Nathaniel Brisbane arrived in New York City from England in 1856. A master gardener by trade, Brisbane was hoping to start fresh in America, far away from the oppressive gardening practices in The United Kingdom. When it was announced construction of Central Park would begin in 1857, Brisbane was one of the first to sign up for work.
During the many difficult years of construction, Brisbane was one of the hardest workers of the thousands of tradesmen who toiled daily in the park. Of the 4 million trees and shrubs planted in the park during that time, it was said nearly 2 million of them were planted by Brisbane himself.
After the park was completed in 1873, Brisbane remained on as a gardener, tending to the trees and plants he adored so much. But the years of hard labor in the hot sun had affected the poor gardener’s mind, as he was often seen talking to the plants, singing with the plants, and on special occasions taking plants to lunch at a local tavern.
Facing termination for his unusual behavior, Brisbane attempted to seize control of the park in 1879. Stealing a suit of 15th century armor from a museum and borrowing a carriage horse from a park stable, Brisbane charged through the park with a sword held high, commanding his army of trees and shrubs to rise up and take the park back from what he called “the meat filled oppressors.” When the greenery failed to rise up in revolt, he was arrested and sent to prison.
Nathanile Brisbane lived out the remainder of his life at a sanitarium for the criminally insane in upstate New York, where the flower gardens were always a beautiful sight.
The statue dedicated to Nathaniel Brisbane’s ride through the park is located at the east end of the Turtle Pond.