Reader Letters

More on the Prison on the Park

A friend of mine just sent me the article you published about the history of the Lincoln Correctional Facility on 110th Street and Central Park West. I was so thrilled and fascinated to read it. I went to the New Lincoln school for 15 years, graduating in 1975. My mother also attended New Lincoln, her mother being one of the parents that helped to keep the school going in the forties. I loved New Lincoln passionately and was very sad when we had to move to a location much further downtown my last year there.

I had not known much of its history, and it is gratifying to me that through its evolving life 31-33 W. 110th has been a home and laboratory for fostering civil rights, improving quality of life, and experimenting with education.

As it happens, in 1996 I became a co-founder of Hayground School, a small experimental and progressive school at the end of Long Island. It often reminds me of New Lincoln, which I continue to miss very much.

Thank you for writing about Lincoln. I would, however, like to clarify, as I see another reader has pointed out, the inaccuracies in the dates cited in your article. I attended New Lincoln from 1960 to 1975. In 1974 we moved to the new location downtown. Up until that time the high school and middle school alike were a vibrant community in that building, in the park and in the community.

I have attached an essay I wrote a number of years ago when my then-11-year-old son asked me to write about some childhood memories. I think it gives a sense, in small part, of who we were at New Lincoln.

Again, thank you.

Toni Ross
New Lincoln class of ’75

I loved elementary school. I went to the same school for 15 years: Nursery school through 12th grade. New Lincoln School’s nursery through second grade was housed in a small brownstone across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Everything about the building was tiny. The chairs and tables, the playground, the stairways and even the elevator were tiny. I think that about three people fit in it and it was strictly reserved for the grownups. Of course, when I was five or six or seven, it did not seem tiny at all, just wonderfully comfortable. New Lincoln was a school very much like Hayground: small, diverse, innovative, progressive. A place where deep conversations took place and that was like a second family. My first teacher’s name was Mrs. Darling. She used to read us wonderful books at rest time while we ate rice candy that Nancy Asai, a girl in my class, would bring to school every once in a while. We thought it was really cool because the paper that the rice candy was wrapped in was also made of rice so you could eat the wrapping, too.

When I graduated to the big school in third grade, I began to learn to take the public bus that runs up Madison Avenue. The big school, on 110th Street, was pretty far from our apartment on 69th Street. I would walk several blocks to Madison Avenue and wait for the number 2, 3 or 4. I would get on and stand near the front on the right side of the bus so that when we got to my best friend Dani’s stop, she would see me and get on my bus. We did this every single morning for nearly 10 years. There were a few other kids who got on along the way also, and we would talk all the way to school. Sometimes when it was really nice out when we were in 10th or 11th grade, Dani and I would ride our bikes through Central Park to get to school, which is, in fact, where the park ends. We would meet a couple of other students along the way and all ride together.

The big school felt really big yet intimate at the same time. It was eight stories with a swimming pool in the basement, a gym and an auditorium on the first floor (as well as the nurse’s office where you had to go if you were late getting to school), a library on the second floor, a cafeteria on the eighth floor, and classrooms all in between. There was an elevator about 10 times the size of the one at the little school run by an elevator operator named Cecil. He was a wonderful, kind man who sat on a stool in the elevator and moved the handle back and forth on its semi-circular mooring, always trying to stop the elevator at exactly the right moment so that the elevator would be perfectly even with the floor you were getting out on. Once in a while he would let me run it. I remember Cecil as much I remember any number of my teachers. He was an enduring presence there, having been the elevator operator at New Lincoln when my mother attended school there.


Andrew Womack is a founding editor of The Morning News. He is always working on the next installment of the Albums of the Year series at TMN. More by Andrew Womack

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