This view--more often seen in black and white than in color--shows the Central Park gondolier plying his trade on a crowded day in the late nineteenth century. (Look at how many people are standing on Bethesda Terrace.)
Central Park's original gondola was a gift of John A.C. Gray, a Central Park commissioner, in 1862. There's some confusion as to when it was first used: In 1864, a book of photographs and descriptions of the park by Fred B. Perkins and W.H. Guild, Jr., showed the gondola on the lake. However, five years later, in The Description of the New York Central Park, the first guidebook to the park, the author lamented that the gondola "is not used, because Mr. Gray did not...present the Commissioners with a Venetian gondolier to manage it!"
photo by WH Guild, Jr., from The Central Park (1864)
Certainly by the 1890s, gondola rides were a park attraction, especially at night, when visitors could be poled around the lake to look at the night sky.
Gray's original 1862 donation continued to be used in the park until the 1980s, when it was finally replaced by another authentically Venetian original. Today, gondola rides can be arranged at the Loeb boathouse.
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