Before the Muppets ever took Manhattan, Jim Henson and his wife moved to New York City in 1963 to begin working in earnest on Muppets and puppeteering, and there has been a Muppet workshop in New York City on either 53d Street, 67th Street, or 69th Street ever since. Jim kept a home in New York for the rest of his life and passed away in a New York hospital, and a public memorial service was held in a New York church.
Clearly, the Hensons and the Muppets have a long history with New York City, which is only magnified by the classic film The Muppets Take Manhattan. You may recall that the Muppet performers and the New York Pops Orchestra performed a stirring tribute to Jim at Carnegie Hall last April.
Yet one of the most touching tributes to Jim in New York is also one of the most inconspicuous.
Near the southern end of Central Park, just south of the famous fountain, is Literary Lane. A long, wide, paved avenue covered by American elm trees and flanked by classic green wooden park benches, Literary Lane gets its name from the statues of William Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, and other famous historical figures lining the row.
The park benches along Literary Lane, like almost every other park bench in Central Park, carry a small silver tag with a personalized inscription. Most of them appear to have been bought and paid for by private families. That’s what makes Jim Henson’s bench so great: it’s just another bench in a long line of benches. It’s no different from the hundreds of other benches you probably glanced at on your way through the park. It simply reads: “To the joyful life of Jim Henson, who loved this walk in the park.”
Somehow, it feels like Jim would have wanted a bench honoring him to be as nondescript as possible, which is all the more impressive considering the significant attention and publicity lavished on Strawberry Fields and the John Lennon “Imagine” mosaic just a few hundred feet west of Literary Lane. What’s also nice about Jim’s bench is that it celebrates Jim and his love of the park, not his lifetime achievements. If the bench said something about the Muppets or Sesame Street, it would probably wind up being another tourist attraction like Strawberry Fields.
Central Park is a generally peaceful place, especially on a weekday afternoon. Sitting on Jim’s bench for a few minutes after a long day of traipsing through the city was just about the most relaxing thing I’ve done in the first few weeks of 2013. If you’re ever in the city, you really owe it to yourself to go find Jim’s bench and take a few minutes to reflect and be at peace.
I took a few screen captures of my Central Park map app to give you a good idea of where to find Jim’s bench, but I encourage you to do a little exploring and try to find it on your own.
“My hope is to leave the world a little better for my having been there.” – Jim Henson