Michael Sperber in Harvard Magazine:
For escape, Olmsted frequented the woods.
My mother died while I was so young that I have but a tradition of memory rather than the faintest recollection of her. While I was a small school boy, if I was asked if I remembered her, I could say ‘Yes; I remember playing in the grass and looking up at her while she sat sewing under a tree….’ [I]t has always been a delight to me to see a woman sitting under a tree, sewing and minding a child.
It is not far-fetched to suppose that Olmsted came into his calling because he sought with every fiber of his being to realize that vision. By introducing nature to the urban scene, he offered respite from the pathogenic influences of city life, “the symptoms of which,” he wrote, “are nervous tension, over-anxiety, hasteful disposition, impatience, [and] irritability.” Such symptoms could be reversed through exposure to pleasing rural scenery: “It is thus, in medical phrase, a prophylactic and therapeutic agent of value….”
In a tragic irony, Olmsted had to be hospitalized, at McLean, for the last five years of his life. His medical record is sealed, but whatever the problem, it undoubtedly exacerbated the earlier posttraumatic stress disorder. He was alert enough, nevertheless, to note that certain of his concepts had been disregarded in the hospital-grounds construction: he complained to a family member, “They didn’t follow my plan, confound them!
Photo of Back Bay Fens, Boston. More on Boston’s Emeral Necklace, designed by Olmstead, here.