Audubon Park, once a plantation, was used by both the Union and Confederate Armies during the Civil War, as well as staging ground for the Buffalo Soldiers following the war. named for the famed naturalist, the city purchased the park in 1870 with the intention of creating a park. little development of the park occurred in the first decade the city owned it, but it managed to host the World Cotton Centennial (a World’s Fair) in 1884. development began in earnest thereafter though nearly all of the Fair buildings came down in favor of others. structures went up and down throughout the 20th century – a miniature railway, swan boats, carousel, a viewing shelter on the banks of the Mississippi, a conservatory. several early features remain – a golf course from 1898 (converted to Par 3 executive course in 2002 and protested as desecrating the original design of the park), the zoo (which received development aid from the Works Progress Administration), and a rookery on Oschner Island, which hosts a wide array of birds (including herons, egrets, and cormorants) and apparently makes for some of the best birding in New Orleans.
during Katrina, a few of the park’s oak trees blew over, but the park escaped flooding and attendant problems because of its location on top of the River’s natural levee. following the storm, it served as a makeshift helicopter port and encampment for National Guard troops and relief workers.
we made use of Audubon Park for a morning run – once we finally got there, after walking from the end of the (construction-shortened) streetcar line. we had to share the 1.7 mile paved path (which was closed to vehicles in the 1980s) with a swarm of parents and children engaged in a charity run/walk of some kind. the costumes on some of the kids – and the gravel path to one side – mostly made up for the congestion. next time, I wager we’d try the longer dirt path that skirts the edge of the park!
after zipping our way to the top of the Space Needle and wandering our way, gobsmacked, through the Chihuly Gallery & Garden, we headed to downtown Seattle via the Monorail, which was also built to connect visitors to the World’s Fair grounds with downtown. the project cost $3.5 million in 1962 and opened several months prior to opening day of the Fair. over 80 million people ride the Monorail during the course of the Fair, though now ridership is about 2 million per year (I wonder if we counted as two people each — one for each direction).
the Monorail has two tracks and two trains. we rode on both — the short one in the middle of the day and the longer one going back during rush hour. the original trains operate today as they did when the Monorail opened in 1962. their top speed is 45 mph and a driver pushes it up to that speed — preferably on the straightaway and not on that last curve before it goes through the Experience Music Project building. the Monorail that exists today runs for about a mile along (above) Fifth Avenue. as one friend put it, the goal was to make it like the El in Chicago. that did not happen. now it runs from the Seattle Center — home to the Space Needle, Experience Music Project, Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, the Pacific Science Center, and an array of music and conference venues — to the Westlake Shopping Center.
there have been three noteworthy accidents involving the Monorail — two of which occurred in the last decade. no major injuries in any instances — two fires and one collision that took a door off one train as the two passed one another on a curve.
the running joke from our tour guide on the Underground Tour (about which more later) is that the Monorail is (yet another) example of Seattle starting in enthusiastically on public works projects and then running out of public interest, enthusiasm, money, or all of the above. the proposal dating from 1997 outlined a five-line monorail system to spread all across Seattle, incorporating the existing red line that we rode. after eight failed ballot initiatives proposing and spending almost $125 million in taxpayer funds (levied on all the cars registered in Seattle) to attempt to expand the line, the supervising authority agreed to dissolve itself (in failure). perhaps everyone in Seattle who wishes to illustrate a failed endeavor refers to the Monorail?