17 November 2007

Inside at Last

One of the consolations of remaining in New York City over many years, of enduring the biting winters and sweltering summers, the congestion and antic sidewalk energy, the high cost of living and the high cost of four straight terms of Republican Mayoral rule, is that, every now and then, you gain access to one of the City's unique rabbit holes of mystery and history, places that exist nowhere else in the world and fairly throb with echoes of the past.

I had one of these moments yesterday when I finally, finally, finally gained access to Gramercy Park, the last private park in Manhattan, regularly accessible only to residents of the buildings that line the park. It is opened to members of the working class a couple times a year, but I always seem to miss those occasions. But yesterday, after having lived here 19 years, two months and 19 days, I finally swung open that heavy wrought-iron gate.

My main reason for desiring entrance was not so much to see the sculpted park—though it is peaceful and lovingly manicured—but to observe up close Edmond Quinn's sculpture of actor Edwin Booth, which stands dead center. It's been there since it was dedicated almost exactly 89 years ago by members of The Players, the club Booth founded on the south side of the park as a dignified refuge for actors.

The statue was the first ever erected to honor an actor—not so long ago a very disreputable profession in America. It's made of bronze and is life-size. It depicts Booth in his most famous role, Hamlet. He is rising from his chair and about to deliver the "To be or not to be" soliloquy. Booth's "Hamlet" was renowned in its day for running for 100 performances at the Winter Garden—a blockbuster run in those days.

Booth, alone, is honored in the park. His only company is a small fountain to the west which bears the likeness of Samuel Ruggles, who created the park. He looks a little melancholy.

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