The mystery of the 'Fountain of Piping Pan'
by Michael Perlman
Nov 06, 2019 | 1142 views | 0 0 comments | 61 61 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Decades ago, the “Fountain of Piping Pan,” also known as “Olivia Fountain,” a focal point of the one-acre Olivia Park bounded by Markwood Road and Deepdene Road in Forest Hills Gardens, mysteriously vanished despite restrictive covenants that preserved the Gardens’ historic beauty.

Tony Barsamian, who serves on the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation (FHGC) Board of Directors, hopes to solve the mystery.

“I have always believed that it is crucial to preserve and maintain the historic integrity of our unique community,” he said. “People buy into the Gardens knowing that the homes cannot be arbitrarily changed architecturally and stylistically. Our process is designed to withstand the whimsical fashion du jour and trendy applications, which is why Forest Hills Gardens appears as it has looked for over a hundred years.”

This attractive and tranquil feature alongside the pathway as residents walked from Markwood Road consisted of a young male cherub playing a pipe overlooking a bird fountain.

“The presiding genius of the fountain is a small nude boy in plaster playing a pipe and the water tumbles over the stones at his feet down into a miniature lake, where the birds may disport themselves as in one of nature’s own sylvan retreats,” read a 1915 description in the New York Sun.

On July 4, 1915, the bird fountain, which was designed by Underwood Road resident Beatrix Forbes-Robinson Hale and presented by the Russell Sage Homes Company, was dedicated to Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, who was known for her passion for birds.

Sage purchased Marsh Island to transform it into a bird sanctuary and also established the Russell Sage Foundation, which sought to improve social and living conditions in the United States. The park was originally named in her honor, and it served as a natural amphitheater due to its sloping topography and acoustics.

At the ceremony, a woodthrush began to sing, a hidden orchestra played “Morning” by Grieg, and an elf emerged from the forest, drank from a fairy spring, and offered a libation to nature. Baroness von Rottenthal performed five interpretative dances at the fountain’s dedication ceremony.

“The entire village of merrymakers surged around the natural amphitheatre in their brilliant costumes as she emerged from cover to worship the beauty on every side,” read an article in the New York Tribune.

Olivia Park is one of the most serene and private settings in Forest Hills Gardens.

“It was especially desired to shut this park off almost entirely from the street and to give it the restfulness and seclusion of a remote piece of woodland,” read a 1918 edition of “Country Life on Long Island.” “The long stone steps and bright gravel walks invite the passerby to enter, while the smooth green grass within temps him to stop and rest beneath the shade of the Dogwood and the Wild Cherry trees.”

Fellow board member Elizabeth Haberkorn takes pride in how the park was used as an amphitheater for dances and performances by the Garden Players. She is working to develop a plan to upgrade Olivia Park, as well as other parks in the area.

“I have often watched woodpeckers and other birds in the trees,” she said. “It is also beautiful in the fall with various colors of leaves. My son and I have sledded in the park for years. I recall one blustery winter day when two cops joined in and raced down the hill.”

As an avid gardener, she coordinated with FHGC nearly five years ago to plant narcissus and daffodils along the wooded edges.

“Last year, at the suggestion of a resident, a renowned architect and landscape architect, we added 1,000 hyacinthoides hispanica, small blue woodland flowers among the earlier plantings,” she said.
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