Wednesday, March 19, 2008

POSTCARD HISTORY LESSON - Gondola in Central Park, NYC

There are many things I love about Central Park in New York City, but right at the top of the list are the gondola...on the lake...with the Bethesda Fountain on shore. Naturally, when I saw this post card, I went nuts.
The Bethesda Fountain, which can be seen in the distance, has a statue known as the "Angel of the Waters". It was unveiled in 1873 as a tribute to the Croton Aqueduct, which opened in 1842, giving New Yorkers their first dependable supply of fresh water. The last time I rowed with Andres Garcia, the current gondolier on the lake there, he told me all about the fountain and I look for it in all the time in New York movies and TV shows.
By the way, Andres is one of the few gondoliers out there with whom I am truly jealous - he rows in one of the coolest places in the world.
Let's get back to the postcard. Based on the fountain, and the crowds surrounding it, the possibility exists that this image comes from the unveiling of the "Angel of the Waters". It most certainly depicts an event either in 1873 or thereafter.
The image here has been released in a number of forms, both black and white, and colorized. Based on the versions I've seen, my guess is that the color versions came about later, and that not all colors were accurate. I'd be surprised to find out that the gondolier was really wearing a green sweater.
The canopy on the gondola appears to be a traditional "felze di tela" or felze-of-cloth. This has been a fairly popular option with gondolas in the past; it's lightweight, provides relief from the sun, and fairly easy to break down and store.
I've heard from several sources, that Central Park has had at least one gondola since the very beginning. In addition, I've encountered believable evidence that New York may have had a gondola as early as the 1790's - making it the earliest presence of a gondola in North America.
I'm not sure if it's true, but I aim to find out.

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