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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/

Dr. Stephen Smith was a published Poet in Good Health Magazine?

Did you know that our Founder Dr. Stephen Smith was a published poet in Good Health Magazine? But who was “Almeda” to whom he sent a copy of his poem? And what was Good Health Magazine? We look into his poem on the occasion of his 97th Birthday signed and sent to this friend from his address on Park Avenue – dated October 19, 1919.

Dr. Smith’s Poem – with his own annotations- a writer perfecting his work


Three “back stories” piqued our curiosity and we follow these threads.

Last September, searching for Public Health documents books and media on the web, I came across a one page document attributed to our founder, Dr. Stephen Smith, that was offered by an antiquarian shop in California.

It proved to be a wonderful acquisition for described on one side was a printed copy of a one page poem by Stephen Smith (born 1823), published on the occasion of his 97th birthday in Good Health Magazine. But there was a further unexpected reward – for on the reverse was a typed letter signed by Stephen Smith as he sends this copy to a friend “Almeda” wherein he reflects not only on his life with some bemusement but the great interest of the public in his formula for longevity.


A small slice of our history – maybe not central to Public Health, but so human and a revealing profile of Dr. Smith coming to life in his own words – always on message but obviously a wry observer of his own life and times. And to think this one page that speaks to us over the years could be easily be lost.

Do read on and share my questions – Who is Almeda? Her address is not noted on the letter- and how did this fragment of history end up in California? The seller did not know of how this was acquired. And the letter populated with reference to friend and relative no doubt.

And as the last line of the poem says, “Reprinted from Good Health”. What was Good Health, what else did it publish?

And what of his address? What building stood at 1000 Park Ave., New York City, in 1919 and what is at this address today some 90 years later?

Here are my notes to myself on the “three back stories”:

Dr. Stephen Smith wrote this poem for his 97th Birthday and it was published in the monthly magazine, Good Health. Dr. Smith was still making corrections to his printed poem – it was still not completely to his liking – we can relate to that.

One can read the pleasure Dr. Smith took in achieving an age that is so remarkable even now – let alone astounding in 1919. And Dr. Smith was always glad, good naturedly, to preach the public health and sobriety message whether private or public.

I have not found any clues as to the identity of “Almeda” (Wright?), and of the names so obviously familiar to both.

Did Almeda live in California – what was the provenance? But that it survived and is preserved is one more happy tale of capturing an evanescent snippet of history.

What was Good Health Magazine and who was the editor that wrote the footnote to the poem?

Good Health Magazine was the successor to an earlier monthly magazine published in Battle Creek, Michigan and the editor – quite fitting to Battle Creek – was Dr. John Hershey Kellogg – he of Battle Creek Sanatorium and cereal fame. He and his brother Will developed the “now iconic” Corn Flakes.

And therein is another interesting side story. Dr. Kellogg was a student of Dr. Smith during his education at Bellevue Medical College – and credited Dr. Smith for developing his latent interest in preventive care – personal and public health. They became lifelong friends. It was as a penurious medical student, that Dr. Kellogg, an observant Seventh Day Adventist, first thought of the idea of an easily prepared, economic, and nutritionally sound breakfast food. (Source Dr. Richard W. Schwarz, “John Hershey Kellogg, MD”, 1970).

What building stood at 1000 Park Ave in 1919 and stands on the address today?

The building at 1000 Park Avenue NYC still stands and is now a historic building, and very expensive Coop Apartments. It was some 3 years old when Dr. Smith wrote his letter (see Wikipedia entry). What might Dr. Smith think of 9 million dollar coop apartments?

Or of the contretemps in the building as recounted in the Wikipedia entry – over the “2002 best selling chick lit, The Nanny Diaries” purportedly modeled after some of the then 1000 Park Ave coop owners?

That I cannot say. But were he alive today, would he be the basis for one more figure in The Nanny Diaries? What would Dr. Smith say of “modern times”?

from Wikipedia on 1000 Park Avenue

Among the former residents of the building are James J. Rorimer, former Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Nicola Kraus, co-author of the 2002 bestselling chick lit novel The Nanny Diaries. She claims that Mrs. X, the mother in the novel, set at a similar Park Avenue building with a fictitious address, is based partially on women she worked for at 1000 Park. Most often speculated as the model for the character is Lisa Birnbach, a part-time CBS News correspondent best known for editing The Official Preppy Handbook in 1980, who has some similarities to the character in the book. Birnbach confirmed that Kraus had worked for her, but described her as “more of a play date for my daughter” than an actual nanny.[5]

Another resident of 1000 Park named as a possible model for Mrs. X did not return phone calls from The New York Times requesting comment. Kraus did not think it inappropriate to use her former neighbors as models for her characters, but current residents of building disagreed. One even referred to Kraus as a “snitch” and suggested the co-op board should forbid residents from fictionalizing their neighbors’ lives.[5]

1000 Park Avenue
from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia