Thursday, November 6, 2008

Vaux populi

And now back to regularly scheduled programming....

It’s never occurred to me to look up the word vaux in a French dictionary. Calvert Vaux, who was English, pronounced it to rhyme with “fox” but the name surely stemmed from across the Channel. Did the Vauxs come over in 1066 and all that? Vaux in French seems to be plural for val, valley. Of course, I would prefer the translation vale, so much more Victorian, which brings me via circuitous route again to C. Vaux, the under-appreciated co-designer of the Central and Prospect Parks. Most of us now say "Olmsted and Vaux", but a few still suffer under Frederick Lawn Olmsted’s superior press, voluminous writings, and better facial hair. Vaux’s collected papers, which I once looked into at the NYPL (pronounced, you know, like “nipple”), barely fill a single archival box. He certainly deserves a higher reputation.

But here’s the sad thing. On November 19, 1895, Calvert Vaux disappeared in the fog while taking a walk along Gravesend Bay. Was it an accident, something more nefarious, or just a long walk on a short pier? Nobody knows. It’s one of the Mysteries of Brooklyn. His drowned body was found three days later. A park down there – formerly Dreier-Offerman, named after a home for unwed mothers -- was renamed for him in 1998.

3 comments:

Emerson Merrick said...

disappearing in fog? unwed mothers? Victorian gardens? sounds like somebody should write a script.

amarilla said...

I understand Olmstead went insane, or maybe he was faking it to get into the sanitorium. It could go either way in the script.

M.Thew said...

Two guys arguing about landscaping? Sounds like a French film to me.