People lounging on the lawn of Bryant Park on a sunny day

Bryant Park is one of the city’s most illustrious public spaces in New York City. According to the Bryant Park Corporation, more than 12 million people visit the park located behind the iconic 42nd Street New York Public Library building every year. A public space since the 17th century, the park has served various purposes and has undergone periods of both popularity and neglect. As we’ll show in this guide, the history and architecture reveal many secrets that lie (literally) beneath and around the park today.

On March 18th or April 5th, you can join Untapped New York’s Chief Experience Officer Justin Rivers for a guided walking tour of the Secrets of Bryant Park! On this tour, you’ll discover a Buddha in Bryant Park, rediscover hidden mosaic installations both around and under the park, trace the footprint of the legendary Crystal Palace, and more. Can’t make it in person? The in-person April 5th tour will also be live-streamed and available to watch virtually. These tours are free to Untapped New York Insiders. Not an Insider yet? Become a member today to gain access to a series of member-exclusive free in-person and virtual experiences each month! Get your first month free with code “JOINUS.”

Secrets of Bryant Park Tour

Summit One Vanderbilt view of Bryant Park

1. Bryant Park Used to be a Cemetery for NYC’s Poor

A designated public space since 1686, Bryant Park became a potter’s field (a cemetery for the city’s poor) in 1823, one year after the land came under New York City’s jurisdiction. It remained a burial ground until 1840 when the space was transformed into the Croton Distributing Reservoir. The bodies underneath were moved to Wards Island in the East River.

Unlike Washington Square Park, there are likely no remnants of human remains here anymore since it was transformed first into a reservoir for the city’s drinking water. In 1884, the land was renamed in honor of William Cullen Bryant, the noted poet, abolitionist, New York Evening Post editor, and naturalist. It was around this time that the first plans for the New York Public Library building were approved by the city. The Library was completed in 1911. Discover which other NYC parks used to be cemeteries!