Psst. You know that giant, green oasis in the middle of smoggy Manhattan? Yeah, Central Park. This more-than-150-year-old, 770-plus-acre New York City staple is known for its spacious lawns, picturesque lakes, and family-friendly zoos, but did you know that coyotes and wild cats roam free and the park has a built-in way to ensure you never get lost? Whether you’ve never been or you spend every afternoon here, read on – you’re sure to discover something new about this core of the Big Apple.
1. Follow the light to find your way
In a park this massive, it’s easy to get lost, but the lamp posts (the giant, tall-and-skinny ones – not the decorative ones) throughout Central Park actually serve as a navigational tool. The posts display white spray-painted numbers that correspond to the nearest street. For instance, if you’re near 72nd Street on the West Side, the poles will read “W72.” The lamps themselves also recently underwent an eco-friendly makeover. Last year, the New York City Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Energy GATEWAY program successfully installed nearly 1,600 LED lights in Central Park, a move intended to reduce energy usage by more than 60 percent and save the park almost $30,000, according to inhabitat.
2. Sheep’s Meadow actually used to have sheep
From 1864 to 1934, a flock of about 200 pedigree sheep grazed in the open lawn on the West Side from 66th to 69th streets – the very space you now probably sunbathe in. According to the NYC Parks and Recreation Department, the park’s designers thought the sheep enhanced the “romantic English quality” of Central Park (not to mention, they maintained the lawn). The little lambies were eventually moved to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, possibly to avoid being used for food during The Great Depression, according to some sources. And the former Sheepfold, which housed the sheep and their shepherd, became the iconic Tavern on the Green restaurant (currently closed, but The New York Times hints a reopening is on the horizon).
3. The wild animals aren’t just in the zoo
The Central Park Zoo may offer an easier way to spot them, but it’s not the only place in the park you’ll find wild animals. Those ponds you’re rowing around in with your OK Cupid date? Their murky waters are home to everything from largemouth bass, carp, and sunfish to snapping turtles, crayfish, and frogs. If you’re into bird watching, keep an eye out for geese, ducks, herons, egrets, and even swans during colder months. In fact, Central Park sits along the Atlantic Flyway migratory route, so birders form around the world come here to spot the nearly 300 species of native and exotic birds that either live in the park or stop by during their migrations. Where furrier animals are concerned, raccoons, squirrels, and bats all stake their claim here, but feral cats and coyotes have also been spotted roaming the park. And you can’t forget about – or get away from – the zillions of insects, which include dragonflies, butterflies, moths, and the oh-so-magical fireflies in summer evenings.
4. Some say it’s haunted
Rumors abound of Victorian sisters haunting the park, but the most widely accepted ghost story is that of The Dakota. The German Renaissance-reminiscent style and debut in Rosemary’s Baby make it creepy enough, but, located on the outskirts of Central Park (72nd and Central Park West), this landmark-designated private apartment building – which has been home to countless stars such as Judy Garland and John Lennon – is actually thought to be haunted. Supposedly, in the ‘60s, the ghost of a young man was seen by some construction workers, and the apparition of a girl dressed in turn-of-the-century clothing was spotted by painters several years later. John Lennon, who was murdered outside the building, his former home, and whose Imagine tribute is just steps away, is also rumored to haunt the area.
5. There’s some super old stuff here
Haunted or not, there are some pretty old, historically valuable things to see in the park. A 3,500-year-old Egyptian obelisk, for instance, often referred to by its nickname, Cleopatra’s Needle, is the oldest man-made artifact in Central Park. At 71 feet high and weighing about 200 tons, this official NYC landmark – commissioned by Pharaoh Thutmosis III – can be found behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Central Park’s oldest building is the Blockhouse, and while it may not look like anything special, it is the only remaining fortification of the many like it that were built in 1814 to defend against the British. The stone structure once had a sunken wooden roof and mobile cannon and, today, is empty, roofless, and locked up. Finally, the park’s oldest sculpture is a bronze, taxidermy-inspired piece depicting eagles devouring their prey and was cast in Paris in 1850 by Christophe Fratin. Have a looksie. You’re basically in one huge, outdoor museum.