High atop the hill overlooking The Pond is a quaint rustic shelter known as Cop Cot, which is Scottish for “little house on the crest of the hill.” This hand built wooden structure is the perfect place to relax and read on a crisp autumn afternoon.
The Cop Cot New Yorkers and tourists enjoy today is in fact a mid 1980s built replica of the original Cop Cot which was built in 1860 by sod farmer Fergus Mcghee, a colorful character known throughout New York City as “the most Scottish man in the world.”
Fergus Mcghee came to America from Scotland in 1859. He told friends he was bored of the cold dreary climate on the Scottish plains and thought winter in the northeastern United States would improve his mood, but in fact the loud and boisterous Mcghee was asked to leave his native land due to numerous noise complaints from his neighbors, his village, and an Army artillery range that bordered his sod farm.
Mcghee found work with the hundreds of other immigrant tradesmen in New York City on the second phase of the Central Park construction project which had begun in 1857. Mcghee quickly earned the position of Sodmaster due to his extensive knowledge of turf and grass, and his ability to grow a type of sod that a prominent New York horticulturist described as “thicker and loaded with more character than Nicholas Nickleby.”
Fergus Mcghee shunned the luxurious tenement lifestyle of his fellow laborers and in the spring of 1860 he built his own temporary dwelling in Central Park, a wood and sod structure atop an outcropping of schist overlooking East 59th Street which he christened “Cop Cot.”
Word quickly spread in the Scottish American community of Mcghee’s rustic hideaway and almost immediately Cop Cot became a meeting place for Scottish immigrants to convene and share their proud heritage in a friendly and welcoming environment. A short time after that Cop Cot was declared a public nuisance after two thousand reports of public drunkenness and indecency were filed with the police department. The situation further deteriorated when Mcghee fatally head butted the horse of Police Commissioner John Alexander Kennedy when he tried to evict Mcghee from the park.
In an effort to curb the devastation, Mayor Fernando Wood sat down with Fergus McGhee to work out some sort of an agreement in the most traditional Scottish way known: a drinking contest. The stubborn Scotsman and the Mayor drank for fifty-seven straight hours, and to everyone’s surprise Wood was declared the winner on a technicality when a whiskey filled Mcghee exploded while lighting a cigar.
The original Cop Cot built by Fergus Mcghee was quietly dismantled in 1861. Fernando Wood’s hangover ended in 1865.