Our resident dad, John Proctor, will be bringing us his monthly review of our area parks and playgrounds. This month – Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Jane’s Carousel!
Last summer was a transitory one for my family. We kicked it off in May by welcoming Butterbean into the world, then in June we celebrated Stringbean’s third birthday. It was also our first full year in our current apartment, which has the amazing amenity of a vine-enclosed garden that resembles the one from The Secret Garden (Stringbean even has a personal hideaway behind the hydrangea bush).
All of this had the dual effect of 1) keeping my wife inside more than she probably would have liked feeding and caring for the newborn, and 2) driving me and Stringbean outside to give them some space while enjoying the green bounty of summer. Stringbean and I learned together how to germinate, plant, and eventually harvest a moderate crop of tomatoes, lettuce, greens, and beautiful and surprisingly delicious nasturtiums, though her namesake stringbean plants only yielded three pods before withering in the July heat.
Sometime in June, though, we found the garden needing less maintenance, and it was kind of boring to go out to the same 25×20 plot of ground every day. I also noticed an issue of Time Out New York Kids sitting on a friend’s coffee table one day, and leafing through it I found an article titled “25 Best Playgrounds in New York City.” My interest piqued, I set about researching and planning a Summer 2012 Playground Tour for Stringbean, with me as the guide.
In this, the deep February heart of winter, I think the most natural way of working through the inevitable cabin fever is to look back to the previous warm months and to plan for the future ones. With this in mind, I decided to go back and look at the photos from our Playground Tour and write about some of the times Stringbean and I had, which hopefully will help us all to remember that the time will come again when we can take our children out again without packing them into at least three layers.
A Child Grows already has quite a few wonderful reviews of parks and playgrounds—including, just in the last two weeks, an announcement of the New York Aquarium’s reopening this spring and a review of the best places to go sledding in Brooklyn—so I thought, instead of straight reviews, I’d meditate a bit on what these parks have meant to me, and how the time Stringbean and I spent visiting and revisiting them changed both of us.
In the decade before I was married, even before I knew my wife, DUMBO was my own playground. I played Manhunt and Capture the Flag in the streets there with an urban gamers group, hung out alone at the old ferry terminal at the base of Fulton Street imagining I was Walt Whitman, and frequented the bookstores and galleries that sprang up to serve the artist population that was rapidly colonizing the area. I also regularly dropped by an old warehouse showroom after getting a hot chocolate from Jacques Torres (the greatest hot chocolate ever, thank you) and watched the old carousel a couple had bought in the Eighties from an out-of-business carnival in Youngstown, Ohio and stored there, promising someday to get it functional again.
That day came last year, when the Brooklyn Parks Department partnered with that couple and placed the carousel inside a glass cube right next to the East River. Last winter, if it had snowed, would have been the first of many hopeful winters during which kids like Stringbean could ride the carousel in a sort of reverse snow globe, watching the snow fall while they circle on gaily painted wooden horses. Last summer, during its first full year on the river, Stringbean rode it about a half-dozen times. I managed to get a movie of her the first time she saw it, and I have to say I felt exactly like she did:
Now, if you will, flash forward with me from the summer months—the playgrounds, the carousel, the sunshine and the adventure—to a night in late October when all of us (at least the fortunate ones) were inside, waiting for the power to go out while winds raged and water swelled around us. I spent much of that time looking at photos on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, listening to the whistling of the monsoons and the crash of random debris against the outer walls of our apartment.
Sitting safely in my home, only blocks uphill from evacuation zones with my family tucked away safely, I felt like an interloper in my own city, watching photos depicting scenes of its destruction. Water ran through the streets surrounding Union Square; people tweeted photos from third-floor windows of the water just feet below them in Red Hook. But one photo in particular took everything I couldn’t explain and put it inside a beautiful, horrifying little square on Instagram: Jane’s Carousel, surrounded by water on all sides. It looked like an island, or a barge being tugged off to sea, but its circus-like lights shone fiercely in the night, reflecting on the water that lapped right up to its glass enclosure. The photo—now one of the most-tweeted images from Hurricane Sandy—looks so otherworldly, so mystical that it almost seems it can’t be real. (The Atlantic has since verified its authenticity.)
The water to the right of the carousel covered the newly created Brooklyn Bridge Park, which before it became Brooklyn Bridge Park was an old Navy Yard pier. In the year 2008, after the city had bought most of the Navy Yard piers and was still formulating its plans for the park system it would develop on them, the pier closest to the bridge opened temporarily with a patch of turf and a popup bar. In late August of that year, my wife and I were married on that patch of turf, in the shade of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Now skip with me ahead to this past weekend, when I took my wife and the ‘Beans to Brooklyn Bridge Park for the first time since the storm. I admit I should have gone sooner, but a part of me was afraid I’d get there and some part of this place—this thread of my family’s patchwork fabric of memory—would be permanently altered, that Stringbean would see the carousel and not recognize it.
Of course, that didn’t happen. This city—this borough—has a knack for rebuilding itself. The carousel was there and running, midst melting piles of dingy snow and a shoreline that lapped lazily. As we passed by it, I asked my wife and Stringbean if they wanted to stop.
“Nah,” Stringbean said, with a nonchalance she’s just recently developed. “Let’s wait ‘til spring.”
John Proctor is our resident dad and writes on his experience living and raising his two children in Brooklyn. He has lived in Brooklyn since 2000, and been a father since 2009. Besides keeping company with his wife, two daughters, and chihuahua, he also writes memoir, fiction, poetry, criticism, and just about everything in the space between them. His work has been published in Superstition Review, Underwater New York, Defunct, New Madrid, Numero Cinq, McSweeney’s, New York Cool, and Gotham Gazette, and he serves as Editor for Hunger Mountain Journal of the Arts. He teaches academic writing, media studies, and communication theory at Manhattanville College. He can be reached at email@example.com and would love to hear from all of you!