Spring 2002

Geohorticultural Fantasies

A modest proposal for Central Park

Lewis Masquerier

Below is an abridged version of the entry submitted by Lewis Masquerier in the 1858 competition to design Central Park. Millions of people have visited Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s winning “Greensward Plan.” Unfortunately, no one has been able to stroll through the lovely monstrosity outlined below. The organizers of the competition destroye­d the accompanying diagrams.

Explanation with Accompanying Map for Landscaping, etc., New York City Central Park, Presented April 1st, 1858

To the Commissioners of Central Park:

I have planned purposely to effect a double object. Not only to give a pleasing landscape, but also an instructive one. For amusement and instruction combined, certainly intensify each other. I propose then to lay off the southern half of the park in a miniature representation of the continents of the earth. The nearly land-enclosed waters of the earth seem to make as much water scenery as may be necessary. The Arctic Sea, Hudson’s Bay, five lakes, the Mediterranean, Black Sea, Caspian, and Baltic Seas, embrace the principal portion of inland water. The other great seas fall principally outside of the park. That portion of the Pacific, falling in the south-west corner of the park, being put in large lawns, will contrast more with the large timber on South America, and assist to define its western coast. That portion of the Atlantic falling between North America and Europe, being occupied with the flower garden, filled with smaller vegetation than that portion of the park representing N. America, in addition to the road curving with its coast, also helps to show up its shape. The lawn of the parade ground and road crossing to the south side of the present reservoir, mark the boundary of Asia on that side. And the lawns surrounding the tree-planted islands of the Pacific, can be supposed to represent the water and define their position.

I propose that such trees that grow in the south temperate zone of South America shall be planted in the corresponding place in the park. But it will be difficult to grow the vegetation of the torrid climate of that continent, except in green houses. The same in Central America and Mexico. But the part coming in Northern America can be well represented with its appropriate vegetation. I have marked trees from our Atlantic coast to the Wabash River, where the prairie region begins, which can be represented by lawns. I confess, on close examination of the grounds, that the rocky eminences do not always fall so as to represent the mountain ranges, but still, something may be done in neutralizing. A tolerably level ground comes in where the Mississippi basin falls; a very important part to represent. But although we may not be able to give completely the shape of the ground of the continents, we can give in miniature their rivers, lakes, seas, and the shape of their coasts by making the roads correspond with their windings. Many of their harbors, with their cities, can be represented; so can water falls, fountains, volcanic mountains, & c. The tribes of men and lower animals, fossil or living, be represented in statuary, as at the Sydenham Crystal Palace. This plan of representing the geography of the earth will, no doubt, stimulate a great many presents in curiosities and art from public spirited men. There will be artists, perhaps, who will sculpture some favorite city in a solid block of marble, and plant it on its appropriate spot as a free gift to the city. There is no anticipating the result of thus representing the earth.

The low grounds on the park hit very favorably for representing the Arctic Ocean, Hudson’s Bay, and our five lakes, the Mediterranean and Black Seas. These spots are nearly on a level; so that water let out of the pipe in Fifth Avenue, near Seventy-Fifth Street, will fill the Mediterranean, &c., and then communicate by the present drain to the Arctic Ocean, then into Hudson’s Bay. But the five lakes fall upon too high ground to fill from an underground communication from Hudson’s Bay. By falsifying their latitude, and placing them about one hundred and fifty feet to the north, they will sink to the same level, and can be filled from Hudson’s Bay. If, too, the space I have marked for these seas is too much, they may be contracted in size, without, perhaps, being perceptibly out of proportion to the adjoining land.

To plant the trees where they grow more abundant, on the ranges of the mountains of those continents, will throw them, no doubt, in as wild and picturesque groups as where nothing of the kind was intended.

The spots where the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea fall, I propose as play-grounds, and to be graveled. They lay too high to put in water. Besides, my plan gives a sufficiency of water scenery elsewhere.

I propose to lay out, upon the half-mile square at the upper end of the park above the new reservoir, an arboretum, in connection with zoology and the geological formation of the earth. In the center I propose a building for a museum, containing specimens of the whole mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdom. In truth it would not be an arboretum only —making it, in fact, if we are allowed to coin a word, a minevegeaniretum or minevegeaniseum; or, for short names, they may be called retum or zeum.

How instructive, as well as amusing, could the Central Park be made, and with no more expense at first than it would be to make only a common-place park or pleasure ground of it. Rally men of capital, taste, and leisure, in New York, and resolve that the Central Park shall not be a failure.

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