Seen as an urban oasis, Central Park has been featured in countless films, television shows, music videos and novels. It has been praised by thousands and is visited by millions every year. It has gone through several declines and revivals since it was created in 1857, but the park has nevertheless persevered, and is a personification of the determination and strength of New Yorkers.
The park has brought the city together in times of need, with the most memorable time being after the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001. With the city torn, an influx of sympathetic volunteers arrived from around the world to assist with the cleanup, forming a miniature community in Central Park. Families seeking lost loved ones came into this community and hung posters by the thousands, looking for the three thousand plus missing people that were victims of the terrorist attack. This community brought safety, unity and reassurance to a city that needed it.
However, Central Park hasn't always brought people together, and in the 1850s it was responsible for driving away thousands in what is considered one of the most tragic events in early New York City history.
It began in 1821 when New York City's population boomed exponentially. Within a few years, Manhattan was forced to grow north to make room for the newly arriving European immigrants. Wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of life, city council began looking towards parks as a way to silence the noise. In 1854, The New York Evening Post wrote that Britain's acres of parks were the "Lungs of London" and pro-park lobbyists that were largely merchants, bankers and landowners demanded a place for their families to spend time together. This, along with public pressure and the available hinterlands to the north, made the possibility of building a park that rivals those in Britain a possibility. However, there was one problem with the plan; several communities of over 1,600 people currently dwelled in the area.
(Hover your mouse over the below picture to see both maps.)
One of these communities was Seneca Village. Knowledge of the exact size of Seneca has been lost to time, but the 1855 census says it housed 264 people, and was populated by two thirds African Americans, and one third Irish and German immigrants, who were seen equally as outcasts by most New Yorkers. Over 50% of African Americans in Seneca owned property and paid taxes, which was much higher than the 3% that New York's African Americans held. Although these people paid taxes, and had several churches, schools and cemeteries, newspapers in New York referred to them as "squatters" that lived in "shanties", with the community being nothing more than a "nigger village". Other reports weren't so kind with their terms, and went as far as calling them "insects" and claimed their "simple minds" weren't capable of understanding why they had to relocate.
In 1854 New York City chose the area for the park, and by using "eminent domain" - the taking of private property for public purpose - the city claimed Seneca. New York then offered each citizen $2,335 ($60,600 adjusted for inflation) for their land but they refused, demanding more for the cost of relocation and the rebuilding of their homes. They then took New York City to court. After two long years they were defeated and were forced to leave, much like the dozens of communities before them. Newspapers said Seneca would be remembered for generations to come, but wasn't. Within two months the name that once dominated headlines had vanished, and so had Seneca.
Seneca Village was razed, the schools and churches burned down and flattened, the homes destroyed, and the cemeteries full of hundreds of bodies were forgotten. However, the people did not establish a new community. What happened to them is a mystery, with some believing the citizens of Seneca simply moved to New York City. Efforts have been made to track down any living relatives, but nobody can be found. In fact, for years many believed the story of Seneca was an urban legend, and that the community simply never even existed.
The story takes another turn after the park was completed. Political lack of interest, the dissolution of the Central Park Commission in 1870, and the change of the attitudes from people wanting a quiet place to stroll to a place to practice sports and recreational activities made the beautiful park undesirable, and it was abandoned and quickly reclaimed by nature. Had it been known the park would be seen as an initial failure, the people of Seneca might have been able to save their village. It wouldn't be until the 1930s, 80 years after the razing of Seneca, that the park became a success - again, only after the eviction of Hoover Valley, a community that had sprung up inside the park during the Great Depression.
Seventy years later, in 2001, a plaque was erected in Central Park by the Seneca Village Project. It was placed in honour of the village and its significance as a unique, middle-class black community during the 19th Century. In 2011 the Seneca Village Project was granted permission to perform an excavation in the park in an attempt to find any remains of the village. Several buildings were found, along with pottery, a roasting pan, a kettle, a toothbrush and some marbles.
Cynthia Copeland, an adjunct professor at New York University that was in charge of the excavation said, "The marbles really touched me. [They] reminded me that children were there. The leather shoe was another important moment," she adds, describing it as "small and narrow," found "embedded in the subterranean walls, covered in dirt, and strands of root".
"These material objects bring the community back," said Copeland, "and allow them the dignity that they probably didn't have when they left."
"People love Central Park," she continued. "We can't imagine the city without it. But it has a history that needs to be told. What happened before matters."
The involvement in African Americans in the growth of New York City has been a footnote for nearly a century, but after the discovery of the burial site near City Hall in 1993 containing between 15,000 to 20,000 bodies and the proven existence of Seneca in 2011, the history of New York City must be rewritten.
"History changes," says Copeland. "It transcends itself through time's passage and different interpretations."
Hopefully, in this interpretation, we remember Seneca.
Don't forget to pin it!
And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
When I was younger, I really loved winter. I loved sledding, snowball fights and building snowmen. One of my favourite pastimes was visiting a little outdoor ice rink a few blocks from my house. Every winter my friends and I would climb over the walls of the rink and goof around on the ice. When we weren't falling over our feet, we'd play hockey with whatever snow chunks we could find. As these events became more frequent, we often talked about playing real hockey on the rink. Eventually, we would end up playing hockey, but we'd settle for the street in front of our houses instead.
Beyond childhood, the only other time I went skating was in high school. Everybody else's ice skating skills had improved with age, but mine were still that of a fourth grader. I remember standing in the rink, struggling to shoot while holding my balance, only to have a classmate swoop in and steal my puck! Ever since then, I've stuck to floor hockey.
As I got older, my love for winter dwindled. Now I find it cold, icy, dark and sometimes miserable. My blog usually slows down in the winter for this very reason. I've been trying to get out and enjoy our longest season of the year, but it's hard. Most days I just want to stay inside.
The Island of the Dolls is in Xochimilco, a borough south of Mexico City. While it would be faster to take a car from Mexico City to Xochimilco, the traffic is dense and the roads are very congested. Instead, if you're going there, I'd recommend taking metro, which is easy and the cheapest in the world. What you gain in comfort, however, you lose in speed, as the train ride takes about 2 hours.
Mexico City and Xochimilco both sit in the Valley of Mexico. Until about a millennium ago, the whole region around Mexico City was surrounded by a massive body of water. Over the centuries due to both climate change and interference by humans, most of this water has dried up, for the exception of Xochimilco. With networks of canals crisscrossing the borough, car transportation is difficult and water transportation is essential. I'm sure there were motorized boats somewhere in the waters of Xochimilco, but I never saw any. Instead, canoes and rafts are common on the water. However, the most popular vessel is a trajinera – a colourful gonadal-like boat that is pushed along the water with a wooden pole.
Xochimilco is known worldwide for their Floating Gardens market, which are essentially canoes floating down the canals, selling wares to tourists on trajineras. These include things like food, drinks, silver rings, trinkets, ponchos and sombreros. Occasionally other trajineras full of Mariachi bands will approach tourists and offer to play beside them on the water.
A few months ago I entered a contest for a trip for two to visit Philadelphia on Two Bad Tourists. Normally contests like this are limited to United States residents so when I saw this one was open to Canadians I jumped at the chance. I've never won something like this before, so I actually forgot about it until I got the emailing saying I had won. Two Bad Tourists then worked alongside Visit Philly to organise the trip for me and my mother to explore Philadelphia for three days. Visit Philly paid for our flights, hotels and gave us a VIP Pass to experience the city to our heart's content. It is thanks to them that this trip is possible.
Several movies and television shows have tried to capture the essence of Philadelphia over the years – from the boxing Blockbuster Rocky, to the paranormal thriller The Sixth Sense, to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and even Boy Meets World – but each described the city differently. There is no easy way to approach a city as dynamic as The City of Brotherly Love. With countless layers of art, history, religion and the paranormal, Philadelphia is a city unlike any other throughout the United States.
One thing that surprised me the most about Philadelphia was the history. The city was founded and designed by William Penn, who is also the state of Pennsylvania's namesake. Born in London, England in 1644 he lived through The Great Fire of 1666 and The Great Plague of London from 1665-1666. Both events shaped Penn's life so he designed the city to be strictly stone buildings (to stop fires from spreading) and to have plenty of space between the buildings (as to prevent illness from spreading). This led to the older areas of the city to have winding corridors between old stone walls.