Sheep Meadow

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Sheep Meadow (April 2004)

Sheep Meadow is a 15-acre (61,000 m2) preserve located at the west side of Central Park from 66th to 69th Streets in Manhattan, New York City. It has a long history as a gathering place for large scale demonstrations and political movements. It is currently a favorite spot for families, sunbathers, picnickers, kite flyers, and other visitors to come relax and admire the New York City skyline.

The Sheep Meadow is open from April to mid-October dawn to dusk in fair weather. This open area is very popular and can draw up to 30,000 people a day, and in 2009, Doug Blonsky, president of the Central Park Conservancy, stated that there have been lines to get into the meadow.[1]


The Sheep Meadow was the largest open meadow feature in the original plan for Central Park, as it was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. The open space had been a requirement of the design competition for Central Park, which specified a parade ground for the civic function of militia drills and military exhibitions. Olmsted and Vaux's winning "Greensward", a nineteenth-century term for broad open lawns,[2] offered a reduced parade ground, sited towards the western side of the proposed park.[3]

The Sheep Meadow fills the area north of the 65th Street sunken Transverse Road and west of the Central Drive

When the location of the Sheep Meadow was decided, some small communities of poorer New Yorkers were uprooted: including Irish, Germans and African-Americans.[4] To produce the almost 15 acres (61,000 m2) of "level or but slightly undulating ground" in the specifications, 10 acres (40,000 m2) poorly draining ground was filled to a depth of two feet with fill from New Jersey. Additionally, disruptive boulders and a rocky ridge that stood sixteen feet out of the finished grade were blasted out, and the reshaped landscape was covered with topsoil.[5] Sheep Meadow was the most costly construction undertaken in the new park.[2] Few sunbathers today realize the effort that created this "natural" grassy terrain. This meadow was the largest meadow in Central Park until the old reservoir was emptied in 1929 and made into the Great Lawn in 1935.[6]

Grazing sheep

After the design competition was over, Olmsted and Vaux managed to convince the commissioners that a quiet park landscape was perhaps not the best place for military displays. After the expansive open area was created, visitors were usually not allowed to walk on it. Olmsted and Vaux believed that the introduction of sheep enhanced the romantic English quality of the park and to re-enforce the quiet nature of the "Greensward", 200 sheep were added in 1864. The flock of pedigree Southdown (and later Dorset) [7] sheep were used and housed in a fanciful Victorian building or "Sheepfold" created by Jacob Wrey Mould under the direction of Calvert Vaux.[7] The animals served a practical purpose as well—they trimmed the grass and fertilized the lawn. A sheep crossing was built across the drive in 1870 and twice a day a shepherd would hold up carriage traffic, and later automobiles, as he drove the animals to and from the meadow.


Sheep grazed the meadow until 1934, when Robert Moses, the city's parks commissioner, moved them to Prospect Park in Brooklyn; later, they were again transported to the safety of the Catskill Mountains.[8] There was fear for the sheep's safety by hungry folk during the great depression. Officials were concerned that starving men would turn the sheep into lunch.[9] After the sheep had been banished to Brooklyn the Sheepfold was converted into what later became the Tavern on the Green restaurant. In 1992, a consortium of cheese producers brought a flock of sheep to graze on the meadow as a promotional stunt; they also pledged to finance the meadow's maintenance through 1993.[10][11]

Sheep's Meadow then had two large scale restoration efforts:

  • The large events and the lack of maintenance of the 60s and 70s severely eroded the lawn. Sheep Meadow was the first area in Central Park to be restored. With the help of James Taylor who held a free concert to help the city's campaign to restore the park's Sheep Meadow in July 1979,[12] Sheep Meadow was resodded in 1980. It reopened in 1981 as a swath of green dedicated to sunbathers, picnickers, and kite flyers.
  • In November 2000, the Central Park Conservancy began the installation of a new irrigation system whose design incorporated the latest technology. The project was funded from a grant by the Marc Haus Foundation. The project was completed in five months, and Sheep Meadow reopened in April 2001. The reopening was held on Tuesday, June 13, 2001, with the turn of a spigot to show a display of cascading water through the new sprinkler system in the meadow.[13] In attendance and leading the ceremony were Commissioner Henry J. Stern; Regina Peruggi, Central Park Conservancy President; and Doug Blonsky, Central Park Administrator.[14]

A 360-degree panorama of the restoration work results can be seen.[15]

Notable uses

Large-scale uses

Sheep Meadow has held many large scale events and people have gathered for many uses. In the 1960s and the 1970s Sheep Meadow was used for events of unprecedented scale. The large scale outdoor concerts including those of the New York Philharmonic, Vietnam protests, and hippie "love-ins" were attended by hundreds of thousands of people and the lush green grass of the Sheep Meadow became mutilated by the massive crowds.[16]

During this time, the Parks Department, with limited funding, opened the Park to any and all activities that would bring people into it—regardless of their impact and without adequate management oversight or maintenance follow-up. Some events became important milestones, fondly remembered by participants. However, lacking proper maintenance, they also significantly damaged the greensward through erosion and addition of unwanted substances, such as broken glass.[17]

In the 21st century the open space of Sheep Meadow is fenced and protected from overuse. Signs are posted in many locations warn that the following are not allowed: Team Sports, Ballplaying, Bike Riding, Skating, Glass Bottles, and Dogs.[18] On wet days the gates are not opened.

Past large events

107th Infantry Memorial

Past large events and current use have included:

  • In the 1910s and 1920s, the flock of sheep shared space with a variety of folk-dancing festivals, children's pageants, and patriotic celebrations.
    • In 1911, 10,000 schoolgirls danced in a folk dancing tournament.
    • In 1912, an event called Around the World in Search of Fairyland featured children in brightly colored costumes.
    • In 1916 the 107th Infantry, the 7th Regiment Reserves, marched daily from their Park Avenue Armory to Sheep Meadow for maneuvers and drill. On August 5, men from this regiment were sent off to World War I.[19] They are memorialized by a statue in the park, 600 yards (500 m) east of the Meadow at 5th Avenue and 67th Street.
    • In 1917, 20,000 liberty war bond marchers held a "Liberty Day Parade" which ended in Sheep Meadow.[20]
  • On October 27, 1945, Harry S. Truman spoke to 50,000 people at Sheep Meadow in Central Park on Navy Day.[21]
  • In 1967 Barbra Streisand performed in front of 135,397 people.[22]
  • In 1967, about 10,000 people attended the "be-in-style". This was a peace demonstration which was heavily covered by police. Groups of people covered cop cars with flowers while chanting "daffodil power" and later hundreds surrounded a small group of officers alternatively crooning "we love cops...turn on cops".[23]
  • In April 1967 a peace rally had 400,000[24] people attend. The protesters gathered in Sheep Meadow in Central Park and walked to the United Nations. At the edge of the meadow a group of young men burned their draft cards—sloags chanted "I Don't Give a Damn for Uncle Sam" and "No Viet Cong Ever Called Me Nigger."[25]
  • In Easter 1968, Mayor Lindsay, an opponent of the war in Vietnam, greeted the marchers & protesters. This event was attended by around 90 thousand people who assembled at Sheep Meadow.[23]
  • In 1969, the first landing on the moon was televised to a large crowd in the Meadow.
  • Also in 1969, between 15 and 20 thousand people assembled in Sheep Meadow. This event had a tragic twist, as later in the evening one attendant jumped into a bonfire severely burning himself.
  • On June 28, 1970, there was a massive Gay "Be-In" held in Sheep Meadow to commemorate the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. The Gay march went from Washington Place in Greenwich Village uptown on Sixth Avenue to end with a "gay-in" in Sheep Meadow.
  • Begun in 1985, The AIDS Walk New York begins and ends in the Meadow. This is an annual event and draws up to 40,000 people. Experiencing extensive damage in Sheep Meadow from the opening ceremonies for the AIDS Walk, the Parks Department determined that after the 2003 event this gathering could no longer take place in the Sheep Meadow and would instead be held on the paved surfaces near the Bandshell in Central Park.[26]
  • September 30, 1995, began the NYC Urban Starfest. The "star party" has continued on an ongoing annual basis since its inception. It is reported that Sheep Meadow is one of the only open areas of Central Park free of glare from local lighting and where almost the entire sky can be seen. "Many club members and other amateur astronomers bring large telescopes so that they and the public can share in the heavenly views during this event".[27]
  • In 1995, Disney paid the City of New York $1 million for the use of Central Park to show the NYC premiere of the film Pocahontas.[28]
  • June 28, 2008, saw the largest water fight—People were encouraged to bring a super soaker, water guns and sense of game for the largest water war imaginable.[29]
  • On Sunday, June 21, 2009, the Great Bed-in was held here. This was to celebrate the 40th year of the 1969 Yoko Ono and John Lennon Bed-in where the song Give Peace a Chance was first sung and became the symbol of that time. Participants were encouraged to bring a sheet or blanket and form a big Peace Symbol.
  • On an ongoing basis, CircusYoga holds free practice every Sunday late spring into the fall—until it gets cold
  • Annually, people will gather for 4 July fireworks.[30]
  • There have been a number of attempts to hold large scale "freeze" events... attempts to have people freeze in unison.[31]

Emergency uses

At times the Meadow has been used for emergency helicopter air operations.

At least one child is recorded to have been born in Sheep's Meadow:

  • Isidore Block, known locally as a street poet, was born in Sheep Meadow in 1920.[35]
View of empty meadow in winter


On July 24, 2007, the Meadow was the first of Central Park's areas to go high speed. Park officials said the wireless Internet service in that part of the park was upgraded to 15 megabits per second from the previous rate of 3 Mbit/s... "feel free to hop onto the Information Superhighway at full speed. "[36]

In 1865, Olmsted and Vaux added a new feature to enhance the park's attractions and convenience. Vaux (working with his assistant, architect Jacob Wrey Mould) designed the Moorish-style Mineral Springs Pavilion at the northwestern edge of the Sheep Meadow.[37] The Mineral Spring Pavilion had cusped arches supported on slender colonnettes, and flaring, complex roofs, reminiscent of Saracenic architecture.[38] In 1957, Moses demolished the structure.[39]

Statues include:

  • Giuseppe Mazzini—Overlooking the Meadow and located on a high pedestal, is a statue of Giuseppe Mazzini. He was an Italian patriot and revolutionary. In 1861 he had an immeasurable role in the unification of the Italian liberal movement Risorgimento. The pedestal has the words "Pensiero Ed Azione" which translates to "thought and action"—the name of the newspaper he founded in London in 1858.
  • The Indian Hunter—This was one of four statues created by American sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward. It is located on the side of Sheep Meadow near the Mall.
  • A historical sign can be found at Sheep Meadow, placed there by the Historical Society in August 2001.

In 1970, Garry Winogrand took a black-and-white photo of a peace demonstration, which shows thousands of just-released balloons floating over a sea of Vietnam War protesters. In 2005, Mayor Bloomberg hosted the opening of the project by Christo and Jeanne-Claude's entitled the "Gates" to Central Park. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg raised a long metal pole to release fabric from the top of a gate in the Sheep Meadow.[40]

In popular culture

With permission, production activity is permitted on the Sheep Meadow only when it is open. The meadow is open for production in dry weather from May through October, from 11 am to dusk.[41] Beginning in 1908, with Romeo and Juliet, films have used Sheep Meadow as their backdrop for love scenes, large-scale song-and-dance numbers, car chases, and – in Ghostbusters – even for a monster's rampage through Tavern on the Green.[42]

  • Sheep Meadow was used for famous scenes from the films It Could Happen To You, Fisher King, Wall Street, and The Manchurian Candidate.
  • In 2005, director Mark Levin wanted to fill Sheep Meadow with actual sheep for a scene in his romance Little Manhattan, starring Cynthia Nixon. The parks department refused this request, so the filmmakers put new grass on the walkway adjacent to the meadow and had the sheep on the path. In the movie, it was shot so that it looks like there are sheep all over the meadow. It was all a trick." [42]
  • On October 21, 2009, Disney rented the park area for a $105,000 fee, to have 1,200 children stand in formation, spelling out the name of the theme park, Disney's Animal Kingdom. The scene was filmed from helicopters and from ground-level cameras set up outside Sheep Meadow.[28]


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External links