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Whispers Among a Cacophony of Noise
Fifth and final in a series of columns chronicling my recent father-son road trip to the FDR Presidential Library & Museum in Hyde Park, NY, and more.
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New York City is cacophony of honking car horns and shouting pedestrians, of street vendors hawking their wares and jackhammers at work, of rumbling subway trains and ambulance sirens.
Central Park offers an escape from this a never-ending assault on the eardrums. Here the cacophony is a symphony of songbirds and human singers, of laughing children at play and street performers playing the violin or guitar.
Central Park even has secluded spots so serene not only can you hear yourself think, you can even hear a whisper.
In his play, “The Winter’s Tale,” William Shakespeare wrote: “Is whispering nothing? Is leaning cheek to cheek? Is meeting noses?”
In the Shakespeare Garden, nestled beside Belvedere Castle within Central Park, a whisper is everything. And one need not be check to cheek with noses meeting to hear sweet offerings.
Created in 1913 and originally called Garden of Heart, the four-acre site was renamed three years later on the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The flora includes a white mulberry grown from a graft of a tree planted, it is claimed, by the great playwright himself in 1602.
Furthermore, bronze plaques with corresponding quotations from Shakespeare’s works appear along the winding pathways to identify various plants featured. As example: “What’s in a name? / That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet. – Romeo and Juliet.”
Fittingly, a statue of the famous lovers, in embrace and about to touch lips, is on the grounds.
And near the garden’s crest is a lovely bench made of polished granite and 20 feet long. It is officially named “The Charles B. Stover Bench” and was dedicated to the “Founder of Outdoor Playgrounds.”
The Stover Bench is better known as “The Whisper Bench.”
It is an appropriate nickname because two people, seated at opposite ends, can pivot outward and lean down and speak – indeed, whisper – into the nautilus shell-shaped corners and be heard clear as a bell by each other.
Of the 9,000 benches in Central Park, The Whisper Bench is one of a kind. And, yet, Grand Central Terminal has a marvel of a similar kind.
Amidst the hustle, bustle, and noise inside the historic train station, my son and I found a spot quiet enough to enjoy a violinist performing for donations in a hat.
Mere strides away, up a gentle-sloping walkway, we visited an even more hushed spot, a Whisper Bench-like place.
“The Whispering Walls” similarly possess a magical acoustic property. Standing at diagonal corners in this high-domed atrium and facing the wall, as if being punished in a child’s timeout, two people can whisper and be easily heard by the other a full 20 paces away. Mystically, the heard voice is amplified deeper and richer than the original whisper.
As I observed earlier in this series, the unexpected theme this road trip took on was Eleanor Roosevelt. It was ER’s wisdom, “Do one thing every day that scares you,” that inspired me at travel’s beginning; her presence was naturally loud at the FDR Presidential Library & Museum; and her whispers carried through to Shakespeare Garden and Grand Central Terminal.
Charles Stover, he of The Whisper Bench, was a co-founder of the University Settlement House that assisted immigrants and even featured the first kindergarten in New York City in 1886. Interestingly, Eleanor Roosevelt, at age 18, was a volunteer instructor there.
ER’s aura was also in the ether at The Whispering Walls. It seems she and her husband, as did other VIPs, had access to a hidden underground railway leading from Grand Central Terminal to a secret entrance and elevator up to the Waldorf Astoria hotel.
It is easy to imagine ER pausing to whisper into one of the four enchanted corners to be heard by FDR diagonally across the way. Perhaps she quoted Shakespeare: “This above all: to thine own self be true.”
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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.
Check out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …