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Where are the great places for all of these wonderful parks with which an earlier generation and which we are trying to preserve and to expand. And these are the setting ceremonies and the rituals and the celebrations of our common life. We have had things in the last years current happenings and sometimes I wondered what that was happenings really were there some of them far out and odd but right they were at their best right there. It seems to me is means of marking and celebrating in an urban context. The event which in the natural life of the country came and went also with due observances last year for example we soon after I came in we had a great gathering of the hippies on Central Park. It was a momentous occasion for them. I remember they came to me and they said they wanted a permit to gather thousands and tens of thousands strong on the Sheep Meadow of Central Park and I said no I
wasn't going to give them a permit. But as I said the whole point about the hippies if they're true to themselves is that they are disorganized. They are graphic and they shouldn't be coming to a bureaucrat like me to ask for a permit as if you want to gather on the Sheep Meadow. Come on Easter Sunday which it was are on any other day the park is you know as the park is yours in which you can create and make the kind of events that you choose and so they did come in and it turned out to be those very rash on that Easter Sunday a great day when it was over the only complaint was that we hadn't provided enough baskets for them to put the litter in because they really did try to clean up after that event. Well that event was basically a celebration of Easter. It was an Easter Parade of a new sort a little later we had a ceremony on the beach out at Coney Island to mark what we call the opening of the sea. Well the sea didn't really need it. They had opened the warm days would have been the beta's would have
crowded on the Coney Island sands but it seems important to us to have that little event a few people gathered on a cold spring day to celebrate something that was important. Much as men in old times had invoked the good weather or wanted or the bad. Another thing that I think of as a kind of celebration of this sort. Then where was the wedding in Prospect Park. I was attacked and abused abused because nine couples were married in the level a romantic prospect park on a high heeled which to which only the young and the bigger as in the determined could ascend. It with a lovely ceremony actually I remember as I went up the hill a little boy said that day to his mother who was telling him how long is this going to be a real wedding. And I wanted to say I wanted to stop and say yes it is going to be a real wedding as real as anything in life is real is a dream as real
as hope and that we were attacked and criticized what we really were doing it seems to me and they opened a wedding of nine couples all serious all the all in. Beautifully behaved was celebrating a kind of value the value of love which ought to be brought out into the open and celebrated and enjoyed by Carrie Islay by many people in the great city again this autumn we gathered on the Sheep Meadow. We were prepared to gather on the Sheep Meadow to mark the eclipse and astronomers from the Museum of Natural History were going to come out and talk to us as the fatal hour came at 3 o'clock in the morning. That didn't come off because unfortunately clouds obscured the moon that night clouds which not even our own and incantations good chased away. Well either examples I say of the ways of celebrating things in the city which men and women should feel together and enjoy to get I sometimes think of the concerts
and the music that we have in our great parks as being not merely an occasion for listening to music. If you want to hear the film Onyx orchestra you can hear it in better conditions you may have to stand in line and pay for a ticket but you'll hear better music if you go to Phil in Monaco more than you hear on the Sheep Meadow or in the closer one Park in Queens or in the other park where we had a fella monic play. Right those constants were as I say we're not just a way of hearing music you can hear it after all on the hi fi It is a way of people coming together under the stars in the summer night to celebrate things to celebrate music to mark the values which were which are important to us as civilized men and women. I remember that night when we opened the film monic met Lindsay came out and you know we can be a very humorous and witty man. And he looked out across that great crowd perhaps
seventy or eighty thousand stretched on the lawn under the stars and he said it's very good to look out and see all you people here stretched out to gather on blankets. Then he paused and said as you can see I've brought my distinguished commissioner along who can arrange a wedding if that should seem necessary or advisable. BENNETT I think that's part of the celebration of common values. So that was that just a few of the functions which I think of the park as serving the reflection of the of the life of the community the park it can be said is the sea into which the rivers of the neighborhood flow into the contact between man and nature. It is the thing that gives shape and structure to the city which otherwise would be a great undefined mass. And finally it is the stage in which we celebrate the common values of our life and then and then recreation What role does it play in the pursuit of happiness. I remember
one day early this summer getting into quite a debate with a distinguished and well-meaning college professor. We were talking to some of the young people. Two thousand came you know this summer to work for the city. In all departments and branches we had nearly a thousand in the parks department and they contributed greatly. But this was a meeting to to sort of break in and brief some of these young people on what they would find in the city during their summer and this is a distinguished college professor. As I got off on the wrong foot so far as I was concerned by saying that recreation ought to have nothing to do with places that recreation ought to be thought of as having something to do I forget what with social purpose. When I got up after him and I said that if recreation didn't have something to do with pleasure they didn't have something to do with the pursuit of happiness. When I was in the wrong job and had the wrong idea all along.
We are putting today and the new stress on recreation. That is the organized provision that people of all ages from preschoolers to Golden Age people and you stress upon the things which can make their life more pleasant. On everything from sports and games and cultural events of various kinds and participation in the arts everything you can think of two days from now three days is a day this week. Malin they is going to announce the appointment of some interest and I think a genuine historical significance. The appointment of the first commissioner of recreation in the history of New York City. So as I say we are giving a new importance to it. We think that recreation we think that play has something to do with the good life and with the pursuit of happiness. I myself never watch children at play without realizing that.
They are not enjoying themselves Malay in the ordinary sense of having nor forgetting their parents who may be standing around they are enjoying themselves in a much deeper way. The child when they play it is not I don't know. On the contrary he is very serious. He takes on the role he assumes in these frivolous and symbolic ways whether as a worker whether as a mother whether as a leader of some kind. The tasks which will mark him in later life. Play is a kind of great rehearsal for the things that will come afterwards and the people who keep within themselves our sense of play some capacity for the for the gift of play and laughter always afterwards are aware of as a child is that there is a thin line that distinguishes reality from illusion that all of us at our best are in some measure playing a role. Modern men and women in particular you know we change our careers we change our objectives
we change our clothes. Cotton fashion of our clothes from year to year one man in his time. And at the same time often plays many parts. There is a scene which I enjoy very much I've seen it twice in that quite wonderful play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern dead which some of you may have seen it is a play about a young Englishman which forgets based upon Hamlet but it forgets all about the hamlet that we ordinarily make the center of the stage and almost forget about the king and queen and Ophelia and all the other familiar characters and concentrate on two pretty befuddled students Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who have been summoned by the King to come to the court. They can't quite remember why they were summoned. They can't quite understand why they're going and when they get there they don't really know what they ought to be doing a kind of parallel if you will a symbolic
interpretation of the fate of modern man caught up in a play a great play which he is unable fully to fathom or to understand. But there's one scene in this play got to watch by time but I'll tell it some of you may have seen it and will enjoy recalling it where the play is the actors who play such a role in Hamlet. And the reson Cranston Guildenstern get for various reasons very annoyed at them. They say they realize that they are going to die as indeed they do die in the play of Hamlet and yet they can't escape it. They're already in a play they can't seem to get out of this play and to affirm and to assert themselves. So they turn to the chief of the chief. And one of them Rosencrantz and Guildenstern they themselves can never quite tell which is which and indeed Shakespeare mixes them up some time in the original play. So one of them turns the chief actor and says look you're a phony you don't even know what day is and then he seizes a dagger from the
from the belt of the chief and then for the gratuitous act which is characteristic of existential literature he stabs him. And in a remarkable scene the protracted agony the chief falls to the ground dead. I remember thinking myself for the first time I saw it. I wonder whether this fellow is faking whether is really dying and then I said no obviously he's dead. Isn't that too bad. And then the players who have been standing around rather dumbly an op too severely during this really frightful scene of every kind of misery that you could imagine the human so body going through when they finally fall dead. The These players who have been standing dumbly around. What Leslie you might say applaud. The fact rises and takes the lute player. Well how did I say it so much I seen my own boys not so many years
ago in the playing going through all the gestures and motions and dying really on a summer day. More time than a cat dies in ordinary life every kind of death by poisoning by shotgun by our own everything which their own brother grandma imagination could conjure up and doing it all with a sort of subtle perfection but then to show you how wonderfully this thing is carried on in a way deep and mysterious. The spirit of play really is the having arisen in this way tends to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and says Don't you know that we actors are trained to show all the different ways of dying. Don't you know that part of our discipline is to be able to suffer before the eyes of the public in various ways. And he said I'll show you an ad that he calls his company together and they stage a wonderful scene of a mock battle with people hitting each over the head until
all the actors fall in bed upon the stage. And from that which. Manifestly absurd. None of them arise ever again or at least until the end of the play. Well I seem to be getting off my subject but the point I make is that that in this spirit of play which can be created and the conditions which can be can be created can be stimulated by by the city life in that men do find something that is very close to the secret and the meaning of life itself. We have had in our department some wonderful experiences of getting away from the ordinary recreation work though the ordinary recreation work I can do a very useful job with young children. But bringing the rather odd talented men somehow into the list and then the sympathies and involve the emotions of these children can very often change their lives this afternoon at the arsenal.
Headquarters of the park down in the zoo we were showing some movies which we had shown in the streets of Bedford Stuyvesant and Harlem in Brownsville the summer movies made under the direction of this man Roger Lawson by teenagers and children as young as 12 years old and then shown from the back of a mini bus. As I say in the street during the long hot summer nights and it rides amazing to see how these children had through the with the help of this man. Not really as their physical presence because he was never there and the scenes were actually being taken. But through stimulation and so is the release which had been able to give to these kids and they were in every case kids who had never participated in any program before they were reachable. They had been reached by this experience of making movies and through movies revealing what was important in bad lives and what they saw in the environment around them. Roger Lawson said in describing he one of these films the wonderful rather critical man and he said you know sometimes
I don't know myself but these children I'm trying to say in these movies that they make. Until he said several months have gone by and then suddenly I realized what they had been saying. And then my hair stands up on end so that is the way of play and a way of awe and a way of truth or combined another extraordinary man has been acting as an author Doc's recreation leader this summer and is working with us through the winter. Gordon Duffy We've been taking children from all over the city from the areas and then working with them in a theatre workshop. And these are kids who aren't just rehearsed mechanically and disciplined to play in one play but they are young people who are taught to express their emotions and and who find themselves and then as they listen to express themselves their body and their spirit they fall into their parts in a play and when the summer was over they did a performance
several performances of Casey at the bat. A lot of wonderful opera by Robert Schumann of people the president of Lincoln Center which wasn't thrilling to watch. When you have the kind of thing we are trying to do with recreation and we're trying above all to get out of the areas where. The parks department and the recreation work of other cities have traditionally been operated out into the poorer sections of the city out into areas that are not ordinarily reached. And then finally they are not going to say very much about cultural affairs I've already touched deeply upon them. But it is interesting that today the city is spending 40 million dollars in support of a cultural institutions of New York City. That's an enormous amount the State Arts Council of which I was a member spends about two and a half million dollars a year. The National Arts Council which Roger Stevens is the head spends about ten million dollars a year and here in the
city of New York we have 40 million dollars a year. A large share of it of course going to the libraries to the museums and a much smaller share going to the before performing arts. We are trying to. To look into and to plan more rationally and I hope that as the time goes by we will be able in the cultural and artistic field as in the right recreation field to get out of the museum and to get out of the elite which has traditionally enjoyed it and to bring these experiences to people who too often have been untouched by it. Out on the plaza here you may have noticed as you came in that rather weird and wonderful object which people passing by sometimes write upon and sometimes push against and that's a piece of sculpture which department placed there as one of 20 or 30 which we placed around the city. Just trying to see what it is like to get out of the walls of a museum. And it's interesting that many people who are perfectly willing
to accept. When it's confined within the walls of a traditional museum get very angry when they see it escape and be put loose and under masticated around the squares in the parks of the city. But we did it most of it was transitory after two weeks or so the great pieces of sculpture were carted off and to the relief I may say of some of our citizens to the regret of others but this one out here which I hope you will notice as you pass by is there is a permanent gift to this area and to and to the neighborhood. Cooper Union. So I would conclude with a philosophical summary and two sentences. The crisis of modern man is the unhappiness of modern man is perhaps to be found in two areas. In the something being amiss in his relationship to his fellow man and something amiss in his relationship to the environment. I believe that the Parks and Recreation and
the arts all have something to do with these two crises. They help bring men and women of all kinds together in common purposes and common enjoyment. And they help to bring men and women a little closer to the green and the growing things which is the source of life and perhaps in the end the true source of our happiness also. Thank you. Yes you heard August Heckscher commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks as he spoke on the topic. The pursuit of happiness. This was another program in a series. Peace love and creativity the hope of mankind. On our
next program Joseph Campbell professor of literature at Sarah Lawrence College will discuss the mythology of love. These programs originate at the Cooper Union forum in New York City and are recorded by radio station WNYC. The programs are made available to the station by the national educational radio network.
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Peace, love, creativity: Hope of mankind
Pursuit of happiness, part two
Producing Organization
WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program features the second part of a lecture by August Heckscher, commissioner, New York City Department of Parks.
Series Description
This series presents lectures from the 1968 Cooper Union Forum. This forum's theme is Peace, Love, Creativity: The Hope of Mankind.
Media type
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
Producing Organization: Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
Speaker: Heckscher, August, 1913-1997
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-10-17 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:21:12
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Chicago: “Peace, love, creativity: Hope of mankind; Pursuit of happiness, part two,” 1968-03-29, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 20, 2024,
MLA: “Peace, love, creativity: Hope of mankind; Pursuit of happiness, part two.” 1968-03-29. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. July 20, 2024. <>.
APA: Peace, love, creativity: Hope of mankind; Pursuit of happiness, part two. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from