Designed in the 19th century by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, every year around 40 million people traipse around New York's Central Park, a lush oasis, smack dab in one of the busiest and most-populated cities in the world. There are 843 acres of hiking trails, walking paths, lakes, gardens and even a zoo and the 19th century Belvedere Castle. But, I reckon there's a few secrets you didn't know about Central Park.
Messages on the lamp posts.
It's difficult to get lost in Central Park, but should you lose your way just head to one of the 1,600 lamp posts (AKA "luminaires") scattered throughout the park. On each post there are four numbers, which are indicators for the street nearest the post and whether you're on the east side or west side. The first two numbers are the street and the second set of numbers will either be even or odd (even numbers indicate east, and odd numbers indicate west). The city has also been adding metal plaques to the lamp posts, indicating cross streets as well.
Between 79th and 80th streets, on the West Side you'll find the 4-acre Shakespeare Garden. What makes this garden unique is the fact that every flower was handpicked and was mentioned in Shakespeare's works. In addition, no matter what time of year you visit, you'll still be able to find a blooming flower.
A whispering bench.
Within Shakespeare's Garden is the "Whispering Bench." When you sit on one end of the stone bench you'll be able to whisper a message to someone sitting at the other end of the bench.
Central Park is home to five waterfalls. In the northern part of Central Park is an area known as the Ravine, this is part of a larger area called the North Woods, which is a 90-acre wooded section designed to look like you're walking through the Adirondacks. The water that cascades down each of the falls is New York City drinking water. There's a pipe hidden near the Pool Grotto on W 100th St.
On the park's east side, by 5th Avenue and 64th Street rests a forboding historic building. It's called The Arsenal, and it's actually the HQ of New York City's Department of Parks and Recreation, as well as the Central Park Zoo. However, it wasn't always a municipal building. It was first constructed in the middle of the 19th century and was used to store munitions for the New York National Guard. Over time it's served other purposes, including acting as a police precinct, a weather building, the first home of the Museum of Natural History, and a zoo (complete with animals loaned out by P. T. Barnum himself).
There were over 270,000 trees planted when Central Park was first established. However, only around 150 of the original trees remain. Throughout the years many more trees were donated or acquired by the park, including the Yoshino Cherry trees on the east side of the Central Park Reservoir. These were gifted to the U.S. in 1912 by Japan.
The suicide cave.
So, it's not actually called the "Suicide Cave", it's actually the Ramble Cave (AKA the Indian Cave). This natural cave was discovered when the park was first being constructed. During the early 1900's the cave was a hideout for criminals and someone committed suicide there. According to the New York Times, the cave was also a popular spot for "wild youth" to gather and engage in nefarious deeds, including "annoying women", for which 225 men were arrested in 1929! The cave was later sealed at both ends because it was deemed "too dangerous."
A fully-loaded 18th century cannon was discovered and on display FOR DECADES (seriously kids were playing with it, and the NYPD bomb squad had to disarm it, crazy.).
Yup, there's a fully-loaded canon from the 18th century. The cannon was allegedly used during the Revolutionary War to sink a British ship. It was donated in 1965 and was on public display at Fort Clinton from 1905-1996. At this point, the Central Park Conservancy removed it from public view to protect it from vandalism and it was placed in a warehouse in Randall's Park. In 2013 while it was being cleaned workers realized then that it was fully loaded. The NYPD bomb squad was called to help disarm it. Today the gunpowder is gone, but the cannonball is still there.
The ruins of a 19th century village.
Central park actually used to be a village, named Seneca, it was located on the west side of the park, between 81st and 89th street. Though there were shantytowns around the area, this town was actually a middle-class village, and home to over 250 people (many German immigrants and Irish), there were churches a school and some of the land was offered to African-Americans, so that they could vote. Then, in 1853 the city took the land over and paid the villagers to leave, and then construction for Central Park began shortly thereafter.
AND the ruins of a 19th century school.
Where there was a village there would also be a school, obviously. Behind the Conservatory Garden is the school ruins of the Academy of Mount St. Vincent, established in 1842. The school didn't last long, and the original building eventually burned down in 1881, a tavern was then built, but that closed too. Today, all that remains are the foundations and driveways.
John Lennon's legacy.
Strawberry Fields is a garden of peace in Central Park. This living memorial is dedicated to John Lennon. The song "Strawberry Fields Forever" was recorded in 1966 and the title was derived from an orphanage in Liverpool, England, where Lennon would frequently play with the children as a child himself. On October 9, 1985, Strawberry Fields in Central Park was officially dedicated to Lennon, on his birthday anniversary. His widow, Yoko Ono worked with Bruce Kelly, a prolific landscape architect, and the Central Park Conservancy, in designing the memorial. It's intended to be a place of peace, contemplation and meditation, and as such it's a designated "Quiet Zone." The city of Naples donated the black-and-white mosaic, which was created by Italian artisans.
The Diana Ross Playground.
Where Central Park West and West 81st Street converge you'll stumble upon Diana Ross Playground. In 1983 Diana Ross had a free concert scheduled in the park, but it had to end abruptly due to extremely bad weather. So, when Ms. Ross returned the next night the crowd went absolutely insane and some of the park was damaged as a result. So, Ms. Ross paid for a playground to be built in the park. It's pretty much the most fabulous playground ever.
The Swedish Cottage.
The Swedish Cottage was built in Sweden in the 1870s. Then it was taken apart and shipped to Philadelphia for the 1876 Centennial Exposition. The city then bought the cottage (for what's reported to be about $1500) and it was permanently installed in Central Park in 1877. Since 1947, children have been entertained in the cottage by countless puppet shows.
The super secret original survey bolt.
It's believed that an original survey bolt from 1811 still exists in Central Park, but it's remained hidden since the administrators don't want it removed or vandalized.