Author: Tara Mancini
At first glance, the scrolling iron arch that sits upon the stone gate at Forest Lawn recalls fairy tales from childhood. After stepping in, your eyes struggle to see through the rays of sun light filtered through the sprawling trees. It is here in this sanctuary, like Hansel and Gretel you must remember to follow the trail. Walking straight on, you will pass the circle, go over a hill and through the woods and if you veer left and turn right… you’ll see Mother Goose!
No joke. As I took a self guided tour, I found myself with a creek on one side and a small lake on the other. The black and white patterning of the famous Canadian goose is distinct and everywhere. But wait, what is that? A white goose with yellow-orange bill. And next to it… an old grey goose!
In fact, the flock includes a number of white or grey geese. But what really makes them different was that they were farm geese. Wait, what are farm geese doing in the park?
Making a quick review, the dairy farm, which was located north of Amherst and is long gone, had cows. Another tiny farm off Ogden St. also was developed back in the 1940s and 50s and had cows, chickens and horses. But these were not likely sources. One being a dairy farm and the other so far away. To confirm, they were not wild I double checked an Audubon and wild bird book, nope… not wild. They were classic in shape and size, with an up-right posture, plump derrière and telltale wide bill. Wild geese tend to be more airplane in body morphology. Their bottoms are streamlined too, as are their bills. The evidence is mounting.
Then, my feathered friend critter alert waved a flag. It is not often that animals get their genealogy traced. In this instance, my money is on the idea that these really are descendents of Olmsted’s geese.
The water fowl were purchased with the intend for ornamentation. Not long ago, Delaware Park had a working farm (The Farmstead) with ducks, geese swan and sheep, which were acquired back in the 1870s as per Mr. Olmsted’s request.
110 Broadway, N.Y. City,
Oct. 1st, 1868
“The third site to which our attention was directed is to be found on the banks of the creek west of Forest Lawn Cemetery. By the construction of an embarkment about half mile below the road, which is a prolongation of Delaware street, a body of living water might here be found about twenty acres in extent with a very agreeable natural line of shore, the greater part of which would be shaded by beautiful groves of trees, already on the ground and most of which are now in their prime and of very desirable species. This water would be well adapted to the requirements of ornamental water fowl, to skating and boating; the groves adjoining would furnish a cool place to be resorts to for rambling and rest on a hot day…”
The waterfowl included swans, ducks and geese – all of which added an ambiance to an oasis. People were encouraged to picnic on the banks, drink from the water fountains, boat, walk, ramble and play… all while feathered creatures entertained them. The farm that once stood in Delaware Park is gone and can no longer provide shelter for the farm geese, whom as you can see from the photos have become a small flock. Farm geese don’t migrate, and last winter’s cold probably took its toll.
Annual Report of the Buffalo Park Commissioners
Unfortunately, the swans are gone and even banned in New York State as an invasive species, being from Europe and all. Greylags too would be a problem, the wild grey cousin of Mother goose happens to be a Eurasian immigrant. However, the grey and white farm geese in Forest Lawn are not banned, but they are not protected. Technically, they aren’t even feral as they are in the location intended by Olmsted. What they are however, is living history.
Check out Mother Goose this fall and keep an eye out for her this winter. It will be a sad day when something this special and entertaining is gone. Farm geese do not migrate during the winter and can take a beating in harsh climates, hence the need for shelter, and probably why this tiny flock is as little as it is.