look before you sit. There are plaques on 4,223 of them. They tell stories. For example: “Two Red Foxes and a Pup.” Cryptic, I know. You can Google that, too. (As of 6/19/16, an article from the New York Times newspaper was there to explain it.)
In 1986, the “Adopt-a-Bench” program began in Central Park. For a significant sum of money –$10,000, you can “put a plaque on a bench, saying almost whatever you want. Suggested limit: 4 lines of 30 characters each. And then it’s there forever.” (The money provides maintenance for the bench and its surroundings.) Often, a plaque’s story involves a relative or friend who has died. Maybe a dog or cat, too. For example: “One man adopted 5 benches, one for each of his grandchildren, who received them on their 16th birthdays.” And: “A Japanese couple, when they returned to Japan after a long stay in the city, has a plaque that reads: We leave our hearts in New York after 23 years of our adventure here.” A couple more stories…
Lou Young has worked almost a third of a century in Central Park. He puts plaques on benches. One day, he found his name on a plaque he was installing. An admirer of his work had paid for it: “LOUIS YOUNG FOR HIS CARE AND DEDICATION TO CENTRAL PARK SINCE 1985.” That probably made his day. After 3 decades of service to Central Park, Lou Young was a NYC legend.
And there was this story. Chris Branca died at 33. His dog, Buddha, had died a year earlier. They took walks in Central Park. Sometimes they walked where it was not permitted. There is a fine for that. Mr. Branca always paid the fine. Then, he and his friend continued walking. His family adopted 2 benches, side by side. On one, a plaque read: “For Chris Branca. In all of us there is Fear, Hope, and Adventure. In all of us there is a Wild Thing.” On the adjoining bench, the plaque said: “For Buddha, Chris Branca’s Bulldog forever by his side.”
If I could afford to Adopt a Bench, I would have to talk about two friends: Angus and Jake. Yes, they are dogs. I would try to get a bench near Balto. Remember him? I would need to decide what the plaque would say. Would it be: “Will Rogers said = If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” Or: “Everyone thinks they have the best dog. And none of them are wrong.” Which quote should I choose?