Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Mayor of Central Park’s Birthday Party

Elizabeth Zelvin

On February 15, the Mayor of Central Park turned 93. Alberto Arroyo is a beloved and legendary gentleman who is credited with being the first person to use the path around the Central Park reservoir as a running track and could be found there daily, rain or shine, from 1935 until a year or two ago, when age and ill health started to slow him down. I’ve blogged before about how I met him and fell for his charm and simple goodness before I realized that he was a famous New York character.

A few months ago, Alberto stopped appearing at the South Gate House where he usually held court. Runners who counted on his encouraging wave and smile and looked forward to hearing his stories were dismayed, fearing the worst until we learned that he had had a stroke. He was living in a nursing home and residence near Riverside Park and could no longer make his way across the Upper West Side to Central Park, even with a walker as he had most recently. His friends, some of whom had known him for decades, mobilized to visit him and push his wheelchair to the reservoir as often as possible.

New York Times reporter Charles Wilson (left) picked up the story and wrote a feature that appeared in the Sunday Times, on the back page of the sports section, on Alberto’s birthday. His friends gathered at the reservoir—on a day that was blessedly sunny and mild for February—to rejoice in his pleasure at being out in the fresh air among his many friends and watch him charming the socks off the tourists from all over the world whose guide books direct them to the reservoir and the track that Jackie Kennedy Onassis—one of Alberto’s friends—used to run.

The reservoir was beautiful as always, playing winter ice against early signs of spring. In mid-afternoon, we all adjourned to the residence for birthday cake and more partying. I brought my guitar and played the song I wrote about Alberto several years ago. Another friend played and sang his song about Alberto. A gorgeous lady who also lives at the residence, 102-year-old Amelia, played the piano. And everybody agreed that Alberto’s right when he says, as he once did to me, “In my simple way, I make a lot of people happy.” Here's the article from the Times, with more pictures of Alberto.
Friends Help Alberto Arroyo, Jogging Pioneer at Central Park, Keep Going


Darlene Ryan said...

Liz, it looked like a wonderful day. And I'm envious of the hints of spring. We're buried in snow here.

Julia Buckley said...

What a beautiful story--and how lovely this makes Central Park look to me.

Alberto seems like a truly special man, and it isn't surprising he has made friends with all sorts of New Yorkers.