Song Lyrics That Used the Word 'Gay' Before Its Meaning Changed
Learning About Gay Life Before Stonewall

Nature of All Kinds Abounds in The Ramble in Central Park




The Ramble is a wooded area situated in the middle of Central Park, between 72nd and 79th Streets.  It was notorious for being a "meeting place" for gay men, not unlike Fire Island's Meat Rack, only less safe.  According to Wikipedia, "Since at least the early 20th century, the seclusion of the Ramble has been used for private homosexual encounters."  In the 1920s and '30s it was referred to as the "Fruited Plain".  (Surprisingly, this cruising spot was never referenced in any Village People song.)  Today it seems to have largely lost its allure due largely to Grindr and other similar apps.  Meanwhile the general public thinks of it as a place for bird watching.




While I've had my share of encounters in the Meat Rack, I never ventured into the Ramble looking to hook up.  (In fact, I used to think it was called The Bramble.)  However, when I was coming out in the late 1970s and still living in Pittsburgh I had some of my first gay sexual experiences in a wooded area in Schenley Park, located near the campus of the University of Pittsburgh.  I used to bike there from home (a trip of about 15 miles).  Another outdoor escapade occurred shortly after I moved to New York when a boyfriend and I cavorted in Harriman State Park (in Rockland County). 


Occasionally, I'd lay out on the sloped lawn adjacent to the Ramble to get some sun or to rest after biking around the park.  My first time there (1981) I bumped into a fellow I had just met at my new job (he later became my boss) and he was there with his boyfriend.  Since there were plenty of other places to meet guys, especially if you were openly gay, I never thought of exploring the Ramble as a meeting place. 




During the summer of 1978 figure skating legend Dick Button was mugged in the Ramble as was newspaper columnist Stuart Elliott in the early '80s (before he wrote the Advertising column for the New York Times).  This incident was the impetus behind Elliott coming out publicly (but not so for Button, which brings to mind the notoriously closeted Kevin Spacey who, after being mugged in 2004 in a section of a London park known for being a cruising spot, concocted a story about walking his dog at 4 AM and tripping on its leash).  And one non-celebrity, a former boyfriend who was sexually compulsive and liked to sneak out to the Ramble, was beaten and robbed there on one occasion.




In popular culture the Ramble was mentioned in John Rechy's 1963 novel City of Night.  Then thirty years later Tony Kushner's Pullitzer-winning play  Angels in America depicted an explicit encounter in the Ramble, with one of the characters wanting to be infected with HIV by engaging in unsafe sex.




And in May 2020 the Ramble briefly got national attention after a racist encounter between a white woman and an African American bird watcher was recorded on his phone and went viral.  (The woman took umbrage when the bird watcher advised her that her dog needed to be on a leash in that part of the park, and she called the police and reported that her life was being threatened.)


Racist encounter in the ramble



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