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Sledding in Central Park has been a winter tradition in Manhattan since the 19th century. (Photograph by Bates Littlehales, National Geographic Creative)

Throwback Travel: Sledding in Central Park

The time this photo of sledders in Central Park hit newsstands in National Geographic magazine: December 1960. Meanwhile, on Broadway, audiences applaud the new Lerner and Loewe musical Camelotand newly elected John F. Kennedy prepares to assume the American presidency.

Here are a few other interesting intersections:

  • Cedar Hill, where this photograph was captured, remains one of Central Park’s best and most beloved sledding spots. Pilgrim Hill, just north of the 72nd Street entrance, is another favorite for downhill racers.
  • The same day Central Park received its first snowfall of the season in 1960 (on December 11), John F. Kennedy narrowly escaped with his life in Palm Beach, Florida. As retired postal worker Richard Paul Pavlick waited to drive his dynamite-laden car into the president-elect’s limo, he saw JFK leave for church with his wife, daughter Caroline, and two-week-old son, John, Jr., and abandoned his plans.
  • Just days later, on December 16, snow-clad Manhattan is “a picture out of a fairy book” for 11-year-old Stephen Baltz looking out the window of United Flight 826. Moments after the thought occurs to him, his plane collides with TWA Flight 266 a mile above the city, sending it crashing into the Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn. Baltz, the lone survivor, was pulled from the wreckage, only to die the next day.
  • Famed Mount Everest explorer Sir Edmund Hillary was booked on United 826, but missed the flight.
  • The December 16 United 826 air disaster marked the first time investigators made extensive use of a plane’s flight data recorder (popularly known as a “black box”) to piece together the cause of a crash.
  • The doomed flight was heading from Chicago’s O’Hare to Idlewild. The New York airport would be renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport, to honor Kennedy after he was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
  • JFK is one of only two airports in North America that offers direct flights to all six inhabited continents. The other is Pearson International Airport in Toronto.
  • Following his assassination, Camelot became associated with John F. Kennedy when his widow, Jacqueline, referenced the still-popular play in an interview with Life journalist Theodore White. The comparison has become a cornerstone of the mythology surrounding the Kennedy administration.
  • Camelot lyricist Alan Jay Lerner was JFK’s classmate at Choate boarding school and later at Harvard. As he finished up his undergraduate studies, Kennedy penned a senior thesis on the topic of British participation in the Munich Agreement. The treatise went on to become a bestseller under the title Why England Slept, an allusion to Winston Churchill’s While England Slept.
  • Subway fare cost 15 cents in 1960. So did a piece of pizza. The coincidence was observed by Bronx-born patent lawyer Eric M. Bram, who noted that from the early 1960s “the price of a slice of pizza has matched, with uncanny precision, the cost of a New York subway ride.” The “Pizza Principle,” as the economic theory is known, still holds true today.

Andrew Nelson is a contributing editor at National Geographic Traveler magazine. Follow his adventures in wanderlust on Twitter @andrewnelson.

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