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Frederick Law Olmsted & His Beautiful Parks

Frederick Law Olmsted (1822 - 1903) is far from a household name these days, having died over a century ago. Despite this, his reach remains wide in the United States. Olmsted was a landscape designer and pioneer of landscape architecture, and was the genius behind many urban green spaces that still exist today, and continue to anchor their cities with a measure of respect for nature. Olmsted prided himself on his ability to place natural-looking spaces smack in the middle of cities, and took great care in making his designs feel organic. He was as prolific as a landscape architect can get, and designed spaces as far west as Berkeley, California, and as far east as Boston. Below are some of his grander and more interesting designs.

1. Central Park

800px-Lower_Central_Park_Shot_5First and most obvious on any list of Olmsted designs is Central Park. In 1857, a landscape design contest was held to determine who would design the huge swath of land in the center of Manhattan. Olmsted, who at the time was a writer, worked with architect Calvert Vaux to win the competition with their Greensward Plan, an innovative design that gave high priority to natural-looking landscapes and separate pathways for pedestrians and other modes of transport, like bicycles and horses. A particularly beautiful and interesting feature was the use of multidimensional pathways-- Vaux designed 36 separate bridges, which were used all over the park to create interesting intersections. The design, which required the removal of ten million cartloads of dirt and rocks and the installation of more than four million trees, shrubs, and plants, was not officially completed until 1873.

2. The Emerald Necklace

arnoldarboretumThe Emerald Necklace actually describes a chain of several parks that reach from Boston to Brookline, Massachusetts, including the Boston Commons, Boston Public Garden, the eponymous Olmsted park, and the Arnold Arboretum. Olmsted originally designed the project in 1878 to link the Boston Common with Franklin Park, and by doing so clean up the marshy in-between areas of Back Bay and Fens near Boston. The chain of parks, which constitute a long series of walking paths along the water is now seven miles long, with a significant portion of the water that occupied Back Bay redirected into the Charles River. The Arnold Arboretum in particular exemplifies the great care Olmsted took in designing his parks: rather than flattening the landscape and ensuring orderly pathways, he carved them around the existing plant life, making a beautiful exhibit out what was already there. Also a gifted botanist, Olmsted also helped classify and arrange some of the newer plants in the park with the new classification system created by Bentham and Hooker.

3. The Columbian Exposition

800px-Chicago_expo_Midway_PlaisanceChicago was able to snatch the honor of hosting the 1893 World's Fair away from the hands of many other hopeful cities, including New York. However, at the time, Chicago had a long way to go to become a city fit to do so: in just a few years, Chicago had to turn its blackened, industrial urban spaces into a celebration of enlightenment and civilization. Olmsted had a heavy hand in this transformation, and during the preparation period drastically renovated no fewer than three parks in Chicago: Washington Park, Jackson Park, and the Midway Plaisance. Olmsted took special care in developing the three, despite many setbacks like swampy areas and vegetation crushed by workers setting up other parts of the exposition. Olmsted originally conceived of a Venetian canal system that would connect "lagoons" he constructed in each of the parks, but this proved to be too much of a hassle and the plan was abandoned. Once completed, the parks saw over 26 million visitors as part of the Columbian Exposition, and remain in existence today.

4. Congress Park

Congress ParkCongress Park in Saratoga Springs, New York, is a relatively small operation when compared to the like of Central Park, but has very unique features. Saratoga Springs, as the name suggests, is home to several natural springs that were revered in Olmsted's day for their ability to impart health and youth (later, everyone realized they were just water). Nonetheless, the park was designed in the 1870s around the springs, and even today has several small pavilions housing spigots that produce water from various springs that have different aromas and flavors. The park is also home to an old gambling casino, as well as an original carousel.

5. Cherokee Park

300px-Cherokee_parkCherokee Park is a municipal park in Louisville Kentucky, and one of 18 parks in the area designed by Olmsted. It was opened in 1892, and its design probably coincided with that of the Columbian Exposition, adding to Olmsted's load at the time. Like his other parks, Olmsted designed the park to integrate with the natural landscape shapes found in Kentucky, with gently rollling hills and long pathways that surround Beargrass Creek, which runs through most of the park. Its features today include Baringer Spring, a stream crisscrossed by several walkways; an archery range; hiking trails; and Big Rock, an outcropping eight feet over the surface of Beargrass Creek that is popular as a picnicking and swimming area.

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15 Things You Might Not Know About Chewbacca
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images

Even if you don't know the name Peter Mayhew, you surely know about Chewbacca—the seven-foot tall Wookiee he has played onscreen for over three decades. In honor of Mayhew’s birthday, here are 15 things you might not know about Han Solo's BFF.

1. HE WAS INSPIRED BY GEORGE LUCAS'S DOG.

The character of Chewbacca was inspired by George Lucas’s big, hairy Alaskan malamute, Indiana. According to Lucas, the dog would always sit in the passenger seat of his car like a copilot, and people would confuse the dog for an actual person. And in case you're wondering: yes, that same dog was also the inspiration behind the name of one of Lucas’s other creations, Indiana Jones.

2. HIS NAME IS OF RUSSIAN ORIGIN.

The name “Chewbacca” was derived from the Russian word Sobaka (собака), meaning “dog.” The term “Wookiee” came from voice actor Terry McGovern; when he was doing voiceover tracks for Lucas's directorial debut, THX 1138, McGovern randomly improvised the line, “I think I just ran over a Wookiee” during one of the sessions.

3. HE'S REALLY, REALLY OLD.

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Chewbacca is 200 years old.

4. PETER MAYHEW'S HEIGHT HELPED HIM LAND THE ROLE.

Peter Mayhew
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Mayhew was chosen to play everyone’s favorite Wookiee primarily because of his tremendous height: He's 7 feet 3 inches tall.

5. HIS SUIT IS MADE FROM A MIX OF ANIMAL HAIRS, AND EVENTUALLY INCLUDED A COOLING SYSTEM.

For the original trilogy (and the infamous holiday special), the Chewbacca costume was made with a combination of real yak and rabbit hair knitted into a base of mohair. A slightly altered original Chewie costume was used in 1999's The Phantom Menace for the Wookiee senator character Yarua, and a new costume used during Episode III included a specially made water-cooling system so that Mayhew could wear the suit for long periods of time and not be overheated.

6. ONE OF STANLEY KUBRICK'S CLOSEST CREATORS DESIGNED THE COSTUME.

Chewbacca's costume
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To create the original costume for Chewbacca, Lucas hired legendary makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn, who was recruited because of his work on the apes in the “Dawn of Man” sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Freeborn had also previously worked with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove to effectively disguise Peter Sellers in each of his three roles in that film.) Freeborn would go on to supervise the creation of Yoda in The Empire Strike Back and Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.

Lucas originally wanted Freeborn’s costume for Chewie to be a combination of a monkey, a dog, and a cat. According to Freeborn, the biggest problem during production with the costume was with Mayhew’s eyes. The actor’s body heat in the mask caused his face to detach from the costume's eyes and made them look separate from the mask.

7. FINDING CHEWBACCA'S VOICE WAS BEN BURTT'S FIRST ASSIGNMENT.

The first sound effect that director George Lucas hired now-legendary sound designer Ben Burtt for on Star Wars was Chewbacca’s voice (this was all the way back during the script stage). During the year of preliminary sound recording, Burtt principally used the vocalization of a black bear named Tarik from Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, California for Chewbacca. He would eventually synchronize those sounds with further walrus, lion, and badger vocalizations for the complete voice. The name of the language Chewbacca speaks came to be known in the Star Wars universe as “Shyriiwook.”

8. ROGER EBERT WAS NOT A FAN.

Roger Ebert was not a fan of the big guy. In his 1997 review of the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back, Ebert basically called Chewbacca the worst character in the series. “This character was thrown into the first film as window dressing, was never thought through, and as a result has been saddled with one facial expression and one mournful yelp," the famed critic wrote. "Much more could have been done. How can you be a space pilot and not be able to communicate in any meaningful way? Does Han Solo really understand Chewie's monotonous noises? Do they have long chats sometimes? Never mind.”

9. HE WAS ORIGINALLY MUCH MORE SCANTILY CLAD.

In the summary for Lucas’s second draft (dated January 28, 1975, when the film was called “Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode I: The Star Wars”), Chewbacca is described as “an eight-foot tall, savage-looking creature resembling a huge gray bushbaby-monkey with fierce ‘baboon’-like fangs. His large yellow eyes dominate a fur-covered face … [and] over his matted, furry body he wears two chrome bandoliers, a flak jacket painted in a bizarre camouflage pattern, brown cloth shorts, and little else.”

10. HIS DESIGN WAS BASED ON RALPH MCQUARRIE'S CONCEPT ART.

Chewbacca’s character design was based on concept art drawn by Ralph McQuarrie. Lucas had originally given McQuarrie a photo of a lemur for inspiration, and McQuarrie proceeded to draw the character as a female—but Chewbacca was soon changed to a male. McQuarrie based his furry design on an illustration by artist John Schoenherr, which was commissioned for Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin’s short story “And Seven Times Never Kill a Man.” Sharp-eyed Chewbacca fans will recognize that Schoenherr’s drawing even includes what resembles the Wookiee’s signature weapon, the Bowcaster.

11. HE WON A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD.

Fans were angry for decades that Chewie didn’t receive a medal of valor like Luke and Han did at the end of A New Hope, so MTV gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 MTV Movie Awards. The medal was given to Mayhew—decked out in full costume—by Princess Leia herself, actress Carrie Fisher. His acceptance speech, made entirely in Wookiee grunts, lasted 16 seconds. When asked why Chewbacca didn’t receive a medal at the end of the first film, Lucas explained, “Medals really don’t mean much to Wookiees. They don’t really put too much credence in them. They have different kinds of ceremonies.”

12. HE HAS A FAMILY BACK HOME.

According to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, Chewbacca had a wife named Mallatobuck, a son named Lumpawaroo (a.k.a. “Lumpy”), and a father named Attichitcuk (aka “Itchy”). In the special, Chewie and Han visit the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate “Life Day,” a celebration of the Wookiee home planet’s diverse ecosystem. The special featured appearances and musical numbers by Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur, and marked the first appearance of Boba Fett. Lucas hated the special so much that he limited its availability following its original airdate on November 17, 1978.

13. MAYHEW'S BIG FEET ARE WHAT KICKSTARTED HIS CAREER.

Mayhew’s path to playing Chewbacca began with a string of lucky breaks—and his big feet. A local London reporter was doing a story on people with big feet and happened to profile Mayhew. A movie producer saw the article and cast him—in an uncredited role—as Minoton the minotaur in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. One of the makeup men on Sinbad was also working on the Wookiee costume with Stuart Freeborn for Star Wars and suggested to the producers that they screen test Mayhew. The rest is Wookiee history.

14. MAYHEW KEPT HIS DAY JOB WHILE SHOOTING STAR WARS.

Peter Mayhew
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During the shooting of Star Wars, Mayhew kept working his day job as a deputy head porter in a London hospital. Though he was let go because of his sudden varying shooting schedule at Elstree Studios, he was eventually hired back after production wrapped.

15. DARTH VADER COULD HAVE BEEN CHEWBACCA.

Darth Vader
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David Prowse, the 6’5” actor who ended up portraying Darth Vader—in costume only—originally turned down the role of Chewbacca.  When given the choice between portraying the two characters, Prowse said, “I turned down the role of Chewbacca at once. I know that people remember villains longer than heroes. At the time I didn’t know I’d be wearing a mask, and throughout production I thought Vader’s voice would be mine.”

Additional Sources: Star Wars DVD special features
The Making of Star Wars: The definitive Story Behind the Original Film, J.W. Rinzler

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