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“A Startling New Sight in Central Park, Hospital Tents” – was this the first time there was a hospital in Central Park?

Public Health history is punctuated by an all too familiar great boom and bust cycles as a sudden crisis leads to a massiveeffort and mobilization but then falling to indifference.

Nothing could be more illustrative of the emergence and impact of Covid-19 then the image of our healthcare facilities being overwhelmed by patients requiring triage, work around emergency, meeting the appropriate level of care almost literally on the fly. Many in public office and the press, characterize this as our communities are engaged in anexpanding war in this case with a novel RNA strand Coronavirus, SARS- CoV-2


The newspaper headline said, “A Startling New Sight in Central Park, Hospital Tents”Yes a working hospital in. New York City’sIconic Park first opened to the public in1858. What would Frederick Law Olmsted, the preeminent landscape architect and creator of Central Park,think of repurposing his grand East Meadowopenspace as a military-like hospital formed from tents?

Nothing could be more illustrative of a pandemicthan the images and description of a virulent outbreak infocal urban communities then those coming from New York City:responders and hospitals at and over capacity, a Navy hospital ship deployed to New York Harbor,a Convention Center repurposed as an overflow facility by the US Army Corps of Engineering. And befitting the description of aWar with Covid-19, even amilitary-like advanced field hospital facility in Central Park. And not without controversy, provided by a volunteer organization and church groups, erected in the bucolic setting of the NYC’s iconic Central Park,asreported by the West Side Rag and other news outlets, “Mar 29, 2020 – Hospital tents began going up in the East Meadow of Central Park on Sunday, as a volunteer group working with Mount Sinai gets ready to open an overflow hospital in the park. The Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse is working with the Mount Sinai network and city officials to help serve patients who have begun to overwhelm local hospitals.” www.westsiderag.com/2020/03/29/a-

Are the Emergency Field Hospital Tents “A Startling New Sight in Central Park? One wonders if we could turn on our time machine, to ask what Olmsted would have thought?Central Parkfirst opened to the public in late 1858 was designed by the eminent American landscape designer, Frederick Law Olmsted (and his partner Calvin Vaux). Olmsted actively supervised its construction and frequently battled with the politicians of the dayto retain control of the Parks design and construction as he envisioned it.

Let History be our guidethatit is not – “The First Hospital” in Central Park

The first Central Park Hospital was from another war – the Civil War. The imposing Central Park Hospital (officially the U.S. General Hospital, Central Park) was a military hospital that operated in New York City during the American Civil War, from 1862 to 1865. It occupied the former grounds of Mount St. Vincent’s Academy near 102nd St and East Drive in Central Park, just west of Fifth Avenue and atop the Revolutionary War site of McGowan’s Pass. In medical and military records it is usually referred to as the United States General Hospital, Central Park;[1] and sometimes elsewhere as St. Joseph’s Military Hospital (as it was named by Sisters of Charity, who built the complex and provided nursing staff)

source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central Park Hospital

Would Fredrick Law Olmsted approve of the COVID 19 Military Hospitalin Central Park?

I think he would approve of the latest temporary hospital. And what in Olmsted’s life and work does Historyprovide to support this assertion? A brief biography of Olmsted, following below, may convince you , if not also impress youas Olmsted’s career reflects the phases of his life from journalist, social critic, urban landscapedeveloper, public health reformer, to early conservationist and ecologist. And if this does not convince you, consider that Frederick Law Olmsted was in the first group of members to be invited to join the nascent APHA in 1872 – he was there at APHA’s creation asa founder.



Frederick Law Olmsted (April 26, 1822 – August 28, 1903) was an American landscape architect, journalist, social critic, and public administrator. He is popularly considered to be the father of American landscape architecture, credited for co-designing many well-known urban parks with his senior partner Calvert Vaux. Olmsted began as a journalist, and publisher, became fascinated with the natural sciences and settings and began studying public parks and spaces.


His career as Urban Landscape Architect

Through a friend and mentor to Olmsted,Andrew Jackson Downing, the charismatic landscape architect from Newburgh, New York, was of one the first to propose developing New York’s Central Park in his role as publisher of The Horticulturist magazine. Downing introduced Olmsted to the English-born architect Calvert Vaux, whom Downing had brought to the U.S. as his architectural collaborator. After Downing died in July 1852 in a widely publicized fire on the Hudson River steamboat Henry Clay, Olmsted and Vaux entered the Central Park design competition together, against Egbert Ludovicus Viele among others. Vaux had invited the less experienced Olmsted to participate in the design competition with him, having been impressed with Olmsted’s theories and political contacts. Prior to this, in contrast with the more experienced Vaux, Olmsted had never designed or executed a landscape design

The design of Central Park embodies Olmsted’s social consciousness and commitment to egalitarian ideals. Influenced by Downing and his own observations regarding social class in England, China, and the American South, Olmsted believed that the common green space must always be equally accessible to all citizens, and was to be defended against private encroachment. This principle is now fundamental to the idea of a “public park”, but was not assumed as necessary then. Olmsted’s tenure as Central Park commissioner was a long struggle to preserve that idea.

His Career as Public Health Reformer and Civil War Leader:

At the start of the Civil War in 1861, Olmsted took leave as director of Central Park to work in Washington, DC as Executive Secretary of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a precursor to the Red Cross. The voluntary Sanitary Commission tended to the wounded during the American Civil War. Along with other leaders the work of the Sanitary Commission extended beyond the surge demands of historic level of carnage of what was arguably the first “modern war”with high explosives, mass casualty’s movement further enabled by trains and communication by telegraph.The Commission recognized that more casualties resulted from disease and poor nutrition among troops then battle casualties.. The Sanitary Commission carried out inspections of the Union Army hospitals, camps, and enforced standards promoting sanitation and the cleanliness of both camps and troops, along with the problematic provision of clean food .

In addition to the above, Olmsted helped to recruit and outfit three African-American regiments of the United States Colored Troops in New York City. He contributed to organizing a fair which raised one million dollars for the United States Sanitary Commission.

His Career as Conservationist

Olmsted was an important early leader of the conservation movement in the United States. An expert on California, he was likely one of the gentlemen “of fortune, of taste and of refinement” who proposed, through Senator John Conness, that Congress designate Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove as public reserves.[21] This was the first land set aside by Congress for public use. Olmsted served a one-year appointment on the Board of Commissioner of the state reserve, and his 1865 report to Congress on the board’s recommendations laid an ethical framework for the government to reserve public lands, to protect their “value to posterity”. He described the “sublime” and “stately” landscape, emphasizing that the value of the landscape was not in any one individual waterfall, cliff, or tree, but in the “miles of scenery where cliffs of awful height and rocks of vast magnitude and of varied and exquisite coloring, are banked and fringed and draped and shadowed by the tender foliage of noble and lovely trees and bushes, reflected from the most placid pools, and associated with the most tranquil meadows, the most playful streams, and every variety of soft and peaceful pastoral beauty.”[22]

In the 1880s he was active in efforts to conserve the natural wonders of Niagara Falls, threatened with industrialization by the building of electrical power plants. At the same time, he campaigned to preserve the Adirondack region in upstate New York. He was one of the founders of the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1898

A quotation from Olmsted’s friend and colleague architect Daniel Burnham could serve as an epitaph. Referring to Olmsted in March 1893, Burnham said, “An artist, he paints with lakes and wooded slopes; with lawns and banks and forest covered hills; with mountain sides and ocean views.”[6]

painting by John Singer Sargent, 1895

Bio adopted from https://placesjournal.org/article/frederick-law-olmsted-and-the-campaign-for-public-health/