A “magical” Centennial for Inwood
Story and photos by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer
History loves to repeat itself.
A hundred years after the dedication of Isham Park on Sept., 28, 1912, Volunteers for Isham Park, together with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, the Isham Park Restoration Program, 1970, Inc. (better known as Bruce’s Garden), the Rotary Club of Inwood, Partnerships for Parks, childrens’ groups Pre-School on the Planet and the Friends of Indian Road Playground, threw a birthday party on Sat., Sept. 29th to celebrate the park and Julia Isham
Taylor, who donated the land on which it sits today.
In a compelling example of historical continuity, the IS 52 marching band performed at the event, just as their predecessors at PS 52 did a hundred years ago.One marked difference?
The former played the “Rocky” movie theme song as they climbed up to the park from Broadway – that had probably not been part of the band’s original repertoire a century ago.
William Herera, a 7th grader, said he hadn’t known about the historical nature of the occasion, but was happy to participate, and delivered a succinct assessment: “It was cool.”
Brian Moore, the school’s band director and music teacher, meanwhile, was keenly aware of the significance of the event, and was thrilled to take part.
The school’s marching band had been dissolved before Moore revived it upon arrival at IS 52 nine years ago.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “A hundred years later, we have a band that’s going strong. It was a privilege to play and be part of the history.”
“It was poetry in motion,” said Pat Courtney of the band’s performance. Courtney is the founder of Volunteers for Isham Park, and played a key role in bringing together the Centennial Celebration.
Those who flocked to Isham Park to mark the festivities were a microcosm of the Inwood community that surrounds it: families with children, elected officials, clergy, seniors, and even representatives of indigenous communities.
Luis Ramos, a descendant of the Caribbean Tainos, is one of the Shorakopak Earth Keepers, a Native American group dedicated to the maintenance of nearby Inwood Hill Park.
“This park is a great legacy. I know it’s something the native people are proud of, and they can come here and enjoy it still,” noted Ramos. “It’s a sacred spot.”
Ramos graced park-goers with Native American singing.
As in the 1912 dedication, there were also Irish ballads and step-dancing at the Centennial.Caleb Kiffer came to the celebration with his two-year-old son, Gus.
Kiffer lives across the street from Isham and brings his son there every day.
“He has so many little friends his age and they just run around and play,” said Kiffer. “The outdoor space is important.”
He expressed gratitude to Julia Isham Taylor thusly: “It was a great vision of hers to dedicate this space to the city.”
He said he also appreciated all the volunteers who contribute to its upkeep.
Indeed, Isham Park enjoys support from numerous individuals, including New York City Councilmember Robert
Jackson, who allocated $750,000 to install a water system that would bring plumbing to the park, which currently has no water fountains or sprinklers.
“Volunteers have been carrying buckets for years to try to make sure this park stays green,” said Councilmember
Jackson. “When they put forth the request [for a water system], to me, it was a no-brainer.”
And as in 1912, members of the Isham family roamed the park.
Representing the family were Carol Collins Malone and William Bradley Isham Collins, who attended with his wife, Amy Fine Collins.
Julia was Carole and William’s great-aunt.
Malone wore a hundred-year-old piece of history: a pin she salvaged from her parent’s apartment from the Isham Park’s Dedication ceremony.
“I was fascinated by it and the idea of the Isham Park celebration,” said Malone. “It’s an enormous pleasure that I’m standing here a hundred years later, wearing the pin that I found when I was so young.”
Malone recalled visiting Isham Park in the 1960’s, and seeing it then in a
discouraging state of disrepair.
“We can really appreciate the tremendous time and energy that has gone into your stewardship. If my great-aunt Julia were here today, I can’t imagine how thrilled she and her family would be to see all the work you have done,” said Malone to the many volunteers gathered.
Courtney was dazzled by the Isham family visit, as well as the many other wonders that were made possible that day with a lot of cooperation and hard work.
Smiling, she observed, “We had a lot of magical moments.”