Drugs were sold at the carousel. Muggers used the cover provided by the park’s shrubs and foliage. One year, near the skating rink, a man was found shot to death, and another year, the acting supervisor of the zoo was arrested and charged with shooting animals.
In the 1970s, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park was a scene of devastation not recreation; its predominant wildlife was of a criminal nature. The “pastoral refuge” envisioned by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux was mostly withered through neglect or despoiled through recklessness. “As if to advertise the woeful state of the park, in 1976 Columbia, the figure driving atop the arch at Grand Army Plaza, fell over in her chariot, a victim of disrepair.”
Then, in answer to an ad for a parks administrator, came Tupper Thomas…who knew nothing of parks, little of Olmstead and Vaux, but would become Prospect Park’s “indefatigable savior.” Thomas was a 35-year-old city bureaucrat and former urban planner who hailed from Minnesota but had long-since made NYC her home.
“This apple-cheeked young woman came into my office,” said Gordon J. Davis, the former parks commissioner who hired Ms. Thomas. “She looked nothing like a New Yorker, and sounded nothing like someone from Brooklyn. She giggled the whole time. Tupper seemed to have come from the moon.” She got the job.
Nevertheless, even if Thomas, who plans to retire next year, initially didn’t know an “elm from a spruce,” her administrative skills were phenomenal. She was more than proficient in the hard-nosed art of appropriating money and assembling a staff for the daunting task of restoring and renovating Prospect Park. “Her fans credit her with turning Prospect Park into a worthy rival to Central Park, and for handing a lost treasure of wilderness and recreation back to the people of Brooklyn.”
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