The “Central Park Experience: A Scenic & Historical Walking Tour” visits the most famous statue in the park, Emma Stebbins’ “Angel of the Waters,” at Bethesda Terrace. The statue was completed in 1868 and unveiled on May 31, 1873. The park’s co-designer, Calvert Vaux, envisioned the fountain at the terrace as the “centre of the the centre” of the park.” Henry Stebbins, Emma’s brother and president of the Central Park Board of Commissioners, obtained the commission for his sister. It is, notably, New York City’s first public work of art commissioned to a woman.
Stebbins’ work celebrates the restorative qualities of New York City’s momentous water system, the Croton Aqueduct, which was completed over thirty years earlier in 1842. The statue is based on a passage in the Gospel of St. John where an angel provided healing to the sick by troubling the waters of a pool known as Bethesda. In a pamphlet distributed on the statues’ unveiling, Stebbins noted that the aqueduct and the Gospel’s pool served a similar purpose:
“An Angel descending to bless the waters for healing seems not inappropriate in connection with the fountain; for, although we have not the sad groups of blind, halt and withered waiting to be healed by the miraculous advent of the angel, we have no less healing, comfort and purification, freely sent to us through the blessed gift of pure, wholesome water, which to all the countless homes of this great city, comes like an angel visitation, not at stated seasons, but day by day.”
Like the aqueduct and Central Park, the spectacular statue continues to provide healing and comfort to New York City!
Visit Bethesda Terrace and Fountain by taking one of the Best Central Park tours of the lower park, “The Central Park Experience: A Scenic and Historical Walking Tour.”