Morningside Park

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Morningside Park is an Olmsted and Vaux (the same guys who designed Central and Prospect Parks) designed city park east of Columbia's Morningside Heights campus. It runs from 110th St to 123rd St. Due to its location along the foot of a cliff - which creates sinuous pathways, forbidding shadows, and dense, tangly vegetation - even the park creators acknowledged that park security would be problematic. Nowadays the park is not nearly as dangerous as it used to be, although hanging around there after dark is ill-advised. It is home to at least one wild turkey.

In 1961, the university wanted to build a gym there. Everyone hailed it is a great idea, especially the neighborhood, which would get access to a brand new facility. But then the University refused to pay for the gym until some Alumni ponied up. Then JFK, MLK Jr, and Malcolm X all got shot. When the university finally got around to building the darn thing in 1968, some people got mad.

In the early 1980s, Morningside Park had an even more fearsome reputation than it enjoys today. David Rakoff writes:

"We had been warned that the neighborhood around the university could turn dodgy in a matter of footsteps, but there was a certain pride in having dipped one’s toe into its scary waters. Morningside Park, for example: Not since the age of medieval maps—wherein the world simply ends, beyond which all is monster-filled roil—has a region been so terrifyingly uncharted and freighted with peril as Morningside Park in the early eighties. To venture in was to die, plain and simple. There were other terrifying rumors abounding, like the one about the boy in the hideous Gwathmey Siegel–designed dormitory who narrowly avoided the bullet that came through his window and lodged itself in the plaster above his head. The shot had come from — where else? — Morningside Park."[1]


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