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The New YorkerIn 1863, at the peak of the Civil War, a package turned up on President Lincoln's desk containing stereoscopic images of the municipal wonder taking shape up in New York: Central Park. These high-tech photographic scenes were intended to soothe the President's nerves, just as the Park has calmed New Yorkers for generations. This summer is the hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of the state's wise decision-influenced by the preëminent nineteenth-century landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing-to set aside a giant chunk of swampy Manhattan ground for the creation of the first major landscaped public park in the United States. Central Park, An American Masterpiece, by Sara Cedar Miller, the Park's official historian, is itself a welcoming oasis, teeming with photographs of lush meadows, rustic pergolas, whimsical bridges, and Catskills-inspired ravines. The Park's eight hundred and forty-three acres, we learn, are easily discernible by shuttle astronauts; its sunken transverse roads were the prototype for the modern highway system; and its Great Lawn, originally a reservoir, was filled in with rubble from the Rockefeller Center construction site. The park we know today-featuring Balto the sled dog, Cleopatra's Needle, and Wollman Rink-descends from design entry No. 33, the famous "Greensward" plan of architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. The University of Massachusetts Press has reprinted Walks and Talks of An American Farmer in England, Olmsted's engaging account of his 1850 ramble around England and Wales, including his fateful encounter with Birkenhead Park, near Liverpool. "This magnificent pleasure-ground," Olmsted wrote, "is entirely, unreservedly, and for ever the people's own.
( Mark Rozzo)