As a place with an eventful history with millions of visitors throughout all the years, Central Park has gained a central place in NYC’s culture. And this goes hand to hand with some interesting facts and some bizarre, even spooky legends.
Stories of hidden treasures, cryptic sightings, and paranormal visitors are just a small part of the history of our beloved park. We at Central Park tours have tried to gather some of the most interesting, and somewhat spooky stories that go around the park.
Calvert Vaux’s secret
The story goes – Vaux, one of the park’s fathers, wrote a letter, stating that he had hidden a secret of great importance somewhere in the park. He had given instructions to find it around 1965 (with the letter supposedly written in 1895), and then – to keep it a secret for at least 10 years. All of this is described in the Central Park Papers. Vaux drowned in 1895, in Gravesend Bay, previously stating that he fears for his life. Was his death an accident, or not? Is it all related to the Central Park Papers, and their secret? We will never know…
And do you know that the Casino was a hotspot?
But not for free Wi-Fi, but for a drink and some good time during the Prohibition Era. The Casino first started as a place for unaccompanied ladies to hang out, and then (after some fifty years) it became the Casino. The Casino, in turn, became a favorite place of then-mayor Jimmy Walker (not Johnny), who used it to blow off some steam with some drinks and dancing, away from the law’s eyes.
There were real sheep on Sheep Meadow
What did you thought? That this was just a random name? No! There were real, living sheep. They were kept in the building that is today the Tavern on the Green, and grazed the grass of one of our favorite picnic spots twice a day. They were Olmsted's, who thought they would give the large meadow a more esthetic look. Today, this could be a real spectacle – a sheep herd, living in the heart of Manhattan.
Fire a broadside!
There was an old ship cannon, stored in the Ramble shed. An active gun at its time, it wasn’t in use for more than two centuries. But when a park crew went to clean it in 2013, they discovered that it was ready for battle, containing a cannonball, and nearly 2 pounds of active gunpowder.
Speaking of artillery ammo – there was a popular legend, stating that Bow Bridge had huge cannonballs in its foundation. This was considered official information until 1974, when, during a renovation of the bridge, no cannonballs were discovered.
A fun fact is that, in order to clear Central Park’s landscape from all the rock (it was very rocky and swampy), the workers used more gunpowder than it was used in the Battle of Gettysburg.
The Manhattan Project
Apparently there is a huge underground complex under Central Park. It is utilized as a part of the Manhattan Project. For those that don’t know – the Manhattan Project was a military operation dedicated to the construction of the first nuclear weapons. It is heavily shrouded by mystery, spawning hundreds of conspiracy theories about the usage of extraterrestrial technology. Another theory states that there’s a complex under Central Park, equipped with over 60 miles of roads, an underground lake and one of the largest telephone exchange in the United States amongst other. It was a home for some of the most important figures of human history, like Tsar Nicholas II, Adolf Hitler, and some aliens from Roswell. One of the new faces on the block is radio host Howard Stern.
Believe it or not, Central Park is the home of several spooky, but friendly ghosts.
If you’re having a walk near Central Park Pond and jump onto two classy Victorian-era ladies, who are also ghosts, don’t worry – those are just Janet and Rosetta Van Der Voort, a couple of sisters who are there for some ice skating, and don’t mean to scare you. The legends say that their father was very protective of them, and would only allow them to go to the Pond to skate. They are said to die in the 1880’s from old age.
The Dakota building
It is located on 72nd St. in Central Park West, and became infamous on December 8, 1980 when Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon in front of it. Since then, there are multiple sightings of the Beatle’s ghost there. He’s not the only ghost there, with reports of a boy and a girl. Also, the building “stars” in Roman Polanski's 1968 horror, Rosemary's Baby.
New York Cancer Hospital
A place with very dark past. It was a hospital in the 19th century, when mortality rates were high and patients were treated morphine and alcohol to numb the pain. It later became Towers Nursing Home, close in 1974 for parent abuse. Today it is a fancy condo, light years away from its former glory.
The weirdest residents
Some very awkward people (and creatures!) called Central Park their home for a while.
- An alligator that was actually a South American caiman.
- Susie Grunt – a 15-year old girl that occupied a cave near East 71st St. for a while in 1987.
- The invasive species of the Frankenfish (snakehead fish) that inhabited the Harlem Meer in 2013.
- A 3-foot tall (not so big) Bigfoot, spotted in 1997.
Bonus Fact: The construction of Central Park was more expensive than the purchase of Alaska ($7.4 and $7.2 millions of dollars respectively).
Central Park is visited by 42 million people every year and most of them will never see a Bigfoot, a ghost, or an alien. But that doesn’t mean they are not there, watching us from the bush or the dark window. But do not be scared, they mean you no harm! Go on with your tour and enjoy the park!