by Kevin Walsh

THIS view of Bethesda Fountain, at the north end of the Mall in Central Park, is always a heavily-traveled park vista in the warm months, and this view that I snapped off in the summer of 2018 reminded me of the fantastical works of 15th Century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, whose views of Biblical scenes, Heaven, and Hell populated by demons and monsters, were painted from afar similar to this view.

The Bethesda Fountain and Terrace has long been a focal point and a favorite meeting place in the park. Emma Stebbins’ statue, Angel of the Waters, is named for an angel in the Gospel of John who touched the waters at Bethesda in the Holy Land, giving it recuperative powers.

Central Park’s creators, Frederick Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, with the assistance of sculptor and architect Jacob Wrey Mould, made the Terrace a spectacular complement and perfect prospect for the fountain and lake behind it.

Bethesda Fountain and Terrace are hardly “Forgotten.” A close look at the Terrace balustrades, however, will reveal something quite Forgotten indeed. I chronicled them way back in 2003 and I’ll bet that a lot of the scratchiti I found on the balustrade are still there today.

Those railings are exactly the same as they were when built around 1864. But by the 1970s the Terrace and Fountain were greatly damaged by general neglect, and were scarred with graffiti; the fountain was turned off and filled with beer cans, hot dog wrappers, prophylactics and whatever else didn’t get cleaned up. Between 1983 and 1987 much of the Terrace was closed, with the balustrades and railings shipped off for restoration work. Fully 8 million dollars was spent restoring the Terrace and Fountain to what they looked like when originally designed.

It goes without saying that Forgotten NY doesn’t recommend, encourage or participate, for that matter, in any scratching, defacing, or marking of NYC’s great monuments, buildings, subway cars, or anything else. With that said, we can take note of some of what went on decades ago, because it lasted so long. There are other ways to do it better, though, and we should all remember that.

As always, “comment…as you see fit.” I earn a small payment when you click on any ad on the site.



Alan February 24, 2023 - 8:08 am

Every time I visit NYC, I must traverse the Mall, Bethesda Fountain and Terrace, and the Bow Bridge. Bethesda is my absolutely favorite place in Central Park. Always something going on: a wedding, fashion show, photo shoots, film shoots.

redstaterefugee February 24, 2023 - 11:25 am

There’s a TV commercial for a prescription medication for diabetes that features this location (or perhaps a pretty good copy of it). If you have a cable news habit you might have seen it already. Sorry, but I can’t recall the remedy’s name (I’m not diabetic).

redstaterefugee February 27, 2023 - 11:31 am

Here’s the ad I referenced:
Is it or isn’t Bethesda Fountain? Only Farxiga & their ad agency know for sure.

Dan February 24, 2023 - 7:29 pm

Unfortunately, the restoration work completed in 1987 has deteriorated greatly. The stonework is noticeably crumbling in many places.
It doesn’t look much better than it did during the late ’60s, when I used to hang out at the Fountain during my teens. The tunnels and arches in Prospect Park (restored during the Koch administration) and the entire length of East River Park (restored between 2001-2010) are other prime examples of massive spending followed by neglect. Within a year or two after the work was completed, everything started falling apart.

Tom+M February 25, 2023 - 4:02 pm

If it starts falling apart within a year or two they either got what they paid for, but wouldn’t doubt they didn’t get what they paid for.

John Fembup March 25, 2023 - 9:46 am

“It goes without saying that . . . “

Well, it SHOULD go without saying. Not any more.
Not in todays world where the past has become defaceable and disreputable – not simply disposable.
Thank you, for all you do to remind us of the NY that once was, still is in small places – and could be again.
(A displaced NYer).


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