Sheltered from the hubbub of New York City's craziest borough, the oasis known as Prospect Park was built and has survived since 1867. Its 585 acres are nestled between Downtown Brooklyn, Flatbush and Park Slope. Nearby landmarks include, Grand Army Plaza, the main branch of the Library, (at Grand Army Plaza), the Brooklyn Museum and the Botanical Gardens, (the site of Ebbets Field…the home baseball stadium of the Brooklyn Dodgers until 1957, was a couple of blocks beyond Flatbush Avenue).
History tells us that the park's negativity goes back hundreds of years. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington lost the Battle of Long Island on the grounds of the present day park, (he did successfully retreat to Manhattan and obviously go on to bigger and better things).
Prior to the colonization of America, the park was a heavily wooded area. Unfortunately, only a few small groves exist and are nicknamed, “Brooklyn’s last forest.”
Prospect Lake is the only lake in Brooklyn. Visitors can still rent boats and relax amid the harsh work-a-day-world that surrounds the park. Additionally, there is a zoo, playgrounds, a merry-go-round and ball fields.
|NEAR THE LAKE IS THE BEAUTIFUL, LULLWATER, SOUTH OF TERRACE BRIDGE. I NEVER SAW THIS MYSELF AND WOULD HAVE BET THAT NOTHING THIS NICE WAS IN THE PARK.|
Another area that I didn't known about, is Quaker Hill. There, in a private cemetery founded by the Society of Friends, actor Montgomery Clift is interred.
Prospect Park is far removed from my hometown of Canarsie. That means due to inconvenience of distance, all my visits to the park were special occasions. That makes it unfathomable that all my dealings there were negative. My hope is to finally reverse this trend…and my deadline is July 22, 2014.
My earliest recollections of the park (I was five) were outings with my paternal grandmother and sister. Prospect Park despite its size was small compared to Manhattan’s Central Park. Plus, due to my bounding imagination, it seemed empty because the park lacked trees, gigantic, prehistoric-looking rocks to climb on and twisty paths with cool bridges and tunnels to run over and through.
While on granny’s watch getting us home in one piece was job ONE. She didn’t take many chances and ruled with an iron fist. So with me being glued to her side, running wild wasn’t an option. To make matters worse, to prevent accidents or nausea she restricted me to the carousel’s bench seat. I can still remember doing a slow burn in my seat as my sister joyfully bobbed up and down, on one of the magnificent antique stallions.
Through no fault of my grammy, even the zoo was a drag because the animals were in brick and cement cages behind prison-like bars, (as an unsophisticated kid, even I saw the differences between this so-called zoo and the more natural, top of-the-line one in the Bronx).
My biggest dose of Prospect Park negativity happened in 1967, (I was twelve) while attending the H. E. S. Day Camp, in Wyandanch New York (Long Island). One day we went to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park for a special activity called, “THE JUNIOR ANGLER COMPETITION.”
To prove how many geniuses there were on my bus, (mostly adolescents and young teens) no one knew what this funny, odd-ball "angler" word meant. The camp’s higher-ups didn’t want to give up the surprise either so they cleverly kept us in dark…otherwise there probably would have been a mutiny, organized by me.
Once we were there, my fellow campers and I found out the hard and disappointing way that "angler" is a fancy synonym for fisherman. I was well-versed in profanity by that age and trust me, I didn’t cry out, “Fishing? Are you kidding?”
Yeah, in the morning, we got to run around like little animals, play ball and see the zoo's depressed animals...who had NO room to run around. By lunch time, the visitor population of the park swelled to epic proportions, due to other camps, organizations and individuals gravitating to the FREE festivities.
To improve the attraction, the event organizers hired the comedy team of Allen and Rossi who served as emcees. At their best, these has-beens were a cheap knock-off of Martin and Lewis, (Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis).
|DEAN MARTIN (left) AND JERRY LEWIS WERE ENTERTAINMENT GIANTS FROM 1946-1956. WHEN THE PAIR SPLIT-UP DUE TO PHILOSOPHICAL DIFFERENCES, THEY EACH WENT ON TO TREMENDOUS SOLO CAREERS.|
Steve Rossi was the good-looking, singing straight man ala Dean Martin. Marty Allen took on Lewis' role as the goofy-looking comedian.
In addition to a hostile audience overwhelmingly made up as sophomoric brats, Prospect Park's outdoor venue and poor audio system was not conducive to the subtleties of Allen and Rossi's adult-based material. So the thousand or so screaming kids couldn’t care less about their schtick, (which relied heavily on Allen's singular, over-used trademark line, "Hello dere)!"
Once the actual angling competition started, (despite the lure of valuable prizes), I couldn’t get past the tedium, the disgusting, pollution-riddled lake, handling the disgusting bait and being squashed between countless disgusting strangers that included intimidating, older hooligans who kept pretending to push younger kids into the water.
To my left, some knucklehead from another camp was so distracted by those bullying idiots that he carelessly plunged a fish hook into his palm. As soon as I saw the blood spatter on his tee-shirt, I quit. Then I walked away and recruited my friends to also...just say NO to fishing.
My friends and I saw that Allen and Rossi were giving autographs, (all the girls lined up for Steve Rossi’s and the boys went for Marty Allen’s). To pass the time, we started our own competition, to see who could get the most signatures.
In the beginning, I could clearly read "Hello Dere, Marty Allen." Soon he shortened it to, "Marty Allen," then "M. Allen." After signing his name a gazillion times, all his cramped hand could muster was a straight line with a slight wiggle at the end. I got about thirty…and didn’t win, (to complete my crappy day, none of my thirty autographs made it home that night).
Another negative Prospect Park moment occurred in the spring of 1973 when I attended my first semester of Brooklyn College, at their downtown campus. To avoid the long subway ride to Hoyt and Schermerhorn Streets, my dad let drive his 1968 Dodge Polara to school on Fridays.
|MAY-1973, IN ELLENVILLE NEW YORK. TWO YEARS LATER, (1975), THE "THUNDERBOLT GREASE SLAPPER" (above) WOULD BE MY FIRST CAR.|
One of the less-than-lofty goals I had then was to drive through Prospect Park. Even back then conservationist groups lobbied to eliminate auto traffic, (to maintain the park as a refuge from city life). They were partially successful so I was able to fulfill my wish during a rare time that cars were permitted. Oy, what a disappointment, it still bothers me to this day, how much nothing, the scenic-drive had to offer.
Similarly, in the late 1980's, JZIMBO's wife had a curio shop in Park Slope. He bought a new car and on the way back from the dealership, decided to show it off to GZIMBO. He took the shortcut through Prospect Park. A block from the store on 6th Avenue, he stopped for a celebratory ice cream at Baskin Robbins. To his utter dismay, when he came out slurping a chocolate-choclate chip cone, his new car of twenty-five minutes had already been stolen. To make matters worse, he called the Guinness World Book of Records but to his chagrin, the Collyer brothers had their DeSoto stolen (1956), in twenty-two minutes, (but I'm uncertain whether they drove through Prospect Park or not).
I have been permanently out of Brooklyn since 1978. So I have little knowledge of the goings-on at Prospect Park. However, I do know that many years ago, the zoo was condemned by the board of health. Apparently the animals were fighting a losing battle for their meals with rats. While a small amount of animals were re-housed, the term zoo no longer feels apt.
Today, nearby Downtown Brooklyn is having a make-over. The property values have soared due to its proximity to Manhattan causing a yuppie renaissance to take over. Then by osmosis, Prospect Park and other neighboring areas are sharing in the enthusiasm to improve.
One of the big present-day improvements at Prospect Park is the band shell which has become a sought-after haven for concerts. I’m really hoping to break the park’s cycle of negativity because my son Andrew and his hipster friends, are heading there in a couple of months, to see their favorite band, “Neutral Milk Hotel.” It may sound like an odd-ball name for a musical group but at least the name doesn’t imply hours of boredom and handling yucky bait and fish hooks…like another funny word, angling.
|NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL, IS AN AMERICAN, INDIE ROCK, PSYCHEDELIC FOLK, LO-FI BAND. THEY WERE ACTIVE FROM 1989-1999 AND FORMED AGAIN IN 2013.|
So it's important to me, to break my Prospect Park cycle of negativity and know that Andrew and his hipster cronies have a great time !