Brooklyn Museum

I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t entirely know what the Brooklyn Museum was until I visited. (Yes, yes, I knew it was a museum.) Brooklyn history? Modern art? Who knew?

So here’s your answer: it’s an art museum in the vein of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with a sizeable collection of antiquities — meaning it’s as much about history and culture as it is about art per se. (My favorite kind of art museum!) It also feels cozier than the Met, though it’s still enormous (according to Wikipedia, about 500,000 square feet to the Met’s 2 million).

In the time I spent there, I didn’t come close to being able to take in everything the museum has on display (and I skipped the current special exhibition, on Georgia O’Keeffe). I enjoyed, far more than I was expecting, the exhibit on the first floor called “Infinite Blue,” which was — you guessed it — a collection of (partly) blue things.

The Egyptian galleries of the museum had a small special exhibit called “A Woman’s Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt,” as well as a wide-ranging permanent selection of artifacts — including several mummies and displays about the process of mummification, which was both fascinating and uncomfortable. The exhibit tried to acknowledge the problems inherent to displaying human remains, but the fact remaining that it was displaying human remains.

One of my favorite things about the museum wasn’t an exhibit at all, but an app! Ask Brooklyn Museum allows you to open a live chat with museum experts and ask them your questions. (Only while you’re on the museum grounds.) I used it several times, though I was frustrated that the functionality to upload a photograph wasn’t working.

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I wanted to identify this writing system, but wasn’t able to share the photo through the app. (Answer, if anyone was wondering: Cuneiform.) Hopefully, just a temporary blip.

Other good thing to know: like the Met, the Brooklyn Museum’s stated admission price is “suggested”: you don’t have to pay the full amount to enter. (Ticketed exhibits are the exception.) And, entry is free the first Saturday of every month, from 5 PM to 11 PM.

This was my first visit to the Brooklyn Museum, but it certainly won’t be my last — or my last post about going there!

-Ellen

Location: 200 Eastern Parkway, corner of Eastern Parkway and Washington Avenue
Nearest Public Transit: 2/3 at Eastern Parkway–Brooklyn Museum; 2/3/4/5 and S at Franklin Av; 2/3 at Grand Army Plaza; B/Q and S at Prospect Park.
Cost: Suggested Admission $16 adults; $10 students and seniors; ages 19 and under free. Free 5 PM – 11 PM first Saturday of every month.
Website

Fraunces Tavern Museum

Possibly the oldest surviving building in Manhattan, 54 Pearl Street was constructed in 1719 as the home of Stephen Delancey (Delancey Street was named after his son James), converted to the Queen’s Head Tavern in 1762, and later renamed Fraunces Tavern.

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The Tavern is inextricably tied up in New York’s history; besides the connection to the Delanceys, it was the site of George Washington’s farewell dinner for his troops, and briefly housed government offices, before the capital of the United States moved to Philadelphia.

Continue reading “Fraunces Tavern Museum”

Poe Park

This will be a short post, and a lesson in doing your research in advance.

Edgar Allan Poe lived the last years of his life in a cottage in Fordham, New York — now a neighborhood of the Bronx. Though Poe himself in fact died in Baltimore, the cottage was still his primary home at that time, and his wife Virginia did die in the Fordham cottage. It was subsequently moved and the land around it became Poe Park.

I got out of work early on a Friday afternoon and thought I’d pop up to the Bronx to check it out. However, I didn’t think to check the house’s hours… which go only until 3 PM on Thursday and Friday. Oops!

I did take a quick stroll around the park, and was able to take a photo of the house (above) from afar. But I can’t quite check this one off my to-visit list yet.

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-Ellen

Location: Poe Park: Grand Concourse between E 92nd St and E Kingsbridge Rd (the Cottage is at the north end)
Nearest Public Transit: B/D at Kingsbridge Rd; 4 at Kingsbridge Rd
Cost: Free entrance to the park; the Cottage is $5 for adults, $3 for students, seniors, and children
Website

Wyckoff House Museum

Maybe it’s because I’m a history nerd, but I’m not really sure why the Wyckoff (pronounced ‘WYE-koff’) House Museum, also known as the Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House, isn’t better known among tourists or New Yorkers. Eclipsing any building in Manhattan by a significant margin, it’s the oldest surviving structure in New York City, part of it having been built in 1652.

On the other hand, it’s not the most easily-accessible landmark. Though less than three miles from my Brooklyn apartment, the house is a subway ride and a bus ride (or two bus rides) away. It’s nestled in the mostly-residential Brooklyn neighborhood of Flatlands, not convenient to subway lines or other sites of historical interest. And it didn’t open as a museum until 2001, despite having stood for over 300 years before then. But it’s well worth the trek.

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Bad luck with that whole two-buses situation meant that my friend and I arrived at the museum ten minutes late, walking, for the earlier of the two tours available on Saturdays. (The house is only open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays, though school and group tours can be arranged at other times.) I called ahead when the house opened, at 1 PM, and breathlessly asked whether we could join the tour late. The woman at the other end laughed. “It looks like you are the tour today,” she responded.

The Wyckoff House is set into tiny Fidler-Wyckoff Park, which was hosting a neighborhood Halloween party when we arrived. The crowds cleared out pretty soon after one o’clock, leaving just my friend, me, and the tour guide, plus a couple who arrived about 20 minutes after we did (presumably, they waited for the second bus instead of walking).

It’s hard to imagine the house sitting on 100 acres of farmland when it’s now sandwiched between a car wash and a McDonald’s. This is a common conundrum when visiting historic homes in the city; similarly, the Morris-Jumel Mansion in upper Manhattan once sat on 130 acres of property. According to statistics from the City of New York website, the population density of Manhattan is now more than 100 people per single acre.

The shorter section of the building is the original structure, a one-room house that was the home of Pieter Claesen Wykoff, his wife, and their 11 (!) children, all of whom lived to adulthood. The Wyckoffs were reasonably wealthy, despite the tight quarters; they owned 100 acres of farmland, and our guide noted that Pieter was able to leave land to all 11 children when he died.

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A table of herbs and a shelf of tools in the original 17th century house.

Pieter’s grandson expanded the house, adding two more rooms and a cellar in the 18th century, and three bedrooms at the back — now the front — of the house later on. It’s still not a large place, and the house’s tumultuous history means that no original possessions remain (with the possible exception of a map of Brooklyn that was found during restoration), but it’s been lovingly furnished with reconstructions or period pieces acquired elsewhere. The narrative of expansion of the house throughout history lent itself well to a tour, and our guide knew the story inside-out, as well as the broader local history and how it related to the Wyckoffs.

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The later, 18th century additions are richly decorated by comparison to the original room, though still simple and utilitarian. (The spiderwebs are from the Halloween party, not from disuse!)

In the Wyckoffs’ story pop up some other names that will be familiar to students of New York City history. Pieter worked for a time for Peter Stuyvesant, whose name survives in the neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, and other places. Pieter’s descendents had as neighbors the Lott family, of whose house photographs exist (though, alas, the building does not); another Lott residence, the nearby Hendrick I. Lott House, is also a New York City Landmark, with a section dating to 1720.

The Wyckoff House Museum is now one of my favorite tourist spots to recommend in the city. Of course, I don’t think anyone’s actually taken me up on it yet; if you don’t live in the area, and especially if you’re visiting from out of town, it’s daunting to contemplate the time that’s required to get out there — why spend three hours in Brooklyn when you could hit 3 or 4 historic sites in Manhattan during the same amount of time? But if you’re tired of crowded same-olds and want to see an off-the-beaten-path bit of the city’s history, it’s well worth your while.

–Ellen

(Source, source, source, source)

Location: 5816 Clarendon Road, Brooklyn
Nearest Public Transit: B8 to Beverly Rd/Ralph Ave (connect from the 2 or the B44); B47 to Ralph Ave/Clarendon Rd (connect from the 3)
Estimated Timespan: Between the tour and peeking in the garden, we were there about an hour
Cost: Adults $5, Children/Students/Seniors $3
Website