Democratic Ideas to Trees and Dirt
Today is the anniversary of the death of the Landscape Architect Calvert Vaux ("Vox"), who died on this day in 1895.
Vaux was born in England, but he came to the United States at the age of 24 to work on landscape projects with Andrew Jackson Downing. Together, they planned the grounds around the Capitol and the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington.
After Downing's untimely death, Vaux named his second son Downing in honor of his partner and friend.
Vaux went on to work with many talented people during his career, including Jacob Weidenmann and George Radford.
When Calvert Vaux came up with the idea for a public competition to design Central Park, he teamed up with Frederick Law Olmsted, Senior. Together they created a plan they called Greensward, and while they worked on Central Park, Vaux first coined the term landscape architect to describe their profession. And, it was Calvert Vaux who said that his goal for Central Park was to “translate democratic ideas into trees and dirt.”
Since Olmsted and Vaux worked so well together, after Central Park, they designed Prospect Park in Brooklyn, South Park in Chicago, and the New York Reservation at Niagara Falls.
By 1895, at the age of 70, Vaux was living with his son in Brooklyn. He had a morning ritual of taking a walk - often going to visit Prospect Park. But, on this day in 1895, the weather was foggy, and Vaux decided to walk the pier along Gravesend Bay.
Two days later, after his kids reported him missing, newspapers shared this description:
"Missing since Tuesday. Calvert Vaux. Aged seventy years; four feet ten Inches; medium build; gray hair and full beard; ruddy complexion; wore a blue overcoat with velvet collar, blue trousers, dark mixed undercoat, no vest, black derby hat; wears gold-rimmed eyeglasses; shirt has a name on it."
The following day, Vaux's body was found in Gravesend Bay. Like his dear friend Downing, Vaux had drowned.
At the end of November, the Statesville Record And Landmarkout of Statesville, North Carolina ran an anonymous tribute to Vaux that read in part:
"Calvert Vaux was in his line one of the most famous men in the world.... Calvert Vaux created Central Park [and] people who have traveled all over the world say that no park in any foreign city is so beautiful. But, the Brooklyn folks say that their own Prospect Park is handsomer. Yet that, too, was "created" by Calvert Vaux. It was he who soothed nature's rough places and touched up and brightened her attractive features.In Prospect Park, however, nature left little for man to do.
But Central Park is almost wholly artificial, and it's beautiful vistas of hill and dale, lake and wood, are largely the work of Mr. Vaux.
Probably a statue of him will be erected in Central Park. Certainly, his name ought to be perpetuated in the most enduring of stone."