With the possible exception of "mafia behavior", the parasitic cowbird has no particular connection to the neighborhood of Maspeth, as far as I know; this little wedge of parkland was playfully named (by Henry Stern, of course) after two avenues adjacent to the triangle: Borden (namesake of the milk company) and Jay — hence the "cow" and the "bird".
This little parklet is so named because it is bounded on one side by Hodges Avenue, which calls to mind — but otherwise bears no relation to — Dodgers legend Gil Hodges (whose grave we visited back in January). This sounds like a classic Henry Stern move; he similarly gave the name "Old Hickory" to a Long Island City park on Jackson Avenue, which is named for John C. — not Andrew — Jackson.
While these goofy dancing bears are an obvious sign of Henry Stern's influence, a more subtle trace of his unusual personality can be found in the very name of the park in which said bears are doing their frolicking. It was once known as Atlantic Playground, simply (and boringly) inheriting the name of an adjacent street: Atlantic Avenue. But, as we've learned, Mr. Stern was not a fan of straightforward, unimaginative appellations. As told on the Parks Department's website, here's the tortuous route he took to get to Palmetto:
Palmetto Playground’s nomenclature was inspired by the names of the surrounding streets: Atlantic Avenue, Columbia Place, and State Street. Columbia is the capitol of South Carolina, an Atlantic state, and the state tree is the Cabbage Palmetto, hence, Palmetto Playground.UPDATE: On May 3, 2013, Palmetto Playground was renamed Adam Yauch Park in honor of the late member of the Beastie Boys.
at first seems utopian in its disregard for money—which lends status but has no purchasing value—and machines—which have been outlawed as dangerous competitors in the struggle for existence. Erewhon has also declared disease a crime for which the sick are imprisoned, and crime is considered a disease for which criminals are sent to the hospital. As the unnamed narrator further examines the institutions of Erewhon, his illusions of utopia and eternal progress are stripped away.You may be wondering what connection this sparsely planted wedge of concrete could possibly have to Erewhon. I've learned that a good first step in trying to decipher a park name is to look at a map, because former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern often used the names of adjacent streets as inspiration for park names. And that appears to be exactly what he did here, as the street on the west side of Erewhon Mall is Utopia Parkway. In an article titled "Erewhon and the End of Utopian Humanism" in the journal ELH, Sue Zemka says that Erewhon was
written with Sir Thomas More's Utopia in mind. More combined two words to coin his seminal neologism: "eutopos," which means the good place, and "outopos," the place which is nowhere. "Erewhon" is "nowhere" misspelled backwards, the soft vowel beginning of "eutopia" thus recalled in a word which, like "utopia," also inscribes its negation.
A year after his death, this park was renamed for the late, great member of the Beastie Boys, who grew up playing here. The park's seemingly mundane former name, Palmetto Playground, was actually one of Henry Stern's strangest appellative concoctions. As told by the Parks Department:
Palmetto Playground’s nomenclature was inspired by the names of the surrounding streets: Atlantic Avenue, Columbia Place, and State Street. Columbia is the capitol of South Carolina, an Atlantic state, and the state tree is the Cabbage Palmetto, hence, Palmetto Playground.(There is at least one trace of Mr. Stern's personality still remaining in the park, however: those dancing bear statues in the background.)