“While this park is the second in extent of territory owned by the city of Brooklyn, it is an open question whether one-tenth of our citizens would be able to locate it if asked to do so.”
– Brooklyn Eagle, July 22, 1894
Has this statistic changed at all in the last century? Well, other than Highland Park’s status as the second-largest park: it’s now third (behind the more recent Marine Park and Prospect Park). Those reading my blog now also find themselves in this elite company.
Thursday was a nice day for a trip to a park: sunny and not too hot (well, at least compared with the following few days). Despite the exhortations of Google Maps to take four different subway lines and a bus, I squeezed by with the 3 to Junius Street, the L to Broadway Junction, and some walking.
This was a technology-laden tour: for the first time, I tracked my route with my GPS watch, and I turned on geo-tagging for my photos. I failed to realize this would sap my iPhone’s battery so quickly.
Thursday was opening day for the city’s pools. Remember when I went to Betsy Head Play Center in Brownsville and found it locked up? I saw a different scene as I rode by on the 3.
Southwest Highland Park is the residential section. Highland Boulevard is the main thoroughfare here. (To the northwest is the Jackie Robinson/Interborough Parkway, an unexciting highway.) Farther to the east, Highland Boulevard serves as a dividing line between the original Upper Park/reservoir and the newer Lower Park.
A tree on Highland Boulevard took offense at an old sign.
I walked down a few streets before Vermont Street abruptly ended and the Upper Park began. It has a few baseball fields, some sort of theatre space, picnicking areas, and a large parking lot. There were few cars here on this weekday, and a few mature kids were taking advantage of the space to test out their engines. (I was unimpressed.)
No trespassing! the signs shouted. The reservoir is off limits. I did catch a few glimpses of the progress that’s been made so far.
I followed a path down a steep, wooded embankment to the Lower Park. There are many recreational options there, most dating from the WPA projects in the 1930s.
There were a few spots that reminded me of San Francisco.
Kids were keeping cool by getting sprayed by water in various forms. I saw one kid sit directly on a fountain for about thirty seconds. I can’t imagine that was a comfortable position, but maybe I’m just forgetting that when you’re a kid you can tear up your body with few repercussions.
The Lower Park meets its southern boundary (and its lowest point) at Jamaica Avenue. Along that stretch, you’ll find the Children’s Garden and a pair of overgrown bocce courts. The courts stand on the site of the Schenck House. Built in the 17th century, it burned down in the 1950s.
Then there’s Dawn of Glory, the monument to those lost in The Great War. From the official description: “Shorn of mortal fetters, the SPIRIT rises high above nature, [and] slowly unfurls his flag in utter abandon over his laureled head.”
Here’s the best name I’ve yet seen for any street in Brooklyn, or perhaps anywhere: a nod to the contraptions that once pushed water up to the reservoir to be stored.
Disappointed by my (legal) inability to take in the view from the reservoir area, I went instead to Cypress Hills National Cemetery, the only federal cemetery in New York City. It holds the bodies of veterans from the War of 1812 through Vietnam. I was rewarded with a cool breeze, the chirping of birds, and a clear shot of the Rockaways.
As most cemeteries do, Cypress Hills reminded me of my insignificance – and of how all of the “risks” I’ve taken in my life seem paltry in comparison to those buried here. I sat on top of the hill for a while and reflected on this.
My conclusion: all politicians who push for war without putting their own (or their family members’) lives on the line should have to spend an hour alone in a military cemetery.
My contemplation sufficient, I walked to the J train — back down in more than one way.