The Ramble in Central Park
A Wilderness West of Fifth
By Robert A. McCabe
Abbeville Press Copyright © 2011 Robert A. McCabe
All rights reserved.
Central Park is a great work of art, and most appropriately has been an inspiration to painters, photographers, and writers ever since its creation. The Ramble, completed in 1859, has been a particular focus of the photographer’s art, and Robert McCabe’s images are a valuable contribution to this venerable tradition. McCabe appreciates everything from the smallest detail of an unfurled leaf to the largest vista of the Lake and the New York City skyline beyond, and his scope leaves no leaf unturned.
A ramble,” defined as both a walk without a definite route, taken merely for pleasure,” or an aimless amble on a winding course,” has been in the English language since the sixteenth century, though as an intentionally designed landscape it was first practiced in the nineteenth century, and perfected in Central Park by designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.
Originally a barren stretch of rock outcrops abutting a vast swamp, the Ramble area was transformed into an intimate woodland to complement the infinite lakes and meadows and formal geometric settings such as the Mall and Bethesda Terrace. In planning for the main woodland, Olmsted fantasized [t]here can be no better place than the Ramble for the perfect realization of the wild garden.” He instructed his superintendent of plating, Ignaz Pilat, to create a quasi-subtropical setting similar to those he had experienced in Panama and the South. These landscapes were characterized by the visual interplay of textures, colors, and materialsbrushed with dappled light and shadeand combined with the sounds of babbling brooks, rushing streams, and chirping birds that were, in his words, meant to excite the childish playfulness and profuse careless utterances of Nature” and to evoke mystery, obscurity, and rapture in the mind of the Ramble visitor.
With its twisting paths, meandering streams, dramatic shifts in topography, bold rock outcrops, intimate glades, dense plantings, and a fanciful variety of rustic benches, fences, shelters, stone and wooden archeseven a dark and forbidding cavethe Ramble is the best example of the designers’ passage of scenery” that compose and recompose themselves as the visitor strolls through the landscape. In contrast to the Ramble’s internal obscurity and complexity, the visitor is teased by external views that open to completely different and breathtaking experiencesBow Bridge, Bethesda Terrace, Hernshead, Balcony Bridge, the Lake, the bustling traffic on the Drive to the east, Belvedere Caste, and the Upper and Lower reservoirs (the latter transformed into the Great Lawn by 1937).
In 1866, the New York Evening Post
declared that The Ramble is at present the very soul of the Park.” Today, with the restoration of its Lake shoreline in 2009, and the ongoing restoration of its interior woodlands by the Conservancy, we believe that the Ramble is indisputably still the soul of Central Park. It is clearly the wold and dramatic place it was intended to be, as attested by McCabe’s photographs of its splendid landscapes in multiple seasons. Photography is one of the park’s major activities, and this book is a testimony to the countless individual visions that each of the thirty-five million visitors bring to their time in the park. With its detailed map and informative essays, this book offers armchair travelers anywhere in the world the opportunity to take a virtual ramble in the soul of our park.
The Central Park Conservancy is committed to the restoration of the entire Ramble. We invite you to join us as a member of the Conservancy, to ensure that our wilderness west of Fifth is as beautiful in the future as it is in the pages of this book.
President of the Central Park Conservancy and Central Park Administrator (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Ramble in Central Park by Robert A. McCabe. Copyright © 2011 Robert A. McCabe. Excerpted by permission of Abbeville Press.
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