The Fruits of America
Today is the anniversary of the tragic death of the horticulturist and writer Andrew Jackson Downing.
Andrew was the author of The Fruits and Fruit Trees of America, which came out in 1845. He also served as the editor of a magazine called The Horticulturist.
Regarded as one of the founders of American Landscape Architecture, Andrew used his work in The Horticulturist magazine as a platform for advancing his pet causes. It was Andrew who first came up with the idea for a New York park. In fact, Andrew's dream became the park we know today: Central Park. Andrew also advocated for individual states to create schools devoted to agriculture - and that hope became a reality as well.
In 1846, the National Mall in Washington, DC, was run down and neglected. It fell to Andrew to devise plans to revive the space.
When the Frenchman Pierre Charles L'Enfant designed the mall in 1791, he envisioned a grand avenue. In sharp contrast, Andrew's vision simple. Not a fan of formal European gardens, Andrew wanted to create what he called a public museum of living trees and shrubs. Instead of a grand avenue, Andrew designed four separate parks that were connected by curving walkways and featured many different trees. Sadly, Andrew's plans were never fully funded or carried out.
In the summer of 1852, Andrew boarded a steamship called The Henry Clay. At some point, the steamship got into a race with another boat called The Armenia. When The Henry Clay began to overheat, a fire broke out in the engine room. Coincidentally, a former girlfriend of Andrew's also happened to be on board The Henry Clay that fateful day. As passengers escaped the flames to jump into the water, some began to drown. When Andrew jumped in the water to save his old flame, her panic caused them both to drown.
Now, before Andrew attempted to save his old paramour, he was one of the men who quickly threw some deck chairs off the boat. The thinking was that the chairs could be used as flotation devices. As fate would have it, Andrew's wife Carolyn survived the disaster by holding on to a deck chair. When the ordeal was all over, many friends tried to comfort Carolyn by insinuating that she was likely saved by one of the chairs Andrew had thrown into the water. But this sentiment was small consolation to her, given that she lost her husband as he was busy trying to save an old love.
Andrew Jackson Downing was just 36 years old when he died on this day two hundred and five years ago.