Voices of Silver Plaques

Writer: Grace Noh

“What’s so hard about finding an apartment? What you do is, you read the obituary column. Yeah, you find out who died, and go to the building and then you tip the doorman.” – from When Harry Met Sally (1989) 

In the film When Harry Met Sally, Harry and Sally frequently appear strolling in Central Park sometimes having sarcastic jokes like the one above or sometimes having their most honest and touching chats with one another. Central Park is perhaps one of the most beloved and visited parks in New York City for many people, offering countless memories just like for Harry and Sally.

Some may say, “What’s so special about Central Park? It’s a man-made park in middle of the city. It’s just a park.” In fact, it may be for that exact reason that makes the park so special and have never-ending stories to share. It is the escape within the city from the crowdedness of one of the busiest places of all. 

I often go to Central Park like many others residing in New York, whether it is to enjoy the walk alone or with a company for a nice chat. Usually it is the walk itself and nature I pay attention to when I am in the park. It was only recent that I noticed of these small silver plaques on the park benches.

“Loved walking along here to work for nearly 40 years. It cheers you up, it calms you down.” This is the first message I read on one of the benches in the upper west side of Central Park. It is a short and yet personal and emotional message. I walked around the park paying my full attention to the benches. Interestingly, the silver plaques were very noticeable which never captured my attention before. I looked around the park, and indeed the small, shining silver squares were easily found. 

The silver plaques on the benches in Central Park began in 1986 as the Adopt-A-Bench program, a permanent fund to maintain and endow the care of Central Park’s benches. As I was moving from one bench to another, many of these messages were about memorializing loved ones, celebrating birthdays or anniversaries, and passing out smiles with witty jokes and wisdom of words: they were the personal and emotional words of strangers publically shared in one of the most popular places in New York City. It was almost as if the celebration of both life and death was presented and shared as a form of art.

It is clear whom each message addresses to, and yet, any stranger passing by or sitting on the bench can easily engage in reading someone else’s personal “voice.” Whether or not it was intended or planned in the first place to be shared with the community, these messages on tiny silver plaques create meaningful and poetic words that are collectively shared as one beautiful collaboration with the pubic.