On Sunday, December 7, after more than a year and a half of planning, the Empire State Center for the Book recognized Carl Schurz Park as a Literary Landmark for its role in Louise Fitzhugh’s middle-grade classic Harriet the Spy, which will celebrate its 50th year in print in 2015.
The dedication of Carl Schurz Park marks the 14th designation of a literary landmark in the state, and the second in the Upper East Side this year, following the recognition of the Yorkville Community School on East 88th Street in May, near the site of “the house on 88th street,” from the book of the same name by Bernard Waber, in which readers were introduced to Lyle the Crocodile.
Members of the Carl Schurz Park Conservancy board hosted a reception on Sunday afternoon in a private residence near the park, in which representatives of the Empire State Center for the Book shared the plaque with members of the Conservancy. Beverly Horowitz of Delacorte Press, editor of Harriet the Spy’s forthcoming 50th-anniversary edition, read excerpts from an advance copy of the new edition, which includes essays from Rebecca Stead, Jonathan Franzen, Gregory Maguire, and several others who wrote about the influence of Harriet on their own writing. Horowitz also showed the audience a map of the neighborhood and reproductions of Harper editor Ursula Nordstrom’s letter to Fitzhugh acquiring the book, and reproductions of the book’s first reviews included in the new volume.
Many local politicians also joined in the festivities, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, New York City councilmember Ben Kallos, New York State senator Liz Krueger, and New York State assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright.
Following the reception, the dedication took place at the park’s annual holiday sing-along and tree-lighting. As neighbors from the community gathered, Rocco Staino, director of the Empire State Center for the Book, presented the plaque to David D. Williams, executive director of the Carl Schurz Park Conservancy.
In her remarks, Beverly Horowitz called Harriet “the iconic New York character, a character unlike any other at the time, who paved the way for the books we read now.” She added that the park “plays a major role in the book: Harriet lived down the street and went to school around the corner.” The plaque will hang on the pergola wall near the playground. As the festivities continued into the evening, Carl Schurz Park was filled with Harriet’s would-be neighbors. Fifty years after she would have sat in her favorite place to spy, Harriet’s presence as a literary landmark is now cemented for all who visit.