I often feel fondly toward lampposts in parks, probably a holdover from reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe at an impressionable age. I like the juxtaposition of something so rigidly urban with the softer trees and hillocks of parks, and I especially love the way the soft globes glow into the gloaming on misty evenings. Or maybe I just like sentences with lots of words that begin with “gl.”
While the broken-down lampposts that dot the steep incline above the Henry Hudson Parkway in Inwood Hill Park — which I’ve always privately called The Lantern Waste — are excellent, my favorite lampposts are the ones in Central Park. I like them not only for the classic and so very Instagrammable views they punctuate, but most especially for the secret code they contain. OK, it’s not very secret — you may already know about it — but it’s subtle, and useful. Alas, the Parks Department has abandoned the code with the newer lampposts. Perhaps our new mayor, while fixing all that’s wrong with the city, can also bring back the lamppost code?
So you may have to hunt about a bit for an older lamppost, but once you find one just look down at the numbered plate either on its base or a couple of feet up the side. The first two digits of the number will tell you your latitude by the nearest street. So a lamppost number starting with 70 means you are about where 70th street would be if it crossed the park. Since the park is much, much taller than it is wide (the subway map is not to scale!), knowing where you are north-south is much more important than knowing your east-west location. I speak of course in approximations, since Manhattan tilts at a rather alarming angle, but unless you’re trying to follow a compass (in which case you don’t need lampposts to guide you), considering uptown north and downtown south simplifies talking about directions.
As anyone who has tried to navigate a set trajectory through the park in a hurry will tell you, it’s picturesque design is charming, delightful, and a total pain for trying to walk in a straight line. I’ve often gotten muddled just trying to get across and found myself exiting the park on the same side I entered. In the midst of the glens and dales, though, you can check your trajectory by checking the lampposts. New Yorkers are very polite and respectful of the privacy of people who wish to talk to lampposts, so put away your smart phone and try lamppost navigation next time you find yourself in the North Woods when you meant to head toward Strawberry Fields.
Oh, hey, good news! When I was there at lunchtime to take the photos of the lamppost tags, I saw that many of the lampposts had brand new tags on them. Hurrah! The tags are shiny and new, but I imagine they’ll eventually get a coat of paint or some tarnish so they blend in a bit more. At any rate, it’s good to see the code lives on.