Parks & recreation

“It’s like running a wedding. You always have angst about the weather. You always err on the side of safety,” said Christy Hass, deputy of New Haven’s Department of Parks, Recreation & Trees. Hurricane Sandy’s arrival meant cancelled school and days without electricity for many, but the storm’s ravaging winds also posed dangers to the historical, and sometimes overlooked, landmarks of the Elm City.

The hurricane’s arrival prompted New Haven citizens to rush to protect the historical treasures of the city. One such landmark is the more than century-old carousel at Lighthouse Point Park, a short bus ride or ambitious run from Yale’s gates. Fearing that the anticipated high surges would “go over the animals” (hand-painted horses at that), Hass and two co-workers devised a plan. “We took all 68 horses and two chariots and had them taken to a warehouse,” she said. Though the animals were removed last year in preparation for Hurricane Irene, this year Hass and her team went one step further and dismantled the organ of the iconic merry-go-round. As park workers worked to move the 100-year-old organ on Monday, tides were already beginning to rise. ”All of the sudden the surf was almost up to the roadway. It probably got up to 30 inches inside. The whole thing would have been under water,” said Gary Dickerson, who works for the Department of Parks and was on the job.

Thanks to Dickerson and 12 other workers, the animals and the organ were safely stowed away in a warehouse basement and the mission was deemed a success by Hass, at least as far as she knows. “We think our precautions were successful. We don’t know how much damage was done. That’s the next step,”
she said.

Closer to campus, at the Grove Street Cemetery, Sandy’s impending arrival also called for emergency action. Established in 1797, the cemetery is the first landscaped cemetery in the world. Though weather damage to tombstones and gravesites is inevitable, the caretakers of the cemetery take precautions to protect the grounds. “I keep way ahead of storms. We have to put everything away: benches, birdbaths, and other things on the grounds. I believe in action. You can’t put the trees away, but we do as much as possible,” said William Cameron Jr., superintendent of the cemetery.

Cameron stored benches and birdbaths in the cemetery’s basement, as well as in a vault and a barn on the property. Though this hurricane was relatively tame in this area, Cameron remembered the severity of past storms. In 1985, Hurricane Gloria broke many tombstones, Cameron said. Many of the older stones were damaged beyond repair. “I fixed 75 stones myself, with help from my wife and my son,” he said. “We have to use special materials to fix them. Like they say, ‘Ain’t nothing easy.’”

Thanks to the efforts of the cemetery caretakers and city parks workers, these beloved historical sites managed to weather the storm with minimal damage. Hass said that the city of New Haven emphasizes the importance of caring for these landmarks. “We do the best we can,” she said. “There is real dedication on the mayor’s part to safeguard the treasures of the city. And he instills that in all of us.”

Leave a Reply