I’m at the last gate and can see the green and the colors and the gentle paths. Just one more lock. One more key.
Most people know about Gramercy Park, the small fenced in private park in lower Manhattan. Only people who live in the townhouses around the park are allowed to own a key. It is surrounded by high wrought iron fences. Anyone can walk around its edges, looking inside, but only those with keys can enter.
It isn’t the only private park in New York. There is one in Queens that is somewhat well known.. And there are others, known by very few, throughout Manhattan. Rarely spoken of and almost never seen by those without access to them. They are hidden down streets never walked or behind high walls never questioned.
I can’t quite remember when I first heard of Gammell Gardens. I think it was a quick mention on the Gothamist, but I’ve tried to find it and, if it ever existed, it has been deleted. Maybe it was someone telling me about reading about it on the Gothamist. Doesn’t matter. It became a half memory of a thing. It lodged in my brain and poked at me during the night.
Over the years, I casually looked for more information or clues. A google search here, a trip to the library there. Tiny bits and pieces eventually started to form a picture. From what I could gleam, Gammell Gardens lay in the center of a block, behind luxury apartment on all sides. I am not going to reveal the exact address out of respect of those who live there. I know that might sound hypocritical, especially considering the length to which I went through to find it for myself, but...it’s hard to explain. Once you’ve seen it, it’s hard to share.
This lock is bigger than the previous locks. I must use a bigger key. But that’s okay. Because I am so close. So close.
I found a link in a cached-but-now-deleted web forum that took me to a .rar file of satellite images of New York City. Thousands of photos. Buried in all that, there was one of the block that contains Gammell Gardens. It is black and white and fuzzy but you can make out some detail. The park is circular and larger than you’d expect. It is surround by four concentric gates or walls, each a circle nestled inside a circle. The walls are close to each other with 5 to 8 feet in between them. The park, or garden, itself appears lush and full of tall trees that obscure what lie beneath. But, here and there, you can see paths the wind and turn throughout the center circle. If you zoom in, there is maybe a statue or person at the very center. It appears to be sitting. Probably a statue because it is too big to be a person, I think.
Once I found the photo, I needed to see it in person. I’m not going to go through all the steps it took. Even if I had the exorborniate amount of money it would take to buy an apartment in one of the surrounding buildings, none were for sale. Nor did it seem one had been put on the market in at least the last decade at least. I went so far as trying to get a job in one of the buildings as a doorman or maintenance worker or even as a dog walker for one of the residents. But, again, none seemed available now matter how hard I looked.
Eventually, I took the simplest path and just snuck in. It took me three years of scouting and planning, learning the layouts and schedules and rhythms of each building. But finally I found a way in.
I turn from the gate to the worktable next to it. One last key to make, to carve. The tools are all there of course, laid out in neat little rows. A big key so I’ll need a large piece of material. My choices, at this point, are limited. That is okay. So close. One last gate.
The path through the building was surprisingly uneventful if daedalian. I only saw other one person, an older woman, late 70s I’d guess. As we passed, she silently looked me in the eyes and smiled. But that was it. After so much time, so many years, I expected a finally obstacle. It was almost like the way had been cleared for me.
I opened up the final door and entered the courtyard at the center of the buildings. And there sat Gammell Gardens. The iron fences were thick and, due to the four layers of them, I could barely make out any of the park beyond. The overlapping bars made it so that whatever angle I looked, I could only see other bars. Except a sliver of green or color here or there. Just a sliver.
I walked a quarter of the way around outside of the circle before I came to the gate. Simple, unadorned. And a simple keyhole in a plain iron lock. I tried to open it but, of course, it was refused to budge. And then I noticed the small worktable a few feet away.
Simple thick wood table. Maybe mahogany or teak. I don’t know wood. Old but not weathered, considering it sat outside. The surface of the table had cuts and gouges in it. Nothing too deep and the table had clearly been sanded and restained, perhaps many times. A brownish red stain. there were a dozen small metal tools. Stainless steel. A file. A saw. A chisel. Tools I didn’t recognize in name or purpose.
And a small bronze plaque attached to the fence bars above the table.
“Welcome to Gammell Angell Gardens
Open each gate with a key
Each key is unique
Crafted by you, of you.”
I didn’t understand. I stayed in the courtyard for hours, walking around the circle again and again. I was anxious that any moment I would get caught, but I couldn’t leave without seeing the Gardens, these damn gardens that others could experience but was being kept from me. Waves of rage that I couldn’t explain and desire that pulled and pushed. Hours went by. Each time I circled the fence, I would stop at the gate and stare at the lock. And then stare at the table. And then stare at the plaque.
And then it came to me. By you, of you. Of course. It made sense and felt right. They key did not need to be perfect as long as it I made it of me.
Four fences, four gates, four locks. Four keys. I would have to pick carefully. I would need both hands to make each key. So I would start the foot. The left foot. It was a small keyhole. That should be enough.
One last lock, one last gate.
Each keyhole had been bigger than the last. And I’d made mistakes. There had been a learning curve and bone is harder to carve than one might expect. I had used my entire left shin up to just below the knee on the first lock. Now my left leg is gone along with my right shin and my left arm to shoulder. Luckily this last worktable is close to the ground. The watchers of the Gardens thought of everything.
I know, part of me knows, that I should be dead. Bled out long ago. But the Gardens want be to come inside so I am not dead. Light headed, yes. But light headed is dulls a bit of the pain. Because, yes, there is pain. That is part of what opens the gates, I realized by the second lock. Pain opens the gates and feed the Gardens.
I can see in the Gardens and I can see the center. There is a man there. It isn’t a statue, I think. He’s tall, ten, twelve feet. He sits on a chair of dark stone. He’s still...fuzzy, blurry...but I can tell he’s looking at me and waiting. I should hurry because I don’t think even the Gardens can keep me going much longer. But not too fast. I can’t afford to make more mistakes.
A big lock. The right thigh? It don’t seem weighty enough. Maybe a rib. I tried that on the last gate but it had been difficult and I’d broken the first key as I was carving the notches.
The hip bone.
I take the larger of saws and get ready to craft the last key. To enter the private garden and all that resides.
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