One of the most popular diversions in New York City during the winter holiday season is ice skating in the world famous Central Park. The skating pond in Central Park first opened to the public on December 19, 1858 and by Christmas Day, a reported 50,000 people came to the park to skate. The iconic winter pastime was captured by the artist Winslow Homer for the illustrated newspaper Harper’s Weekly.
Skating on the Ladies’ Skating Pond in Central Park, New York was drawn on a woodblock that was then cut apart, engraved, reassembled and printed as the centerfold in the January 28, 1860 issue of Harper’s Weekly. The scene documents the fact that there were two distinct skating areas, the rowdy one for men and a calmer one for ladies (and men who accompanied them).
Homer immediately went to work on a variation of the scene, done in watercolor, called Skating on the Central Park, (top image) which became the first work he was invited to exhibit in New York at the National Academy of Design. The painting was so popular that the Boston master lithographer John Bufford (1844–1851), arranged to reproduce it as a color lithograph, publishing the print in 1861.
Ice skating was one of the few activities open to both men and women in 19th century New York City and was hugely popular. “Skating in a moral and social point, is particularly suited to our republican ideas as a people,” stated the handbook published by the Brooklyn Skating Rink Association.
The Currier & Ives lithograph below shows the skaters and the sleighs, sharing a snowy Central Park in the 1860s.
Visitors and residents alike can still enjoy gliding across the ice with the New York City skyline in the background. There are now two main ice-skating rinks in Central Park, each with skate & locker rentals available – Wollman Rink and Lasker Rink. A third (free) option is also available at Conservatory Water when proper ice conditions permit.