Visiting once more the majestic, picturesque, overwhelming power of Niagara Falls, so many thoughts flowed through my mind after the performance of the Olmsted Play. In some uncanny way, the approach to presenting the play was grasped by the power of the relationship between H.H. Richardson and Olmsted. My mind kept going back to the State House in Albany. The outside work of the State House was captivating. Something like a giant fairyland castle. Walking into the Senate Chambers through incredible doors of strength and eloquence, upon entering the Chamber my recollection is so clear to this moment. I simply went over a chair, took off my Olmsted Top Hat and sat in awe. Speechless at the combined dynamic power and beauty.
Since that time, I have felt the relationship between Olmsted and Richardson in a different light. Two powerful human beings, both artists with visions far beyond what the ordinary mind might fathom. I recalled their work together in North Easton, Massachusetts, where I presented the play in a Richardson designed municipal building, and in front, there was mammoth Memorial Cairn designed and built by Olmsted. However, the story of how Olmsted introduced Richardson to Niagara Falls is most telling about their relationship and genius.
The first day of Richardson’s visit to the Falls, Olmsted took him around the surrounding land, along river above the Falls. Only next day did he take Richardson to a perfect place to view the majestic sight. Richardson sat for three hours taking in the uncanny power and beauty.
Today, the presentation of the Olmsted Play was well received. Every time the play is presented changes are made to fit the location and the audience. Since our theme for the summer Olmsted 2022 enterprise is “Passages to Yosemite,” the play focused on the Yosemite experience as critical for when he decided to focus his energies on creating city parks and advocating for state and national parks for all people. The report he read in Yosemite on August 9, 1865 presents his passionate sense of duty to convince America that scenic places must be preserved for all people.
Many people commented on the play being both educational and entertaining… a response that was pleasing to hear, since it makes the challenge of travels worth the time and effort. For me, there is a critical need to step forward and declare our convictions and follow through with strong actions. Everywhere I go and speak with people, it is an observed fact from observing flora and fauna, including homo sapiens, that our natural world is in grave danger.
Olmsted’s experience in California crystallized his thinking and acting. He began his great tome, “Barbarism vs. Civilization,” and at the center of Civilization, he called for people to participate in what he called “communicativeness.” Contradictions in his behavior are clear, as he proceeded with an uncanny commitment to pursue his visions, his convictions, and his plans. The Free Niagara movement was led by Olmsted, where he communicated with people across the sea in England to seek help. Emma Darwin sent a letter of support. He involved a young Unitarian Minister to travel the state gathering petitions supporting the idea of having the state take over this precious, priceless Natural Wonder. After many years, the battle was won and Niagara became the first State Park. He encouraged others to do he same with the Adirondacks and wrote letters of support. Today, Adirondack Park is the largest state park in the nation.
When you think of his pioneering efforts for America’s first great city park, Central Park, and his work in the creation of Prospect Park in Brooklyn, along with major parks in 15 other cities across America, we must stand in awe of his achievements and contributions. However, more importantly, may we find ways to immerse ourselves in the experience of “communicativeness,” which may be understood as thinking and working together to address the challenges in today’s world, as our environment is under daily attack from so many directions.