City Hall Park is always a magical place, but somehow a fresh snowfall brings its Old New York charm into relief. I made two trips to the park during the recent blizzard. Standing by the fountain and looking north toward the lit windows of City Hall, I felt like I’d stepped into another era. I could almost hear the clop of horse hooves on cobblestones and smell wood smoke in the air. The park’s combination of spindly bushes and bushy pine trees created a lattice of white. The snow coated each branch and needle and thorn, each park-bench rail and each bird-shaped finial. The gilt paint of the lampposts gleamed like candlelight against the black iron and the white snow. On my first trip, a group of teenagers was having a snowball fight, and their laughter rang through the park as their snowballs smattered against bright wool coats.
My second trip was later in the evening, when I hoped the gas lamps would be turned on. I could almost hear the hush of the flames whispering within the lanterns as the snow hissed against the glass, and could imagine their flickering golden glow on the white drifts. To my disappointment, however, most of the gas fittings have been replaced by fluorescent bulbs, which hummed and cast a lifeless blue light. The lamps on the fountain were turned off entirely. Still, I circled the park and came across a snowman, with a thorn necklace, bushy pine-sprig eyebrows, and even a carrot nose. Someone had impaled a Starbucks cup on his twig fingers, and crowned him with a cardboard java jacket. I replaced my romantic vision of an old-world park with its modern incarnation.