Secrets of Central Park: Uncovering 11 Hidden Gems of New York’s Iconic Park

Central Park is one of the most iconic landmarks in New York City, attracting millions of visitors each year. Central Park has something of interest to visitors of all people and ages with 58 miles of paths, 250 acres of lawns, 21 playgrounds, 26 ballfields, 9 bodies of water, 18,000 trees and 10,000 benches within its 843 acres. An oasis in the conrete jungle that we call Manhattan, I am a frequent visitor that tries to visit Central Park every week, and am privileged to have a bench endowed in my name in Central Park. As someone who has spent countless hours exploring Central Park, here are 11 secrets of Central Park that I have discovered in my countless walks through this landmark in Manhattan, including an original survey bolt from the time Manhattan was being organized as a grid, and a secret code on every lamp post in the park.

I hope you enjoy discovering Central Park off the beaten path after learning about these hidden gems that are hiding in plain sight for all to see.

11 Secrets of Central Park

I have found that no two visits to Central Park are ever the same, with the people, seasons, events, buskers, time of day all making each visit memorable and unique. I especially enjoy it when I discover something off the beaten path, or little known facts, that make it seem even more special. Here are 11 of my favorite Central Park hidden gems that I have learned about over the years, and that are easy to find once you know what you’re looking for.

1. Original Survey Bolts 

In the early 1800s, when Manhattan was being transformed into the grid we know it as today, the project started with marking out the intersections with bolts that were driven into the ground. At least one of these bolts can still be seen in Central Park, if you know where to look! It is at an unmarked location on the East side, and is driven into a rock that is not immediately visible from any of the established roads and paths. I understand the location is kept secret so it is not damaged and/or removed.   

While it looks like just a small metal piece jutting out of a rock, it is a fascinating piece of New York’s history.  

2. Lamp Post code 

While Central Park has been built by design to have curving roads and paths, the lamp posts in Central Park actually have a unique four-digit code that have the cross streets on them to help geolocate you within the park. The code consists of a series of numbers, with the first two or three representing the street, and the last number indicating you are on the West side if it is an odd number, and on the East side if it is an even number.   

Here are a few that I have photographed for this post, can you tell what the cross streets are by the code? 

3. Crabs below Obelisk

The obelisk known as Cleopatra’s Needle is an imposing sight right across the Metropolitan Museum on the East side of Central Park. The obelisk dates back to ancient Egypt, and made its way to New York in the 19th Century. The base of the obelisk has chipped away over the years, and it is held in place by bronze crabs! These are easy to miss as one tends to get lost in the grandeur of the obelisk, but look carefully at the base and the crabs are hiding there in plain sight. 

4. Henry Bliss plaque 

West 74th Street and Central Park West is marked by a historical plaque that marks the spot of the first known motor car fatality in the US on September 13, 1899 of Henry H. Bliss.  It is a good reminder of being careful around cars for jaywalking New Yorkers! 

5. Oak Bridge 

Oak Bridge offers stunning views of Manhattan through Central Park. I particularly like the view when upi can get Oak Bridge and the buildings on Central Park South in the same shot. As one of the main entrances to the Ramble, it well located and used often.

What is interesting about this bridge is that the original Oak Bridge was built of oak and did not survive, and was recently reconstructed to look like the original, but this time around it is made of metal to withstand the elements. 

6. Bethesda Terrace Pillars 

While Bethesda Terrace is one of the most visited places in Central Park, a really fun secret about the Terrace that is hiding in plain sight is that the pillars flanking the stairs on the Mall side feature 3 images on each pillar depicting day on one and night on the other. 

The pillars to the right in the picture above have the images of day such as the sun and a rooster on them.

The pillars to the left in the picture above have the images of night with a witch on a broom, book with a reading lamp and a witch on a broom as you can see below.

7. Waterfalls in Central Park all have drinking water 

Central Park has a few man made waterfalls, and while these are not imposing in their size, they add to the charm of the park in many ways.  An interesting fact about these is that all the water in them is the same drinking water we get in our apartments!  

8. Secret Pet Memorial Christmas Tree

There is a secret memorial Christmas Tree for pets in Central Park. Its location is within the Ramble, but no one identifies the exact spot within the 36 acres that are known as the Ramble. I stumbled upon it entirely by chance, and was very moved by the heartfelt messages that adorn its branches.

9. Manhole Cover from 1862

There is a manhole cover in Central Park that dates back to 1862, which was part of the Croton Aqueduct system built in the 1800s to provide New York City with a reliable source of clean water. The manhole cover is labeled “CROTON AQUEDUCT DPT 1862” and has remained in place despite numerous renovations and upgrades to the park. It can be found on the 86th Street transverse where it crosses the East Drive right off Fifth Avenue.

10. The Mall is the only straight path in Central Park

The Mall in Central Park is a picturesque walkway lined with majestic American elm trees, running through the middle of the park from 66th to 72nd street, which has statues of famous people lining its path. It leads to the beautiful Bethesda Terrace and is known for its scenic beauty and as a popular promenade for leisurely strolls. The interesting thing about The Mall is that it is the only straight path in Central Park by design.

11. The Ceiling Tiles in Bethesda Terrace Arcade

The Bethesda Terrace Arcade features a stunning tiled ceiling with colorful, patterned tiles made by England’s famed Minton Tile Company. These tiles are actually floor tiles, and Bethesda Terrace is the only place where they have been used as ceiling tiles!

Closing Thoughts on Central Park Secrets

A visit to Central Park is a memorable experience in general given the place it holds not just in New York City but even more so in the hearts of New Yorkers. What makes it even more memorable for me is to discover more of its history, and especially its secrets that it has tucked away in plain sight if you know where to look for them. The secrets of Central Park that I share with you here have been discovered over the years, some of them through friends in the know and some through walking tours, all of them making my visit to Central Park even more enjoyable, as I hope they do for you as well.

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Hi, I'm Hanit Gyani, a full time professional by day and a blogger by night and weekend. Welcome to my blog, aka my passion project, Gotta Love New York.

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