By Mordechai Schmutter
Today’s article is about the most recent feud between England and America. England and America have always been having feuds, going back to . . . well, who really knows when it started?
It all started when a park in England, called “Prince’s Park,” wanted to put together a “fun run.” Prince’s Park, founded in 1863, is actually the smallest park in England, measuring 15 feet by 30 feet, and consists of a bench and three trees, named “Faith,” “Hope,” and “Charity.” (If you only have three trees, you can name them.) If they added a fourth tree, there wouldn’t be room for the bench. The park also has one of those sharp fences to prevent people from going in and—I don’t know—stealing the bench.
So Prince’s sat there for 150 years, largely ignored, until an events company in England decided to organize an event for charity.
Which one is “Charity” again?
No, not the tree. Actual charity.
So they decided to hold a fun run, in which over 1,000 people would get together and run around the park. The estimate was that this would take the average person about 25 seconds, though with 1,000 people there trying to get around this thing, I imagine it was more like doing hoshanos in shul. It didn’t take anybody 25 seconds, and it tied up traffic for miles.
So the events company called the Guinness Book of Records to tell them about the “world’s shortest fun run.” Apparently, that can be a record. People usually think of calling Guinness about big things, like “the longest someone can hold his breath,” “the most kids,” or “the oldest person alive.” No one ever calls them for “the shortest someone can hold his breath,” “the least kids,” or “the youngest person alive.” And if you want to set a record for the least amount of time spent having fun running, I think many of us can beat that.
But while they were talking to Guinness, they asked if they could also have the record for the world’s smallest park. Though you’d think that having the world’s smallest park isn’t really something you’d want to brag about.
But they couldn’t get the record anyway, because that’s when Guinness informed them about a park in Portland, Oregon, called “Mill Ends Park,” that is even smaller. Instead of a triangle, it’s a circle; instead of three big trees, it has one small tree; and instead of 15 by 30 feet, it has a total diameter of 2 feet.
Mill Ends Park was established by Oregon Journal columnist Dick Fagan in 1948. The Journal office was right across the street from Mill Ends, which is actually located on the median of one of the busiest streets in Portland. Right in the middle of a crosswalk.
Anyway, Dick was looking out the window, which is what you do when you’re a columnist and you’re trying to think of topics and you don’t have a computer, and he noticed a hole in the middle of the street that workers had left so they could put in a light. He watched that circle for months, and not only was there still no light, but weeds were growing out of the hole. So he planted flowers in the hole and called it a park—in his columns.
Sixty-five years later, there’s still no light pole, but in the meantime, he wrote enough columns about it that it’s been officially recognized as a park by the City of Portland, though they weren’t thrilled that he’d kneeled down in the middle of the street to plant this thing. Then Guinness proclaimed it the world’s smallest park, sometime in the 70s (that explains it) after missing it several times, even though they got very specific directions.
“Where is it?”
“I think we passed it.”
“Let’s circle the block again. Go around this median.” Bump. “What was that?”
And since then, Mill Ends has been dedicated and rededicated by city officials, probably every time someone runs over it, and was even occupied a couple of years ago during the “Occupy” movement. Though, to be fair, I think one person can occupy that park, especially if he sits down.
But nevertheless, the people at Prince’s decided to challenge this. Well, obviously, they don’t think their park is smaller. But they do say that Mill Ends isn’t a park; it’s a flowerpot.
But to be fair, I don’t know that Prince’s could be considered a park either. You want to disappoint your kids? Take them to either of these parks.
“If you’re good, we’ll take you to the park.”
“This is it? It’s not much of a park.”
“Well, you weren’t that good.”
When I was a kid, I didn’t consider anything a park unless it had swings. If all you need is some trees and a bench that looks at passing cars, then Ocean Parkway would be a park.
So Mill Ends isn’t taking this sitting down. You know, because there’s really nowhere to sit. Because what can you really do at Prince’s? It’s not like you can play baseball. Arguably, one could say that if a park is taller than it is wide, it’s not a park. If a tree falls in a park, and it doesn’t land in the park, is it still a park? You can’t even have a picnic, unless you fold your blanket into a triangle. Even the fun run isn’t technically in the park.
To be fair, you can’t actually go to Mill Ends either. The entire thing is filled with plants and small toys that people put in, such as a tiny swimming pool, army men, and a little Ferris wheel. Also, it’s right in the middle of an intersection, and there’s no crosswalk button on the median. So once you’re in the middle of the street, you’re kind of stuck there until the light changes. You have to time your visit carefully.
But legally, they argue, Mill Ends is a park. The city recognizes it as such, it’s been written up in numerous columns, and Guinness proclaimed it the smallest park. And if you stand in the little circle after the 11:00 p.m. park curfew, you can get cited for loitering.
The question, really, is: How do you define a “park”?
So I looked it up. A park is “an area of land, usually in a largely natural state, for the enjoyment of the public, having facilities for rest or recreation, often owned, set apart, or managed by a city, state, or nation.”
So let’s go through the definition:
Area of land—Check.
Largely natural state—It has plants.
For the enjoyment of . . . Well, what do they mean by “public”? Do they mean “more than one person at a time”? Or just “members of the public”?
Facilities for rest or recreation—Not enough room for rest, but the definition clearly states “or.” And technically, there is recreation. People plant things, and they play with toys. They also raced snails there, in the ’70s. (That explains it.) And if you’re really determined and have small feet, you can stand in there and juggle. Or fly a kite.
On the other hand, if you can’t use the expression, “like a walk in the park” to mean that something is easy, is it a park?
But Guinness agrees that it’s a park. They gave it the title of the “world’s smallest park” in 1971, and it hasn’t been knocked off its pedestal since. Except in 2006, when the city moved it to do road construction. They relocated the entire park about 80 feet to the side of the road for about a year. It’s the only park that you can actually steal.
But it’s never been stolen. Though, in March, the one tree was stolen. Officials planted a new tree, at a cost of $3.25, and the next day, the old tree was returned. I guess the issue is that there isn’t really a lot of park security. There’s just the walk signal that you have to run to in order to make it in time, if you don’t want to be stuck staring at the park for five minutes.
So the feud continues. I say they should get together and hash it out. Not in Mill Ends Park, because you’d need a location that can fit at least two people. But they can bring Mill Ends over to Prince’s Park and fight about it. (“Hey, no shoving! You made me drop the park!”) Or maybe Mill Ends should have a fun run, where people can run in tight circles in the middle of the street and get dizzy, and trample it by mistake.
I guess it’s the kind of park where the whole fun is arguing about it. That’s recreation, right? v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.