Using 'Catcher in the Rye' as a guide to New York City during the holidays
NEW YORK -- Where do the ducks go in the winter?
It's a question Holden Caulfield, the moody teenage narrator of the classic novel "The Catcher in the Rye," asks about the ducks in the Central Park pond.
And it's a question that Sara Cedar Miller, the Central Park Conservancy historian, hears often.
"People are always calling and asking, 'Where do the ducks go?' " said Miller. "I say, 'Did you just finish reading 'Catcher in the Rye?' The answer is always yes."
"The Catcher in the Rye," by J.D. Salinger, was published in 1951, but nearly all the landmarks Holden mentions as he wanders around Manhattan at Christmastime -- the Rockefeller Center skating rink, Radio City and the Rockettes, the zoo and carousel in Central Park, Grand Central, the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art -- are still drawing holiday visitors more than a half-century later.
"The things that he chose tend be crowd-pleasers," said Matthew Postal, a researcher with the Landmarks Preservation Commission. "In a city where so much changes, there is a tendency, especially with institutions, to protect the crowd-pleasers."
Ruth Freer, an English teacher at Highland Park High School in Highland Park, teaches "The Catcher in the Rye," and she created a Holden tour for herself on a visit to Manhattan not long ago. She took pictures of all the places mentioned in the book to share with her students.
"I think the novel encourages readers to visit New York, and when they do, they can't help seeing some of what Holden sees," Freer said. "I know my students often bring me pictures of themselves posed strategically in places mentioned in the book. They love it, and so do I. … While New York is a quintessential part of 'Catcher in the Rye,' teens everywhere respond to Holden's journey."
You too can create a Holden tour of New York at Christmastime. Here are some of the places mentioned in the novel, with nearby attractions and what, if anything, is new.
Rockefeller Center: Holden Caulfield took a date skating at the ice rink here, and he also caught a show at Radio City.
In those days, the famous Rockettes performed in between movies, but today, the dancers' trademark kickline is the main attraction at the annual "Radio City Christmas Spectacular," which celebrates its 75th year this season.
Take Radio City's "Stage Door Tour" and meet one of the Rockettes, or take the elevator up at 30 Rockefeller Plaza for a bird's-eye view of the city from Top of the Rock, the observatory on the 67th, 69th and 70th floors. (It's the building where the TV show "30 Rock" is set.)
Central Park: As you walk up Fifth Avenue to Central Park, enjoy the holiday windows at Cartier, Bergdorf Goodman, Tiffany & Co., Henri Bendel and FAO Schwarz.
The pond Holden visited is northwest of the park entrance at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue. Chances are you'll see the ducks. "Some migrate, but mostly they're around," said Miller, the park historian.
The zoo entrance is near 64th Street and Fifth Avenue. Although the zoo closed temporarily in the 1980s to replace old-fashioned cages with more space for fewer animals, you can still see sea lions and polar bears, just like Holden did.
He also took his little sister to the carousel, west of the zoo in the middle of the park. The carousel there today replaced one that burned down in 1950, but it is considered "a masterpiece of American folk art," Miller said.
Grand Central: Holden checks his bag at Grand Central and chats with some nuns over breakfast there, but you'll want to check out the architecture and shopping.
To help you appreciate Grand Central's Beaux Arts design, cathedral windows and vaulted ceiling decorated with a starry sky of twinkling lights, take the Municipal Arts Society tour.
Grand Central Partnership tours of the station and neighborhood are offered on Fridays.
American Museum of Natural History: New York City kids grow up visiting this museum's dinosaurs, blue whale and planetarium. "I loved that damn museum," says Holden, whose favorite exhibits include the Great Canoe.
The vessel, carved from a single cedar tree by Northwest Coast tribes in British Columbia, Canada, in 1878, measures 63 feet -- as long as a six-story building is tall. The canoe first went on display in 1884 and today it hangs suspended from the ceiling of the Grand Gallery, 7 feet off the floor.
Holden's description in "The Catcher in the Rye" mentions people in the boat, but those sculpted figures have since been removed. "It was an aesthetic design change," explained Stephen Quinn, senior project manager for the museum's Department of Exhibitions. "Some feel it has greater dignity as an object."
Also on the first floor (which is actually one floor below the entrance at 79th Street and Central Park West) is the museum's holiday tree, decorated with origami.
Elsewhere in the building you'll find the butterfly conservatory, the "Mythic Creatures" show through Jan. 6, and another special exhibit called "Water: H20Life."
Metropolitan Museum of Art: Holden described the museum's Egyptian Wing as "pretty spooky," but most kids (and grown-ups) are fascinated, not frightened, by the mummies.
On the same floor, Christmas-minded visitors will want to head to the Medieval Sculpture Hall to view the museum's tree and Neapolitan Baroque creche, an annual tradition. The brightly lit 20-foot blue spruce -- decorated with 18th-century angels and cherubs and a Nativity scene -- is on display through Jan. 6.
Insider tip: The last two weeks of December are among New York's busiest times of year, with long lines everywhere and midtown so crowded you can barely cross the street. But even in the Big Apple, Christmas morning is magically quiet. If you're in town, drag yourself out of bed before 10 a.m., and you might get your own miracle on 34th Street and even at Rockefeller Center: a view of Macy's windows and the famous tree, minus the crowds.
If you go
Go: If you are a fan of J.D. Salinger and New York City
No: If you never heard of Holden Caulfield and dislike big city getaways
Need to know: NYC & Company, (800) 692-8474, www.nycvisit.com
Rockefeller Center: Options for combination tickets include admission to Top of the Rock, the Radio City tour and an NBC studio tour, $45; Top of the Rock and the Museum of Modern Art, nearby on 53rd Street off Fifth Avenue, $30; and an Explorer Pass that includes Top of the Rock and a choice of attractions ranging from a double-decker bus tour to the Statue of Liberty. Details at www.topoftherocknyc.com/specialoffers.
Central Park: The zoo is open daily (winter hours, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.); adults, $8, children 3-12, $3. The carousel is open daily, weather permitting; rides, $1.50. The Central Park Conservancy offers a variety of free guided walking tours of the park, 60-90 minutes long. No reservations for up to six people; call (212) 360-2726 for groups. Details at www.centralparknyc.org (click on "Activities/Programs" and then "Walking Tours.")
Grand Central: The Grand Central Kaleidoscope, a holiday light show, is a free, seven-minute show that runs through Jan. 1, on the hour and the half-hour, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. A holiday gift fair with 70 vendors continues through Dec. 31. Municipal Arts Society tours are offered Wednesdays at 12:30 p.m. from the information booth on the main concourse (suggested donation $10, (212) 935-3960). Grand Central Partnership tours start at 12:30 p.m. Fridays in the Sculpture Court of the Whitney Museum at Altria, 42nd Street across from Grand Central; www.grandcentralpartnership.org or (212) 883-2420.
American Museum of Natural History: open daily 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.; check www.amnh.org for holiday hours. Adults $15, students $11, children 2-12, $8.50.
Metropolitan Museum of Art: The museum, at 82nd Street and Fifth Avenue -- www.metmuseum.org -- is open Fridays and Saturdays, 9:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.; Sundays and Tuesdays through Thursdays, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; closed Mondays and Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's days (but open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve). Suggested admission, adults $20; students, $10; children younger than 12, free.