Sunday, June 16, 2013

In the Mouth of the Whale

I grew up in New York City.

Recently, a partial memory of my early childhood came back to me of a enormous, stone whale, me playing within its gaping mouth and nearby water. I must have been perhaps four years old because I can only remember snippets and the thrill of being in that dark, cavernous creature's mouth while my mom sat nearby in the sun.

For some reason, I associate the memory with Central Park but I know the ins and outs of Central Park and many of the other city parks well, like the back of my hand. I have never been able to locate this place with the whale and the sprinklers/water works.

via http://vintagechromes.blogspot.com

This weekend sparked by a conversation about the memory, I did some research and then shared my findings with my mother who put it all together for me.

The whale was part of the Central Park Children's Zoo, the old Lehman one that was demolished in 1996, which was a 50th wedding anniversary tribute from the Senator and his wife. It featured  Jonah's Whale or Whaley, Noah's Ark, Hansel and Gretel's cottage and other storybook scenes. 

The interesting thing about this is that the "new" Central Park Zoo, opened in 1997, has been one of my all-time favorite places to go in the city since my college babysitting days and I've been there so many times and never realized this was the same place.


via The Central Park Zoo By Joan Scheier
Whaley (or Whalemina as she came to be called), decomposing, peeling and chipped by then was moved to Rockaway Beach in attempt to recuse her from the trash pit in the mid-1990s but was damaged during the trip - her jaw collapsed and her tail was lopped off. She was patched up and became a beloved beach mascot for another generation but ultimately, she was washed out to sea during Hurricane Sandy, last october and all that was recovered was her reattached tail.
Whalemina, Rockaway Beach
Whalemina, Rockaway Beach (Photo: gsz)

She lives on only in the memory of the brave children who traipsed inside her basin during the 1960s-1980s, and the ones who gazed upon her majestic mosaic in her Queens retreat. 

There is something beautiful, cyclical and constant about her return to Yemaya and the sea, once beached and now set free. 

When I spoke to my mother, she told me that she would often take me to Zoo after her physical therapy sessions at the hospital when she was young and sprite in spite of the devastating hit and run that changed the course of her life. That I loved to play the inside the cottage and peek out at her from the windows and from  the Ark and make friends with the other kids who frolicked in the mouth of the whale.

* Local Rockaway artists have vowed to resurrect Whalemina and rebuild the community, to learn more about the Projects of Peace and donate to help support their efforts click here.


Here's another whale you might also remember from the same era:

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