Freaks at the Fountain
Just a couple of weeks after an October 1966 antiwar protest -- the first oppositional political event held in Central Park since the 1914 women's suffrage meeting and only the second in the park's entire history -- silk-stocking liberal John V. Lindsay swept into office as a "reform" mayor, the first Republican mayor of the city since Fiorello La Guardia. Lindsay's choice for park commissioner, Thomas P. F. Hoving, a curator at the Cloisters, the medieval branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, turned out to be one of his most important appointments. [Ch1750]
If Moses was the city's greatest park builder, Hoving was its greatest park promoter. In just one year, his staff filled fifty-two scrapbooks with clippings chronicling his exploits in office. Hoving's "happenings" attracted thousands to Central Park to fly kites, celebrate Halloween, observe a meteor shower, throw paint on 105 yards of canvas, and compete in a "Central Park au Go-Go" dance concert. The season's first band concert had attracted five hundred people in 1965; thirty-five thousand came in 1966 for Hoving's Gay Nineties party. [Ch1753]
August Heckscher, who took over as park commissioner in March 1967, was committed to Hoving's version of the eclectic pleasure garden. Although eighteen years older than Hoving, Heckscher (the grandson of the philanthropist who provided the park's first playground) warmly welcomed the young people who had responded most enthusiastically to Hoving's innovations at Central Park.
Whereas in the 1950s Moses had enforced rules against wearing bathing suits or even halter tops and shorts shorter than midthigh, some park visitors now stripped off everything. Even more shocking to conventional sensibilities was that some of the public displays of affection were not by heterosexual couples. Just one year after the 1969 Stonewall riots that launched the modern lesbian and gay liberation movement, thousands of lesbians and gays marched from Greenwich Village to Central Park to hold a "gay-in" on the Sheep Meadow. [Ch1761]
Part of the point of the "love-ins" and "be-ins" and "fat-ins" that filled the park was to challenge playfully the conventions of "appropriate" public behavior. [Ch1762] Bethesda Fountain became particularly popular with crowds who gathered to flaunt their sexuality, play guitars, smoke marijuana, and hurl Frisbees.