Secrets of New York

The ultimate insider's guide to the best-kept secrets of NYC's must-see places and buzzed-about people.

Explore some of the secrets and little-known facts

Explore some of the secrets and little-known facts of New York City's Central Park. (Credit: Christa Lopez)

outdoors

Secrets of Central Park

New York, NY 10024

Central Park: It's big (843 acres exactly) and beloved (by about 40 million visitors annually) but how well do you really know New York City's premier playground?

Former Central Park Conservancy employee Elizabeth Kaledin took amNewYork on a special tour and revealed some of the park's best-kept secrets and little-known historical facts.

Central Park experienced a pretty dramatic growth spurt

Credit: brynmawr.edu

It’s grown by a few blocks

Central Park experienced a pretty dramatic growth spurt in 1863. Until then, the park had stopped at 106th street but its designers -- Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux -- decided to extend it further north to 110th street. They had not included the additional north section of the park in their original design, because they did not think the large rock outcrop and the swamp behind it, which is now the Harlem Meer, could be made beautiful, Kaledin said. "But then they realized the land had no real estate value, so they included it in the park and now it's one of the most beautiful and beloved corners of Central Park."

Central Park's 55-acre Great Lawn has hosted concerts

Credit: Getty Images / Timothy A. Clary

The great lawn was a reservoir

Central Park's 55-acre Great Lawn has hosted concerts by music legends from Simon and Garfunkel to Jay Z and Beyoncé, along with countless picnics and Frisbee tosses. As far as lawns go, this one is world famous, but it wasn't part of Olmsted's and Vaux's original design. Until the 1930s, a body of water -- the Croton Reservoir -- occupied this space. But it was drained and filled with rubble from Rockefeller Center and the 8th Avenue subway, which were both being constructed at the time.

There have been dozens of movies filmed in

Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

A film crew actually requested to 'blow up' a part of the park

There have been dozens of movies filmed in Central Park and the Central Park Conservancy has fielded its fair share of outlandish requests from film producers. According to the Conservancy's Elizabeth Kaledin, the craziest one came from producers of a Vietnam war movie. They asked if they could "blow up" the Ramble -- the 38-acre woodland in the middle of the park where over 270 species of birds have been sighted -- with real explosives, she said. They allegedly tried to convince the conservancy's leadership to approve the request by telling them the explosions would help turn the soil, but they were turned down.

Sure, the carousel in Central Park is cool

Credit: Christa Lopez

The carousel once had a hidden horse

Sure, the carousel in Central Park is cool now, but the original one was said to have been powered by a real four-legged animal. From 1873 to 1921, the "horses" that riders sat on were still wooden, but a live mule or horse hidden beneath the carousel actually made the fake ones move, Kaledin said. "The animals allegedly stopped and started when the operator tapped on the floor," she added. The current carousel, which is the fourth in the park's history, was discovered by the Parks Department abandoned in an old trolley terminal on Coney Island, according to Kaledin. Built in 1908, it is one of the largest in the country.

Credit: Christa Lopez

The waterfalls are the park's hidden gems

"The best-kept secret is the northern section of the park," Kaledin said. Most visitors don't make it up this far, but those who do will stumble upon some of the park's hidden gems including the waterfalls in the Ravine, part of the 90-acre North Woods. Olmsted and Vaux designed this section of the park including the man-made waterfalls to resemble the Adirondacks.

The northern section of the park also contains

Credit: Tara Conry

The War of 1812 and NYC's oldest highway

The northern section of the park also contains much history. During the War of 1812, Americans concerned about a British attack on New York built a fortification system here that included Fort Clinton, Nutter’s Battery and Fort Fish. And when the Conservancy was conducting restoration work in this area recently, an archeologist named Richard Hunter uncovered the remnants of a cobblestone highway called Kingsbridge Road, Kaledin said. It's believed to be the oldest highway out of the city.

But if you ever do lose your sense

Credit: Tara Conry

There are clues on the lamp posts

But if you ever do lose your sense of direction, just head to the nearest lamp post or "luminaires" as they are called. There are 1,600 throughout the park and each one can shed light on your current whereabouts. On the post, you'll see four numbers. The first two digits tell you the nearest street -- for instance, the above lamp post is closest to 83rd -- and the second set of numbers will indicate whether you are on the east or west side. Even numbers mean east, odd ones are west.

The Central Park Reservoir offers breathtaking views of

Credit: Tara Conry

A sunken treasure was discovered in the reservoir

The Central Park Reservoir offers breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline, but that wasn't always the case. For a period of time, an unsightly seven-foot chain link fence surrounded the 106-acre body of water, and obscured the views. But when scuba divers were given permission to dive into the Reservoir, they discovered, 40-feet below the surface, a chunk of the original cast iron fence that once surrounded it. That discovery inspired the Central Park Conservancy to erect the fence that stands today, which is a replica of the original one. In 1994, the reservoir was renamed the Jackie Kennedy Onassis Reservoir to honor the former first lady. She is one of the many celebrities who have exercised on the 1.58-mile running track that surrounds the reservoir.

Few may know that fishing is permitted in

Credit: Christa Lopez

Yes, you can go fishing in Central Park

Few may know that fishing is permitted in Central Park and that the Harlem Meer, located at far north end of the park, is the best place to cast your reel, according to Kaledin. This body of water is home to carp, catfish, bass, pumpkinseed, chain pickerel and black crappie. And between April and October, the nearby Charles A. Dana Discovery Center rents out fishing poles for free with a valid I.D. and provides the bait. (It's actually corn, but we're told the fish love it.) Oh, there is one catch, though. There's a catch-and-release policy in place, so you can't keep whatever you do hook.

Of course, everyone knows that the Strawberry Fields

Credit: Getty Images / Don Emmert

Strawberry Fields is a tear for Lennon

Of course, everyone knows that the Strawberry Fields section of the park is a tribute to the late musician John Lennon, who was fatally shot on Dec. 8, 1980, near the entrance to his New York City apartment building on West 72nd Street. Since its dedication in 1985, Strawberry Fields, which is named after Lennon's "Strawberry Fields Forever" song, has garnered countless visitors. Many leave flowers, stuffed animals and photos of Lennon on the "Imagine" mosaic, but if they could get a bird's eye view of the park, they would see that Strawberry Fields is strategically shaped like a tear drop. This was done so at the request of Lennon's grieving widow, Yoko Ono Lennon, who worked with the landscape architect, Kaledin said.

For the first time since 1934, Central Park's

Credit: Meghan Giannotta

A once-secret spot is now public

For the first time since 1934, Central Park's Hallett Nature Sanctuary -- the area of the park that stretches from 60th to 62nd streets and was once crowded with overgrown weeds and plants -- is open to the public. The spot fully reopened last summer.

There's also a great spot for sharing secrets

Credit: Tara Conry

Whispering on this bench has consequences

There's also a great spot for sharing secrets inside the Shakepeare Garden. Bring a buddy and climb to the top of the garden, where you'll find this unique-looking stone bench. Sit on one end and have your friend sit on the other, then, put your mouth near the bench and whisper a message. Your companion will hear it clear as a bell as the sound travels through the bench. Just make sure no one is sitting in between you, creating interference.

Today many visitors to Central Park flock to

Credit: New York City Department of Parks & Recreation

The sheep's meadow was exactly what it sounds like

Today many visitors to Central Park flock to Sheep Meadow to relax on the lawn with a good book, but from 1864 to 1934 this space -- as its name suggests -- was home to an actual flock of sheep. The animals would roam here when not housed inside a nearby Victorian building that would later become the Tavern on the Green restaurant.

In the third

Credit: moviemomentsAUS via YouTube

A taxi actually drove through the park in 'Die Hard'

In the third "Die Hard" movie -- "Die Hard with a Vengeance" -- Bruce Willis is seen driving a yellow cab through Central Park with a screaming Samuel L. Jackson in the passenger seat. "They actually drove a taxi through Central Park," Kaledin said of the 1995 film. They drove down the Bridle Path around 72nd Street and jumped the wall onto 59th Street, she said, adding, "This wouldn't happen today."

Since New York City is very grid-like, the

Credit: Nancy Borowick

There's only one straight path in the park

Since New York City is very grid-like, the designers of Central Park -- Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux -- purposely made the paths and roads inside the park winding to give city dwellers a place where they could wander, said Kaledin. There is only one straight line in the whole park and it's the Mall. The quarter-mile stretch, which also happens to be the park's widest pedestrian way, is lined with American Elm trees that create a cathedral-like canopy over the path. "The park's designers saw what the city was going to be like and how badly people would need a place like this."

This is what Central Park's Belvedere Castle looked

Credit: Andy Cook

Belvedere Castle went under a major transformation

This is what Central Park's Belvedere Castle looked like before the Central Park Conservancy was created. Rundown and covered with graffiti, it was just one example of the major decline the park experienced during the 1960s and 1970s as it was neglected due to financial woes. Its meadows had turned to dust bowls, its infrastructure was crumbling, and garbage and graffiti covered the park, which had become a hotbed for illegal activity. In 1980, a group of concerned citizens banded together to form the not-for-profit Conservancy, establishing a public-private partnership with the city.

And this is what the castle looks like

Credit: Sara Cedar Miller / Central Park Conservancy

A Cinderella story

And this is what the castle looks like today.

The Arsenal -- the medieval-looking building located on

Credit: Christa Lopez

The Arsenal has served many purposes

The Arsenal -- the medieval-looking building located on the east side of the park at Fifth Avenue and 64th Street -- is the headquarters of the city's Department of Parks and Recreation and the Central Park Zoo. But when it was built in the mid-1800s it was used to store munitions for New York State's National Guard. Through the years, it's also served as a police precinct, a weather bureau, the original home of the Museum of Natural History, and a makeshift zoo filled with animals on loan from circus founder P.T. Barnum, according to the Conservancy's website. Kaledin adds, "There are some crazy old photographs of elephants literally roaming around outside of the Arsenal." Of course, this was before the Central Park Zoo opened in 1934.

Comments