The Untermyer Garden "America's Greatest Forgotten Garden"
A lost and decadent paradise of architectural ambition, ruin and vandalism.
There is beauty in ruins. The city of Yonkers in New York is home to a once majestic garden that has been forgotten by time. What was once a paradise of 170 acres of trees, greenhouses, tunnels and stone and granite monuments, is now little more than an abandoned lot swallowed by the unruly growth of its own flora. ––It has become a different type of paradise, one that graffiti taggers, melancholy beings and boy scouts dream of.
A mutilated stone gateway with illegible rusty words marks the entrance to the lost empire of Samuel Untermyer, an eccentric lawyer who in 1916 set out to build “the finest garden in the world.” Today, seventy years after his death, we are greeted by a great decapitated stone-unicorn and a lion covered in old graffiti. The Untermyer Garden has certainly changed since its glory days. It is an in memoriam of its long gone greatness and a hidden shelter for specters and obscure creatures.
The roman columns that buttressed the “Temple of Love” (one of the many whimsical monuments in the park, where Isadora Duncan once danced and her dress was compared to flower petals floating in the wind) now look like black veins emerging from the earth, cracked with creeping vines. The crumbled head of Medusa stares directly at four pools that now are home to a most chimeric type of flora. In the Greystone Temple, that mythical Parthenon, there is no longer a trace of its terraces, vegetables beds or its hundreds of orchids and daffodils; only caves and ghostly grottoes remain where the water from the fountains once ran. Built atop a cliff, the Untermyer Garden overlooks the Hudson River and from its pathways you can hear the Yonkers City subway.
Mr. Untermyer, who devoted himself to cross-breeding flowers and hired the most renowned English gardeners to tend to the enormous park, never would have imagined that the “finest park in the world” would become a cemetery for statues. A modern Ozymandias.
Untermyer died in 1940, and since then the city has whimsically and carelessly kept 42 of its acres. Visiting the garden now requires plastic boots, insect repellent, water, food and definitely company. It is a palace where nature and vandalism reign and remain ungovernable: the muses of decadence dance atop the ruins. It is worth walking through this lost paradise as if we were walking through an allegory of the modern world, always keeping in mind that “those who don’t fill their world with ghosts, will one day find themselves alone.”
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