One of the most revered American novels is about, well, not much. In terms of pure plot progression, J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye features outcast and manic antihero Holden Caulfield wandering through New York City, buying time from his parents after being booted from preparatory school. Yet that journey is now famous and even retraced by fans of the book, elevating some pretty ordinary spots in the city to relic status.
No, Holden Caulfield didn't make the Museum of Natural History what it is today, nor did he do anything for the already-famous Central Park or MoMA. But some locations are definitively Salinger's, even in 2013.
"Well — take me to the Edmont then," I said. "Would you care to stop on the way and join me for a cocktail? On me. I'm loaded."
Holden spends a portion of the story checked in at the Edmont Hotel, a fictional building situated on 34th and Eighth Avenue. In his time at the Edmont, Holden struggles to buy drinks, hits on 30-somethings, orders a prostitute to his room but is reduced to just conversing with her, and is subsequently socked in the gut when he doesn't pay her fee. The episodes are symbolic of Holden's struggle with sexuality and his illusion of women.
Though the Edmont was fictionalized by Salinger, the location and style of hotel described make the New Yorker Hotel a feasible substitute.
"So I got the hell out of the park, and went home."
Holden returns to an apartment on E 71st and Fifth Avenue, where his parents await. The apartment is adjacent to Central Park and was up on the 12th or 13th floor. Now, this seemingly insignificant midtown address is known as the legendary location where Caulfield surrenders his depraved journey and comes to terms with his reality.
Crazily enough, people have investigated apartments in the area, and apparently three fit the bill perfectly. Holden's swanky Manhattan neighborhood correlates to the prep school upbringing he despises.
"Although it wasn’t early anymore old Ernie’s was crowded. When I was already inside there was unusual silence because Ernie was playing the piano."
Caulfield goes to Ernie's because he knows he'll be able to get a drink there. The atmosphere of Ernie's is a welcomed escape, but he chooses to leave to avoid a former girlfriend of his brother DB's.
Holden claims that DB "prostituted himself" and became "Hollywood," but used to frequent Ernie's back in the day. The scene at Ernie's showcases Holden's inability to grasp social norms or let himself be happy, and he even calls Ernie the piano player a "phony" (he's not the only phony in the city, it turns out ... ). The joint was located in Greenwich Village.
"When I got him on the phone, he said he couldn't make it for dinner but that he'd meet me for a drink at ten o'clock at the Wicker Bar, on 54th. I think he was pretty surprised to hear from me. I once called him a fat-assed phony."
A bar located in the Seton Hotel (the only hotel Caulfield visits that still exists today) that Holden believes has been gentrified in recent years. Caulfield gets drinks and has a hyper-sexualized conversation with his friend Carl. To this day, teenagers go to the Seton in search of the bar.
The Seton is actually located on E. 40th.
"So what I did, I started walking over to the park. I figured I'd go by that little lake and see what the hell the ducks were doing, see if they were around or not. I still didn't know if they were around or not."
In perhaps the novel's most signature scene, Caulfield feeds the ducks in Central Park and wonders where they vanish to when the pond freezes in the winter. It's representative of Caulfield's fear of losing home and struggle with changing environments, and it spawned the book's most famous quote.
Though all of Central Park is of course famous, the South Pond gets its history from Salinger.