The 1850s

The 1860s

The 1870s

The 1880s

Early 20th Century

The 1920s

The 1930s

Post World War II

The 1960s

The 1970s

The 1980s

All text from:
The Park and the People

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Crime in Central Park   |   Gays in Central Park
Gays in Central Park
Class, racial, and ethnic tensions were not the only ones to find their way into the park in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Gay New Yorkers were newly seen as a danger after the war. Central Park had been a gathering place for gay men since at least the turn of the century. In the 1920s they called the open lawn at the northern end of the Ramble the "Fruited Plain." During the 1930s Cole Porter entertained friends at parties with song lyrics alluding to gay men in the park: "Picture Central Park -- without a sailor, Picture Mister Lord, minus Mister Taylor." But few others commented on the gay presence in the park in those years. After all, most gay New Yorkers then took some pains to conceal their presence. [Ch1725]

During and after World War II, gay men seem to have cruised more openly. But the important change was not so much in the way gay men acted as in how they were perceived. A panic over sex crimes in the late 1940s and early 1950s helped displace the earlier stereotype of the effeminate "queer," as an object of ridicule with a new stereotype of the homosexual as a dangerous psychopath, a menace to young boys. In that atmosphere, gays faced increased surveillance and persecution, and arrests of men for homosexual activity skyrocketed in the late 1940s. In these postwar years, some of the local and national press prominently featured gays -- invariably described as "perverts" or "misfits" -- in their catalogs of the "dangers" of Central Park. "The Park has become not only a stalking ground for young predators and rapists," wrote Central Park West resident Marya Mannes in the Reporter in 1960. "It is a point of assignation for homosexuals, and I need go no further than my own window to see the figure of a man waiting behind a tree and later joined by another man, who walks with him under the heavy shadows of leaves and out of sight." [Ch1726]

For Mannes, as for others, such casual park meetings were another sign that "more violence and more perversity" were entering the park. In 1955 Robert Moses proposed transforming the Ramble into a recreational center for senior citizens, in part, apparently, because the Ramble was considered a gathering place for "anti-social persons." Joseph Lyford, who lived on the Upper West Side in the early 1960s, found that many black and Puerto Rican mothers lumped gays with addicts, prostitutes, and alcoholics in discussing their concerns about their children's safety: "One hears frequent stories about children being accosted in washrooms of movie theatres or in Central Park." Actually, gay park users were much more likely to be crime victims than victimizers; thugs, who knew that gay men frequented the park at night and that they were reluctant to go to the police because of a fear of public exposure, preyed on them in the Ramble. [Ch1727]


Crime in Central Park   |   Gays in Central Park