Award-winning journalist and Central Park regular Anthony Mason has been visiting the Park since before he could walk. Today he averages four miles a day, mostly spent meandering the hidden paths and trails. “There are just so many ways of looking at the Park,” explains the CBS This Morning co-host, "and every time you look at it, you can see something different.”
Anthony shares his memories from his long history with Central Park—from playing at the Alice in Wonderland statue as a child to his daily walks that have taken on new meaning for him as a New Yorker in the age of COVID-19.
Falguni Smith: Can you tell me about your relationship with Central Park and how it’s changed over the course of your life? What's your favorite memory or story?
Anthony Mason: The Park was my backyard as a child. Every day, I went out to play in Central Park. I had a particular area that I played in with a really close friend of mine who, actually, I think I met in Central Park when we were in baby carriages, before we could speak. We’re still friends today. His name is Sandy Kenyon, the entertainment reporter [with WABC]. He likes to say, “I can't remember a moment we didn't know each other,” and that’s true.
We got our first portable reel-to-reel tape recorders, which sounds bad now, but I can't tell you what a huge technological leap that was. We must have been like 7 or 8, and Sandy was running around the boat pond [Conservatory Water] while they were doing boat races and he would run up to whoever's boat came in first and thrust the microphone in the boat owner’s face and ask, “How do you feel about winning?” I was like, “You don't even know this man!” Sandy made me care. When I started out in television, I was fairly shy. But I would think about Sandy, and that moment in the Park, and realize, “Well, if he could do that at age 7 then I've got to learn how to stick a microphone in somebody's face if I don't know them.”
That was our little world and it was a very big world to us.
How, if at all, has your relationship with Central Park changed since the coronavirus pandemic?
It’s interesting. As soon as the virus sort of shut everything down and we started working from home, everything sort of closed in and I had to find a way to get out. I just had to. I started taking walks in the Park, long walks! I also started taking pictures and would post these eerie, empty photos [of the Park]. Honestly, I wasn't sure why I was doing it, but I realized, based on the comments that people were making, that I was sort of processing what was happening. And, at the same time, I was renewing a relationship with the Park that I had kind of lost. It's not that I was never in Central Park with my family [before the pandemic], but when there are so few people in the Park, you see it in a different way. I posted a picture of the bas-relief sculpture of the owl that bears down onto Bethesda Terrace, which I had never noticed before. I was absolutely embarrassed when I suddenly saw it and was like, “This has been here for, what, over a century... and I never noticed.”
I started following trails in the Park I'd never followed before. It's very interesting to me how when you grow up in the City, you sort of take a certain part of the Park as your own. There are parts of the Park I know extremely well. I know where the cracks in the pavement are. I walk by the Alice in Wonderland statue, and I don’t even have to touch it — I know exactly how it feels. I remember climbing on it when I was four years old.
Some part of me is now taking comfort in the things that have been there for so long, that have survived all the things that have happened to the City. And then another part of me is discovering a part of the City that I've never explored before, which is genuinely exciting.
I kept gravitating toward things that have been around for a very long time. I think about all the stuff that [the Park] has seen and realize, “We're going to be okay.”
What's the most recent discovery that you've made?
I was walking with my son and it was fairly quiet. We were on the path that curves down toward Bow Bridge and a police officer came by on a beautiful horse. He passed us and was heading toward the bridge, and I stopped and started rolling my video camera because I wanted to hear the sound of the hooves on the wood of the bridge. There was this fabulous clumping noise across Bow Bridge, and it was something I've never seen, or heard, in New York — in all the years I've been here. I grew up here! Honestly, it was thrilling in the simplest way. It felt so New York but still not New York, and I love both of those things.
It's been such an oddly intimate period in the Park, and I've tried to remind myself this is really something special. Just take it all in because it will end.
Changing gears, I know you're a music fan, so here’s a fun question for you. If you could plan your dream concert in Central Park, who would be in your lineup?
Oh, that’s hard! I have such broad and eclectic tastes. I went to a Simon and Garfunkel concert in the Park once, which was thrilling. I would love to see them in the Park [again] just because they have such an association with Central Park for me.
If you could work in the Park, what would you want to do?
I would love to be the keeper of the paths because I’ve found so many cool little pathways in recent weeks that are just off the beaten track and suddenly I’ve realized I've walked by and didn't even know they were here. I would love to walk and sort of make a record of all the paths in Central Park and all the things that they reveal that you don't see on the main routes.
This is one of the most magnificent man-made creations on Earth. And if you haven't visited you can’t fully appreciate that it was made from nothing.
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