Category Archives: Museums and Exhibits

New Brunswick Roadtrip: Metepenagiag Heritage Center Highlights Miramichi Visit

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Metepenagiag Heritage Center has artifacts that show 3,000 years of habitation of the Mi’kmaq people in Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

So often the best travel experiences happen by serendipity. I had left the Bay of Fundy coastal trail behind in Moncton this morning to continue our New Brunswick roadtrip, driving 90 minutes to Miramichi, a small city that’s the gateway to northern New Brunswick, Canada, renowned for hunting and fishing. I meet up with Amanda Craig, from Miramichi’s tourism office who was taking me to hike a mile-long trail to Fall Brook Falls (at 108 feet high is the highest in New Brunswick). It’s located in Irving Woodlands private preserve, but alas, the access road is closed. I had spotted a sign along the highway to the Metepenagiag Heritage Park and was really excited to learn more about New Brunswick’s First Nations history and so we head there.

Metepenagiag is so much more than a museum exhibition – it preserves, documents, honors and resurrects the Mi’kmaq heritage and culture.

Metepenagiag is an active archaeological site and research center where artifacts unearthed have provided proof the Mi’kmaq have been occupying this land for at least 3,000 years. When you first walk into the exhibition building, you can look into the lab where researchers examine artifacts. Some of the items, like a 1200-year old Earthenware pot, arrowheads and other items are on display.

Earthenware 1200 years old is on display at Metepenagiag Heritage Center, Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The significance of this place is clear when you learn that it was after decades and generations of a national policy to eradicate First Nations’ cultural heritage, when even speaking the language, so critical to passing along its oral history and tradition, was banned and children were forced from their community into residential schools to strip away their native identity, that in the 1970s, a Mi’kmaq member, Joe Augustine, discovered the Augustine Mound and Oxbow.

“When a company was planning to expand its gravel pit in our community, our beloved and respected Elder Joe Augustine remembered being told from his Elders before him of an old burial ground in the area,” state the notes accompanying a photo of Joe Augustine and his wife Yvonne (Paul) Meunier digging at the pit state. “He went to the site they described and found what was to become the Augustine Mound – a cemetery dating back to over 600 BC.

Mi’kmaq Elder Joe Augustine discovered the Augustine Mound and Oxbow archaeological sites in the 1970s which provide evidence of 3,000 years of habitation in Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

The concept of preserving, protecting and presenting the rich Mi’kmaq culture is expressed by our Elder and lives on in our community.”

In 1977, archaeological work began on another site Elder Joe Augustine uncovered: the Oxbow, a village site situated at the head tide, showing Metepenagiag has had over 3,000 years of continuous settlements right to the present day.

Artifacts uncovered at the Augustine Mound and Oxbow show that for the past three millennia, aboriginal people have repeatedly come to this oxbow in the Miramichi River to fish, hunt and gather plants © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Constructed about 2500 years ago, the circular Augustine Mound is a rare example in the Maratimes of the elaborate burial tradition associated with the Adena culture, which originated in the Ohio River Valley and then spread throughout eastern North America. The rich archaeological record found at the site includes well-preserved textiles and basketry, ornaments of Lake Superior native copper, Ohio fireclay pipes, and distinctive Adena-type stone tools dating back 7000 years.

The types of objects retrieved from the Augustine Mound are exceptional for this area of Canada – copper beads on leather, small pieces of baskets, textiles, animal hides, moose-hair work, porcupine quills, feathers and wooden-handled tools. The salts from thousands of copper beads helped save the raw natural fibers from decomposing.

Artifacts uncovered at the Augustine Mound and Oxbow show that for the past three millennia, aboriginal people have repeatedly come to this oxbow in the Miramichi River to fish, hunt and gather plants © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The earth mound, the types of burials and the artifacts suggest that the Mi’kmaq of Metepenagiag probably carried on complex trading and cultural relations with other Aboriginal societies as distant as central Ohio.

Oxbow is one of the largest pre-contact archeological sites in the Maritimes and remarkable for its rich and deeply stratified record of almost continuous human occupation. The artifacts uncovered show that for the past three millennia, aboriginal people have repeatedly come to this oxbow in the Miramichi River to fish, hunt and gather plants. Seasonal flooding covered their camps with silt, preserving evidence of their everyday life, including stone tools, ceramics, and fire pits.

Archaeological research is actively underway at Metepenagiag Heritage Center, Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Known today as the Mi’kmaq (from the word nikmaq, meaning my kin-friend), in ancient times they called themselves Lnu’k, The People. The Mi’kmaq are an Eastern Algonkian-speaking people closely related to the Wolastoqiyik, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot and the Eastern and Western Abenaki. Together, these nations formed the Wabanaki Confederacy.

“The findings of these two archeological sites scientifically prove the ancient oral history we have always known, passed down through many generations. This is our legacy and how two national historic sites came to be.”

“Elder Joseph (Joe Mike) Michael Augustine (1911-1995) left an important legacy: the rediscovery of the Mi’kmaq identity and culture as a people and as a nation.” Joe Mike served two terms each as Chief and as a Band Councillor.

Metepenagiag Heritage Center guide Marcus Alexander LaViolette poses with a photo of his great grandfather, Mi’kmaq Elder Joe Augustine discovered the Augustine Mound and Oxbow archaeological sites that proved Mi’kmaq habitation for 3,000 years © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“This is archaeological proof of living here 3000 years,” says our guide,  Marcus Alexander LaViolette, heritage interpreter, a 20-something fellow who turns out to be the great grandson of Joe Augustine, making his remarks all the more poignant.  

One room displays how the Mi’kmaq would have lived, season by season (they lived along the river in warm seasons, and moved to the forest in cold).

Mi’kmaq ancestors lived in wikuoms (wigwams), not tipis. Some cone- shaped wigwams could hold up to 30 people; A or V-type usually held large groups, which typically would have been built by women.

Marcus shows us a re-created canoe and the skin of an Atlantic sturgeon, which grew to a size “as long as a canoe.” A main food source for generations, the sturgeon, which could grow over 3 meters long and weigh 400 kilos, are now exceptionally rare – the last one was caught 30 years ago. “Sturgeon are an ancient fish in an ancient river; they haven’t evolved,” Marcus tells us.

Metepenagiag Heritage Center guide Marcus Alexander LaViolette with a canoe and skin of a sturgeon that once provided sustenance to Mi’kmaq, but now is virtually extinct © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The birchbark canoe “was likely the most remarkable Mi’kmaq construction.” It ranged from 3 to 8 meters long; with high ends and raised sides, a uniquely Mi’kmaq design, that kept the canoe from taking on water. Using this type of canoe, the Mi’kmaq ancestors traveled out to sea, up streams and down rapids. The canoe could transport large loads but was light enough so one or two people could easily carry it.

“We lost the tradition of canoe making,” Marcus tells us, “so this is a generic style for birch bark canoe.”

The exhibit hall is a portal to ancient history, he tells us, stressing that it is a point of pride that all the notes are equally translated in English, French, and Mi’kmaq, especially since only 5% of Mi’kmaq people can understand their native language. There are about 200,000 Mi’kmaq in Canada and in Maine.

Marcus notes that there the pots do not have a flat bottom but would be designed to wedge into the ground. They would boil or cook using superheated sand – which would form a crust around bread and not get into the bread. When it was done, they would pat it like a drum so the sand comes off, leaving the bread. “That they can recreate the process shows proof of concept – shows can do it, re-creatable.” (In the “Taste of Metepenagiag” package, guests learn how to make traditional bread.)

Metepenagiag Heritage Center displays how the Mi’kmaq would have lived, season by season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

The ancient Oxbow village was next to one of the best salmon fishing pools. For centuries the Miramichi River was a river of fish – so many salmon swam up the river that they would keep villagers awake at night as they fell on the water after leaping into the air. The ancestors smoke-dried a lot of the salmon catch for winter or to use in trade.

The Mi’kmaq ancesters knew the names and uses of trees, plants, flowers and herbs. Foods included fiddleheads, cat-tail roots, raspberries and blueberries. The bloodroot plant provided dye. Balsam fir helped to cure wounds. Canoes and containers were made from birchbark, wood and root, and mats from reeds and rushes. Sweetgrass and tobacco are still used in ceremonies.

Metepenagiag Heritage Center displays how the Mi’kmaq would have lived, season by season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

“We slowed down First Contact,” Marcus says, then adds, “The Mi’kmaq way of life did not last. With the first Europeans came dramatic changes. The ancestors began to spend more time gathering furs to trade for the prized European goods. They became dependent on Europeans for food. European diseases killed whole Mi’kmaq villages. With few people left to pass on tradition, much knowledge and history was lost.” In fact, the British barred them from hunting or fishing.

This place had always been important for trade – there is even evidence of the Vikings having come. European merchant traders set up a commercial fishery on the Miramichi River in the 1760s that destroyed much of the traditional salmon fishery. “The few Mi’kmaq living at Metepenagiag struggled to survive.”

Local women made this re-creation of the magnificent embroidered, beaded coat made in 1841 for British sea captain Henry O’Halloran who was made an honorary chief of the Mi’kmaq, on view at the Metepenagiag Heritage Center © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is what made a magnificent embroidered, beaded coat that is on exhibit all the more significant, and treasured by the community: it is a re-creation of a fabulous coat, meticulously crafted by local women for a British sea captain, Henry O’Halloran. At a time when the Mi’kmaq were forced onto a reserve and weren’t allowed to hunt or fish, Captain O’Halloran traded with the indigenous people, provided food and formed a close relationship. The coat was made in 1841on the occasion of making him an honorary chief. This one is an exact replica, made by the local women, which if sold, would be valued at $300,000. (Marcus proudly says he got to model it.)

Marcus points to the Treaties of Peace and Friendship, saying, “When our ancestors signed treaties with the British Crown, such as in 1779, they did not give up ownership of our traditional lands. They also kept our rights to fish, hunt, gather and trade.” But these rights were not honored.

In 1994 Metepenagiag signed a historic “loss of land-use” agreement with the government of Canada. But it did not include all of the lands and access to resources that have been taken from our community. Negotiations are continuing in an effort to obtain a fair settlement.” Only recently, each tribal member received $20,000 from the Canadian government as compensation for land.

It is important to note that First Nations people – there are about 2 million in Canada – only received the right to vote without losing their native Indian status in 1960; the last residential school closed as recently as 1995. In 2014, Canada passed the Truth & Reconciliation Act, apologizing for the harm in trying to eradicate indigenous heritage, prompting a policy toward promoting indigenous rights and heritage. Indigenous tourism, a key tool for both economic development and preservation of indigenous heritage and culture, is now Canada’s the fastest growing industry, Amanda says.

At the end of our visit, Marcus says, “First Nations people don’t believe in goodbye – everything is a circle, comes back – even if in next life.”

Metepenagiag Heritage Park has 1800 meters of groomed trails (30 minutes walking time) that let you “walk in the footsteps of our ancestors” to the water.

You can overnight at the Metepenagiag Heritage Center in a tipi, lodge or cabin and be immersed in Mi’kmaq experience © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What is more, you can overnight in a tipi (glamping), cabin or lodge, have a First Nations dining experience, storytelling and be immersed in the 3,000-year heritage around a campfire. Or take part in “A Taste of Metepenagiag” and learn about foods and cooking techniques. New experiences are also being developed.

The Mi’kmaq operate SP First Nations Outdoor Tours, authentic indigenous experiences that begin with a traditional welcome, a river tour by canoe or kayak, storytelling; and authentic First Nations dining and accommodations (56 Shore Road, Red Bank NB, Metepenagiag, 506-626-2718).

Metepenagiag Heritage Park, 2156 Micmac Road, Red Bank NB, 506-836-6118, [email protected] 1-888-380-3555, metpark.ca.

To get to the Metepenagiag Heritage Center, you go through a Mi’kmaq residential community of about 600 people, where you have to be a community member to own the home (but do not own the land). It looks like a typical suburban neighborhood. with its own school (the federal government subsidizes the public school but teachers are paid less than regular school teachers) and shopping center. After the museum was built, the community opened a woman’s shelter, health center. The community also owns Riverside Entertainment (gaming room, restaurant), downtown.

Sportsman’s Paradise

Miramichi is world renowned as a sportsman’s paradise for fishing, hunting, hiking, kayaking, tubing down the rivers, and the longest zipline in New Brunswick (1200 feet). Indeed, the rivers, filled with salmon, and lush wilderness that provided the food and shelter to sustain the Mi’kmaq even 3,000 years ago, continues to sustain Miramichi today.

Miramichi is so prominent for salmon fishing (baseball star Ted Williams used to invite major celebrities including Marilyn Monroe to his family cottage in Blackville), that there is actually an Atlantic Salmon Museum, founded by the local historical society in 1982, that displays 5,000 artifacts “celebrating the artistry of fly tying, the beauty of a well-crafted rod and, above all, the nobility of that ‘king of fish’ the Atlantic salmon.”

One of John William Keith-King collection of 150 plates on view at the Atlantic Salmon Museum in Doaktown, New Brunswick © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Most notably, the museum is the repository for the internationally revered John William Keith-King collection of 150 plates that feature exquisite flies combined with stunning artwork and historic photos, plus artwork, reels, fishing rods, fishing tackle, fish replicas and antique outboard motors. The collection is valued at $500,000 (the plates alone valued at $5,000 each), Believe me, I never thought such a museum could be so fascinating even to someone who has never fished for salmon. This place is pure bliss for fishing enthusiasts. (Admission is free. Check hours. 263 Main St, Doaktown NB, 506-365-7787, www.atlanticsalmonmuseum.com

The Ledges Inn, a sportsman’s retreat, Doaktown, New Brunswick © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

People come from all over for the opportunity to fish and hunt, staying in upscale places like The Ledges Inn,  a 4.5-star outfitter with 10-room lodge, picturesquely set on the bank of the Miramichi River, where you can enjoy salmon fishing, upland bird-hunting, four-wheeling, snowmobiling (30 Ledges Inn lane, Doaktown NB, 1-506-365-1820, Ledgesinn.com); and the historic Wilson’s Sporting Camps, family-owned hunting lodge, offering sportsmen retreats since 1855(23 Big Murphy Lane, McNamee NB, 1-877-365-7962, Wilsoncamps.nb.ca).

Another local attraction is the Priceville Footbridge, which, local lore has it, was built in 1938 to unite two lovers who lived in villages separated by the river. At 656 feet, it’s the longest suspension bridge in New Brunswick, was damaged and rebuilt in 1939, then replaced in 1988 (McNamee Road. https://tourismnewbrunswick.ca/listing/priceville-suspension-footbridge).

Enjoying a plate of mussels at Vera’s at Richie Wharf, Miramichi, as the sun sets © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Back in Miramichi, I spend a pleasant evening at Richie Wharf, a charming waterfront park and historic site, where on Friday nights locals come out for music and dancing, After enjoying this scene, I have a delightful dinner (mussels!) at Vera’s patio with a gorgeous view of the sunset on the river. (84 Norton’s Lane, Miramichi, 506-625-2300)

Other Miramichi highlights: There are loads of historic sites we didn’t have time to visit but sound so interesting: Doak House commemorates Scottish entrepreneur Robert Doak who settled here in the early 1820s (386 Main St. Doaktown, 506-365-2026); Wilson’s Point Historic Site, a provincial historic site, contains the Scottish ancestry of Miramichi, but has archaeological significance for the Mi’kmaq people as well as the French Acadians and Loyalists (8 Enclosure Rd., Derby Junction, www.wilsonspoint.com, 506-627-0162); Miramichi History Museum (182 Wellington St., 506-778-4050); Tabusintac Library & Museum (4490 Rte 11, Tabusintac); and W.S. Loggie House & Cultural Centre, a Victorian home with artifacts from 1850 to 2000 (222 Wellington St., Miramichi, 506-775-4996).

Also: Miramichi River Interpretive Trail (1.4 km long, 158 main Street, Blackville; 90-min, Miramichi River Boat Tours out of Richie Wharf; Gallan’s Miramichi River Tubing (Doyles Brook, miramichirivertubing.com); Escuminac Beach (escuminacbeach.com); Historical Beaverbrook House Haunted Tour.

Rodd Miramichi River Hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I overnight at the Rodd Miramichi River Hotel, picturesquely set in the waterfront village (1809 Water Street, 506-773-3111).

The next morning, I meet up with David and Laini at the Calico Café; they have been exploring Prince Edward Island and Shediac, where they had a fabulous dinner at Le Mogue Tortue, a restaurant with an Alice-in-Wonderland like setting (tea cups,clocks!), and we continue on our roadtrip to French Acadia, where we will bike on the new Veloroute (bikeway) along the coast, through French fishing villages.

Miramichi Tourism, 800-459-3131, discovermiramichi.com.

Travel planning assistance from Tourism New Brunswick, 800-561-0123www.tourismnewbrunswick.ca.

See also:

NEW BRUNSWICK ROADTRIP BEGINS IN ST. ANDREWS

NEW BRUNSWICK, CANADA ROADTRIP: SAINT JOHN, CITY OF FIRSTS, OLDESTS, AMAZEMENTS

NEW BRUNSWICK ROADTRIP: DISCOVERING FUNDY TRAIL PARKWAY, FUNDY NATIONAL PARK, CAPE ENRAGE

NEW BRUNSWICK ROADTRIP: MESMERIZING HOPEWELL ROCKS

Next: Exploring French Acadia’s culture and heritage by bike!

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© 2023 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/KarenBRubin 

Trail to Discover British Columbia’s Indigenous Heritage Weaves Through Whistler-Blackcomb

Audain Art Museum, Whistler, is a world-class art museum with one of finest collections of indigenous masks going back to mid-1800s and British Columbia artists © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

My whirlwind odyssey to learn about the renaissance of British Columbia’s indigenous heritage takes me to Whistler-Blackcomb, the world-famous ski resort. The mountain resort, one of the largest in North America, is on First Nations land and is where a cultural center, a joint endeavor of the Lil’wat and the Squamash nations, has opened.

I hop the Skylynx shuttle bus, packed with skiers, that leaves from the Hyatt Regency Vancouver downtown (also close to the Bill Reid Gallery and the Fairmont Hotel) for a pleasant, scenic two-hour ride to Whistler Village Centre.

The skiing even this late in the season looks fantastic but I am here to continue my study of the indigenous heritage – past and present – that permeates this place. The spirit is very strong here in Whistler. While the skiers all head to the gondola, I find my way to a trail that leads to the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre.

The idea for a world-class cultural center originated with the Resort Municipality of Whistler in 1997, which met with the Lil’wat Nation to discuss its participation and presence in Whistler. Mindful of its historic collaboration and shared interest in land stewardship with the Squamish Nation, in 2001, the two nations signed a historic Protocol Agreement, the only one of its kind in Canada. The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre opened in 2008. In 2020, a framework Agreement was signed between the Nations and the Resort Municipality of Whistler, providing for collaborations on economic development, tourism and promotion of cultural awareness.

Dalilah conducts a “What We Treasure” tour of Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The building is a beautiful space with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out to the woods. I join nine others for the center’s signature tour, “What We Treasure,” which are led by cultural ambassadors who share their own stories and first-hand cultural experiences. The tour begins with an excellent 15-minute orientation film.

Our guide is Dalilah, whose Lil’wat name is T’ac T’ac , or “sweet sweet” like sweetie or sweatheart. She is a 17-year old high school student interning on her spring break. She begins by singing in her native language, “We belong to the land, the land is our people, we belong to the land.” We view artifacts and hear stories that give us a sense of the past and present way of life of the Squamish and Lil’wat peoples. 

It is fascinating to seen the differences in clothes at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As we go through the center, I am struck by how different the clothes, foods and therefore the traditions and daily habits are for these two peoples who live “where rivers and mountains meet.”  It is starkly clear how culture and lifestyle is linked to the ecology and topography of their land and the materials and resources at hand. The Squamash are coastal, the Lil’wat live on the mountain.  Culture is a manifestation of the ecosystem we inhabit – even and especially today.

It is fascinating to seen the differences in clothes at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is these traditions and lessons of living in close harmony with nature (Mother Earth), to the point of spiritual devotion, that the indigenous people impart today, all the more relevant in light of the climate disasters of a planet out of sync with nature.

The displays are less historic artifacts and more contemporary examples of the traditional arts and crafts being revived; often these are not just re-creations of centuries-old design and form, but with modern twists.

We learn how their societies were so careful to live in harmony with their environment – their canoes are made from red cedar bark, but they only harvest a precise section of the tree – hugging the tree so that there are two hand-widths.

“We make sure to only take a piece of the tree so we don’t kill it. We are connected to the cedar through the things we make with it,” notes Joy Joseph-McCullough, a Squamish weaver.

Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is an element of mythology, mysticism, handed down from the ancients, that continues to underpin their worldview, reflected in the urgency to save language, and the oral tradition, and resurrect traditional arts and crafts.

It is reflected in Joy McCullough-Joseph’s notes about the traditional Coast Salish Blanket she named “The Message.” “I twilled and twined on a Traditional Coast Salish Loom. I named my blanket, “The Message’ because the design for the blanket came to me in a dream. In my dream our Ancestors told me to weave in Mother Earth to remind us of our responsibility to the Earth. The second message is to honour and remember the sixteen families that amalgamated to form the Squamish Nation. The last message is to honour our Ancestors who were weavers.”

Another note reads “when you wear the blankets, you feel the protection of all who have been called to protect you… We feel the prayers offered by the weaver and our ancestors, when we wear the robes.”

You have to wait a year before you can weave cedar bark and it can three apprentices six months to weave a cedar mat, Dalilah tells us. “When we are sad, we don’t weave, otherwise it would transfer negative thoughts.”

Dalilah the importance of weaving at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We learn how mountain goat wool was used in Salish weaving, an ancient art form that dates back to the ice age. A mountain goat wool blanket in those times could mean the difference between surviving or succumbing to the elements. The inner wool of the mountain goat was gathered during spring molt, collected off of bushes from wool shed by the goat or from harvested animals. “It takes 5 to 10 years to collect enough for a blanket,” she tells us.

The wool was mixed with hair from a specially bred dog. Natural dyes were derived from plants, berries and clays. Intricate geometric designs reflected elements of nature and families held the rights to use those designs.

I am lucky to see a special photography exhibit on view: “Unceded – Photographic Journey into Belonging”. This temporary exhibit makes graphic the meaning of “unceded” – land that was considered stolen, taken by force, without a legal treaty. The photos show contemporary indigenous people in places like downtown Vancouver. But it is actually speaking more to the First Nations people, prodding them to see themselves in this modern world, but retaining their connection to their heritage. Unceded “doesn’t mean our people aren’t still there.”

“As urban cities, farmland, towns, and recreation parks built up around us, our Ancestors are still here, living in the blood of the people of this land. While pop culture, fashion trends and global connection are influencing how people move through society, people residing on and off reserve are living deeply in their culture, engaged socially and politically with the world around them, reviving ancient traditions, re-enforcing a stewardship that guides their climate and lands safely through the first 50 thousand years before contact.”

I have a delightful lunch at Thunderbird Café, and survey a marvelous gift shop at the center before heading off to do a bit of sightseeing on Whistler’s famous Peak 2 Peak Gondola.

Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, 4584 Blackcomb Way, Whistler, 1 866 441 SLCC (7522), https://slcc.ca/.

Peak 2 Peak Gondola

Considering how vast Whistler-Blackcomb is, it is actually surprisingly easy to get around (once I figure it out).

Whistler-Blackcomb, the site of 2010 Winter Olympics events, is a world-class ski resort and one of the biggest in North America © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I take the Blackcomb Gondola from the base of Blackcomb Mountain for the ride to the top of Blackcomb Mountain. From here it is a short walk – skirting the skiers and snowboarders – to the Peak 2 Peak Gondola which links Blackcomb Mountain to Whistler Mountain. I’m feeling jealous of the skiers but I am sightseeing today and this is an absolutely gorgeous ride. A man I ride up the Blackcomb Gondola with tells me to look for special sightseeing gondolas that have a plexiglass bottom you can look through – we sightseers stand on a separate line so we get first dibs when the car comes around.

Sightseeing on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola linking Whistler and Blackcomb mountains © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After opening on December 12, 2008, the massive gondola revolutionized the way skiers, riders and hikers experienced the mountains. The Peak 2 Peak Gondola, as part of the world’s longest continuous lift system, isn’t just to move skiers, it also gives summer guests access to Whistler Blackcomb’s high alpine for sightseeing, hiking and mountain-top dining.

The Peak 2 Peak Gondola travels a span of 2.73 miles giving sightseers and hikers a serene aerial flight showcasing flora and fauna (even black bears in their protected habitats), Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains; the Coast Mountain Range’s many glaciers and peaks; and Whistler Village, surrounded by lakes.

Sightseeing on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola linking Whistler and Blackcomb mountains © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is notable that Whistler Blackcomb (now part of Vail Resorts, which means the resort is part of the Epic Pass) is consistently ranked one of the top ski resorts in North America. With more than 8,100 acres of terrain, variety is an understatement: there are steeps, deeps, chutes, bowls, glades, long cruisers, and high alpine and gentle rollers. And the numbers speak for themselves: one vertical mile drop; two side-by-side mountains connected by a pedestrian village, more than 200 trails, three glaciers, 37 lifts, and 16 alpine bowls – all of it top quality.

Sightseeing on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola linking Whistler and Blackcomb mountains © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Even this late in the season, the snow looks great and the trails look gorgeous– plenty of easy, intermediate runs!

Riding the Peak 2 Peak Gondola is such fun and the view so beautiful, that I actually ride it back and forth and back again for an hour before downloading via Whistler Village Gondola into Skiers Plaza in Whistler Village. (Whistler Blackcomb, https://www.whistlerblackcomb.com/)

Audain Art Museum

Audain Art Museum, Whistler, is a world-class art museum with one of finest collections of indigenous masks going back to mid-1800s and British Columbia artists © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Back down in the charming village, I pass lovely shops and eateries on my way to the Audain Art Museum. Outside is the invitation to see the “Masters of Print: Rembrandt and Beyond”- a clue that this is a world-class museum. I did not expect to see Rembrandt prints at Whistler. Nor did I expect to see what is arguably the world’s finest collection of First Nations masks, dating from the mid 1800s.

Sure enough, the Audain Art Museum delivers on its promise of a transformative experience for appreciating the art of British Columbia as well as exhibitions from around Canada and around the world. It’s in this part of the world but very much of the world. It is as local as local can be but brings the reaches of the globe into this small section of it.

The Audain Art Museum’s Permanent Collection of some 200 works  – nearly all of it from the collection of Michael Audain and his wife, Yoshiko Karasawa, or purchased with their funding – is a visual journey through the history of art from coastal British Columbia.

Audain Art Museum, Whistler, showcases one of finest collections of indigenous masks going back to mid-1800s © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Audain Art Museum, Whistler, showcases one of finest collections of indigenous masks going back to mid-1800s © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Most astonishing is the room housing Audain’s collection of Northwest Coast First Nations masks. They are extraordinary because you see the individualism of the artist as well as the subject (many seem to be representations of actual people rather than mythic figures) and different techniques. I wonder if this reflects changes over time (spanning the mid 1800s to the present), regional differences and styles or perhaps just the artist’s own creativity.

Audain Art Museum, Whistler, showcases one of finest collections of indigenous masks going back to mid-1800s © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Audain Art Museum, Whistler, showcases one of finest collections of indigenous masks going back to mid-1800s © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A truly monumental piece, an exquisitely carved red cedar “Dance Screen” (2010-2013) by Haida Chief 7idansuu (James Hart) who was a friend and collaborator of Bill Reid, takes up an entire wall of this room.

James Hart’s striking ‘The Dance Screen (The Scream Too)’, 2010-2013, red cedar panel takes up an entire wall at the Audain Art Museum Collection, gift of Michael Audain and Yoshiko Karasawa © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The next room has a huge collection of a beloved British Columbia artist, Emily Carr. You see her in her Impressionist phase, when she studied in France in 1911; how she incorporated First Nations elements into her landscapes when she returned in 1912. There are also post-war modernists including E.J. Hughes, Gordon Smith and Jack Shadbolt as well as works by internationally renowned, contemporary British Columbia artists including Jeff Wall, Dana Claxton, Marianne Nicolson, Rodney Graham and Stan Douglas.

Emily Carr is a beloved British Columbia artist who studied impressionism in France, then integrated indigenous subjects into her landscapes when she returned © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Audain Art Museum, Whistler, showcases a stunning collection of Emily Carr’s work © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I’m told that Audain had never even been to Whistler before, but his friend, who designed Whistler Village in the 1980s, encouraged him that he could build a museum in Whistler which would connect to nature, where people could quietly contemplate art. They worked with award-winning architects John and Patricia Patkau. The museum opened in 2016. (Open Thursday to Monday 11am – 6pm).

It is fascinating to see traditional symbols, subjects reflected in contemporary indigenous British Columbia artists work, on view at the Audain Art Museum, Whistler © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
It is fascinating to see traditional symbols, subjects reflected in contemporary indigenous British Columbia artists work, on view at the Audain Art Museum, Whistler © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The website includes this statement:  “Audain Art Museum is grateful to be on the shared, unceded territory of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) Nation and Lil̓wat7úl (Lil’wat) Nation.”

Audain Art Museum, 4350 Blackcomb Way, Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, V8E 1N3,  [email protected]  604-962-0413, https://audainartmuseum.com/

The stunning design of the Audain Art Museum, Whistler, provides an exquisite ambiance to experience art © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I have a rushed dinner at Caramba! Restaurant (#12 4314 Main Street (Town Plaza), Whistler, BC V0N 1B0 Phone: 604.938.1879 www.carambarestaurant.com/), a fun, casual place before I get back on the Skylynx shuttle for the 7 pm departure back to Vancouver (get there early because the bus fills up), arriving back to downtown Vancouver at 9:30 pm.

Indigenous Tourism BC offers travel ideas, things to do, places to go, places to stay, and suggested itineraries and a trip planning app (https://www.indigenousbc.com/)

Next: GRANVILLE ISLAND, VANCOUVER’S NEARBY GETAWAY, IS CORNUCOPIA OF ART, CULTURE

See also: 

ON THE TRAIL TO DISCOVER VANCOUVER’S REVIVED INDIGENOUS HERITAGE

WALKING TOURS, DINING EXPERIENCES REVEAL VANCOUVER’S REVIVED INDIGENOUS HERITAGE

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© 2023 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/KarenBRubin 

On the Trail to Discover Vancouver’s Revived Indigenous Heritage

The view from the seawall at Stanley Park across Burrard Inlet to West Vancouver, where indigenous peoples had lived for thousands of years taking advantage of rich fishing and hunting before being forced out of land considered “unceded.” Expression of indigenous culture was banned in Canada for more than 100 years © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Who could have imagined such an immersive experience into British Columbia’s indigenous culture revival in the heart of a bustling, modern metropolis like Vancouver?

I come to Vancouver intent to see how indigenous heritage culture is being resurrected, revived, and coming to the forefront of national consciousness and respect.

My trip is very much a voyage of discovery, in so many ways so surprising, illuminating and enriching, especially once I am sensitized to look.

My itinerary is arranged by Indigenous Tourism BC, one of Canada’s oldest (at 25 years) provincial entities to promote the economic and social benefits tourism brings to revive and sustain a heritage that had been relegated to shadows.

These efforts have accelerated after Canada signed its historic Truth and Reconciliation Act, in 2014, acknowledging the harm of 140 federally run residential schools that operated from 1867 up until 1996, and other laws, like the Indian Act, banning the practice of indigenous culture that amounted to cultural genocide.

It was only in 1951 that amendments to the Indian Act removed restrictions on rituals, customs and culture. Canada’s indigenous peoples – who account for five percent of the population – could not vote until the 1960s.

Skwachays Lodge, Canada’s First Aboriginal Art Hotel

Skwachays Lodge, Canada’s first aboriginal art hotel, affords the nearest thing to staying in a First Nations community you might find in a major modern city © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My voyage of discovery starts as soon as I check in to my hotel, Skwachays Lodge, the nearest thing to staying in a First Nations community you might find in a major modern city.

Skwachays Lodge, Canada’s first aboriginal art hotel, opened in 2012 as a social enterprise that turned a derelict building into a boutique hotel combined with an artist-in-residence program supporting indigenous artists with housing and studio space.

Skwachays Lodge, a social enterprise, provides housing and studio space for 24 indigenous artists © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Even though it is late, Rick, the night manager, is eager to show me around to the art studios and introduces me to two of the 24 artists in residence who live for up to three-years in apartments on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floors. The hotel also has a gallery and a superb shop.

The 18 guest rooms and suites, which occupy the 5th and 6th floors, have been individually designed by six indigenous artists – there is the Water Room (502), the Sea Kingdom Suite, Northern Lights Room, Forest Spirits Room, Earth Room, King Salmon Suite.

The gold-painted ceiling in the Moon Room. Each of the 18 Skwachays Lodge rooms and suites has been designed by an indigenous artist © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mine is the Moon Room (505), designed by Sabina Hill and Mark Preston, equipped with a kitchenette, desk/workspace, and a giant round bed on a platform. The ceiling is decorated with the moon’s radiance in gold, and the wall, in gold calligraphy, tells the legend of the trickster god Raven who stole the sun, the moon and the stars, and released them into the sky. “Delivered to its heavenly perch by the daring Raven, the Golden Moon watches over the world below.” It’s almost like finding yourself in a painting, in the story.

The gallery and shop at Skwachays Lodge © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The hotel also offers opportunities to do a Sweat Lodge ceremony in the rooftop garden; a Smudging Ceremony in the traditional Smudge Room; as well as studio visits with the artists in residence. Its Kayachtn (“Welcome”) room, where breakfast is served, also provides a traditional community gathering place as well as a gallery.

Atop the hotel is a totem, a marvelous counterpoint to the arch that marks the entrance to Vancouver’s Chinatown, a half-block away.

The Kayachtn (“Welcome”) room at Skwachays Lodge, where breakfast is served, also provides a traditional community gathering place © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It should be noted that the hotel is one block over from East Hastings, considered Canada’s “Bowery” – but I had no problem walking everywhere, including to the marvelous Gastown district – the historic district offering boutique shopping and dining famous for its gas-spewing clock – just 10 minutes walk away. Actually, I was able to walk everywhere.

Skwàchays Lodge 31 W Pender St Vancouver, BC V6B 1R3 604.687.3589, 1 888 998 0797, [email protected], https://skwachays.com/.

Bill Reid Gallery

My first morning, after a marvelous breakfast (served 8-10 am in the Kayachtn “Welcome” room), I walk over to the Bill Reid Gallery, which is just around a corner from the Vancouver Art Gallery and the historic, grand Fairmont Hotel.  

The Bill Reid Gallery opened in 2008 to celebrate Haida cultural heritage, diverse living artists of the Northwest Coast, and the life and work of master artist Bill Reid (1920-1998). Reid arguably was responsible for bringing indigenous art from the shadows (after having been suppressed for 150 years) into the national consciousness, awareness and respect.

The Bill Reid Gallery celebrates Haida cultural heritage, diverse living artists of the Northwest Coast, and the life and work of master artist Bill Reid © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bill Reid, I learn, is a national treasure. Two of Reid’s most popular works depict a canoe filled with human and animal figures: one black, “The Spirit of Haida Gwaii,” is at the Canadian Embassy, Washington, D.C.; and one green, “The Jade Canoe,” is at Vancouver International Airport (and was featured on the Canadian $20 bill).

Here at the gallery, you not only trace his own artistic evolution and self-discovery, but see his most famous works, including “Mythic Messengers” (1984), a multi-ton, 8.5 meter long frieze referencing folk stories that is the gallery’s piece de resistance.

Bill Reid’sMythic Messengers” (1984), a multi-ton, 8.5 meter long frieze referencing folk stories,  is the gallery’s piece de resistance © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is an artist’s proof in white onyx of another famous work, “Raven and First Men” that depicts the Haida creation myth – how the Raven discovers a massive clamshell on the beach with humans protruding from it and coaxes the humans out, unleashing civilization. (The full-sized, cedar wood version is at the Museum of Anthropology on the University of British Columbia campus; Reid depicted this myth in many forms and sizes throughout his career.)

Another famous Bill Reid work, “Raven and First Men” that depicts the Haida creation myth, in white onyx © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bill Reid, probably more than anyone, is responsible for resurrecting indigenous art, raising awareness, appreciation and respect, and bringing this heritage that had so long been subject to cultural genocide, into Canada’s cultural mainstream. His story is remarkable and I soon come to appreciate why he was uniquely able to achieve this.

Bill Reid represented “Raven and First Men” myth in many versions and genres © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As I look at a miniature (I mean really tiny) tea set that Reid carved from chalk in 1932 when he was 12, my guide, Wayne Louie, explains that Reid’s father was of German-Scottish descent and his mother was born to the Haida nation. She was part of the residential school system which took First Nations children from their families and put them in prison-like boarding schools designed to “kill the Indian inside the man” (as I learned at the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum in Banff).

“His mother didn’t reveal her ancestral roots – that was the effect of residential schools, aimed to culturally cleanse the indigenous side,” Louie tells me. “He didn’t discover his ancestral roots until his teens.”

He began exploring his Haida roots at the age of 23. He visited grandparents and slowly and deliberately rediscovered and incorporated his heritage into his art. This journey of discovery lasted a lifetime and shaped Reid’s artistic career.

Glass artist John Nutter, whose studio is the site of Bill Reid’s studio on Granville Island, shows a $20 bill featuring Bill Reid’s famous “The Spirit of Haida Gwaii” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Reid became a pivotal force in building bridges between Indigenous people and other peoples. Through his mother, he was a member of the Raven clan from T’aanuu with the wolf as one of his family crests. In 1986, Reid was presented with the Haida name Yaahl Sgwansung, meaning The Only Raven. Many of his works incorporate the raven.

“Reid’s quest for understanding the essence and the roots of a unique art form led him to discover his own ‘Haidaness’ and, in the process, restored much of the dynamic power, magic, and possibility to the art. In doing so he became the catalyst to empower a whole Nation,” the gallery notes say.

Reid’s story also shows how an artistic spirit cannot be suppressed. Even later in his life, when he contracted Parkinson’s, he created wire sculptures, some of which are on view –art is irrepressible, it must be expressed.

Bill Reid carved this tiny tea set out of blackboard chalk when he was 12 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Somewhere along the line, I developed a unique art: blackboard chalk carving,” he reflected in 1982. “I started it in school because I was very bored. Round chalk was such a fine medium that I made little tea sets, cup and saucers, and finished them with nail polish…It showed me I could do fine work. The first totem pole I ever made was out of blackboard chalk.”

But the reason he was able to spur a renaissance in indigenous art is that Reid had become a popular CBC announcer with a national audience. He got his first job in radio in 1939 and became a radio broadcaster for the CBC in Toronto in 1948. As a CBC announcer he had a platform, was known and accepted, and connected to more people.  I imagine promoting his indigenous identity was almost like “coming out.”

Bill Reid was perhaps uniquely positioned to revive indigenous art and bring it into mainstream of Canadian culture because of his celebrity as a CBC broadcaster © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

His interest in making art had already been ignited. In 1943, he made his first visit to the Haida Gaiia since his early childhood. “He was a goldsmith at heart and hoped to build a career focused on modernist jewelry,” the notes say. “He was fascinated by the simple engravings his grandfather made and bracelets by John Cross his aunts wore. When he later saw the deeply carved bracelets by his great, great uncle Charles Edenshaw, he said, ‘Life was not the same after that’.”

Bill Reid was a goldsmith who incorporated French repousse technique to gold bracelets with traditional Haida elements he learned from his relatives © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

He set up a studio in his basement, and then on Granville Island (which I later come upon almost by accident). He combined traditional Haida forms and figures with contemporary innovations, notably the European technique of repousse – pushing the metal out from behind, to bring a three-dimensional quality to his Haida-inspired work.

“Well, I don’t consider myself Haida or non-Haida or white or non-white,” Reid wrote. “I am a citizen of the West Coast of North America and I have availed myself of all the inheritance I got from all directions.”

Bill Reid infused Haida traditions with his own modernist aesthetic to create both exquisite small as well as monumental works that captured the public’s imagination.

“Reid was biracial,” Louie tells me. “He had to learn who he was – observe art of his ancestors, reinterpreted into his art. He started with jewelry, small pieces, then large, monumental works.”

Reid was in the vanguard of the revival of indigenous art, Louie tells me. “During the time these pieces created no other indigenous artist was doing this – now there are many.”

Throughout Reid’s life, he encouraged young artists as he was encouraged, and that is reflected in this gallery, which features exhibits of a dozen contemporary artists.

James Hart’s totem pole is the centerpiece of the Bill Reid Gallery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The centerpiece of the gallery is a full-scale totem pole carved by James Hart of Haida Gwaii, featuring the Wasgo (Haida Sea-Wolf).

What strikes me as interesting is how some of the artists seem intent on reproducing the traditional symbols and techniques (like weaving), while others veer off into modern forms, like graffiti. But when you think about it, for these First Nations artists who live on lands that were never officially ceded to Canada (there was never a treaty so technically, according to Canadian law, the land is illegally occupied), the essence of street art is a form of rebellion, a means for people who feel displaced and disempowered to mark territory and establish identity, so it seems like a very appropriate form.

“Raven Who Kept Walking” (2021) by Corey Bulpitt, one of the contemporary British Columbia indigenous artists  on exhibit at the Bill Reid Gallery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Monthly workshops, artist talks; guided tours are offered June-August. There is an excellent shop. Summer hours, open daily 10-5.

Bill Reid Gallery, 639 Hornby St, Vancouver 604-682-3455, https://www.billreidgallery.ca/, [email protected]

Indigenous Tourism BC offers travel ideas, things to do, places to go, places to stay, and suggested itineraries and a trip planning app (https://www.indigenousbc.com/)

Next: Walking Tours, Dining Experiences Reveal Vancouver’s Revived Indigenous Heritage

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© 2023 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/KarenBRubin 

Pioneering Spirit Still Inspires Visitors to Banff, Canada

Banff, Canada’s first municipality set within a national park, has lured pioneers, adventurers, entrepreneurs and free spirits © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The spirits of the founders, pioneers and entrepreneurs are everywhere in Banff, which, for a small town within an immense national park (Canada’s most visited) continue to inspire the 4.5 million who come each year with their rich heritage, cultural legacy, and heady exhilaration of the Rocky Mountains.

We find their presence ever-present – at the Mount Royal Hotel, one of the oldest in Banff; at the Cave & Basin historic site (the hot springs that started it all); at the Whyte Museum and the Moore House; at a museum that tells the story of Banff National Park (Canada’s first national park and one of the oldest in the world); atop the Banff Gondola, the old Trading Post (which I remember visiting decades ago), the Open-Top Sightseeing tour in custom-designed vintage automobile, and most spectacularly, the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum.

I love that all around the Sky Bistro on the summit of Sulphur Mountain are poster-sized photos of Banff’s pioneers and founders, many who are already familiar from our Open-Top sightseeing tour, the Whyte Museum, and the historic markers about town: There are the Brewster brothers, Norman Luxton, and the colorful park warden, Bill Peyto, who toted a live lynx into a bar. There are the indomitable, liberated women like Pearl Brewster, who manifested the frontier, mountaineering spirit; Caroline Hinman, who came from New Jersey to organize Off the Beaten Track pack trips; and Lizzie Rummel, who, born to a German aristocratic family, came to the Rockies in 1914 and ran back country lodges.

Jim Brewster, who with his brother, Bill, as boys, started a guide service for guests of the Banff Springs Hotel, later expanded to a massive sightseeing and hospitality company © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Cave and Basin

The visit to Cave and Basin is like going back to the origin story for Banff – it is the very reason Banff developed and why Canada’s first national park was established here, though this area had been a special place for First Nations peoples for 10,000 years. Modern Banff was born here, at Cave & Basin historic site.

“… like some fantastic dream from a tale of the Arabian Nights,” is how William McCardell described the mist-filled cave on the slopes of Sulphur Mountain when he, his brother Tom, and their partner Frank McCabe, three railway workers who stayed behind, first spotted the venting steam in the fall of 1883.

Ranger Amar Athwal relates the origin story of Cave & Basin, Canada’s first national site which became Banff National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

They immediately saw the profit potential, fenced it off, built a small log cabin at the entrance (they called it “the hotel”) and put in a claim for a land grant. But the Canadian government, in financial straits from building the transcontinental railroad, also saw the potential (the popularity of thermal springs in Arkansas and Yellowstone was already known). The government paid them off with $900 and, in 1885, set aside 10 square miles around the thermal springs.  In 1887, Prime Minister John A. McDonald declared the land protected for all Canadians and named George Stewart, park superintendent.

Canadian Pacific’s visionary executive director, William Cornelius Van Horne, built and opened the Banff Springs Hotel in 1888 with 250 rooms, and invited writers and artists to come to promote the destination.

At the Cave and Basin (the cave has an interior thermal pool and the basin has an outdoor thermal pool), people paid 5c to enjoy bathing, one sex at a time – ladies in the cave when men were in the basin, and visa versa.

A 30-minute guided tour takes us into the cave (surprisingly small) and the basin (where we get to see the tiny, endangered Banff Springs snail that only exists here), and tour the 1914 Bathing Pavilion.

Our guide, Ranger Amar Athwal, tells us that 500 generations of indigenous people gathered here at the hot springs before the first Europeans ever arrived; one of the oldest artifacts found in the area is a bison skull from 8500 years ago, bearing wounds inflicted by humans.

The Europeans first came in a quest to find a route to Asia and then to trap beaver (nearly to extinction, before silkworms were used to make hats). And then the transcontinental railroad came through, to unite the fledgling country.

The cave of thermal springs which has drawn visitors for thousands of years © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The natural springs, mysteriously hot even in winter and supporting plants and life that did not exist anywhere else, were regarded as a spiritual place of healing, and where different tribes gathered to hold ceremonies in peace here. (When the park was created, the native communities were pushed out.)

The natural springs are a unique ecosystem, Athwal tells us. The water flows year-round despite the fact that temps can go as low as minus 41 degrees in winter in Banff. Here, the water stays 92-100 F so plants grow here, animals like the garter snake live here, and the Basin harbors a tiny snail that is unique to these Banff thermal springs (which we get to see).

The Basin creates a unique ecosystem, harboring a unique species of Banff Springs snail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The smell comes from the bacteria that takes in the sulphur particles and gives off gas – in high concentrations, it would be fatal. The waters smell differently, even within this place, depending upon what chemicals the bacteria is feeding on.

The waters were regarded as healing by the indigenous peoples as well as the settlers – entrepreneurs would sell bottles of the water, like snake oil.

The Basin creates a unique ecosystem, harboring a unique species of Banff Springs snail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Germans, Austrians, Hungarians and Ukrainians who were recruited as mountain guides and to build the railway with a promise of land, were interred here when World War I broke out, fearing “enemies within,” from 1914 to 1920. They were used as labor and built this gorgeous bath house and outdoor pool. Only recently did Canada issue an official apology and provide funding to create a memorial exhibit here, which opened in 2013.

Entrepreneurs capitalized on Banff’s thermal springs© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can also stroll the thermal water boardwalks (the best bird watching in Banff National Park) and hike trails around the Cave and Basin (https://parks.canada.ca/lhn-nhs/ab/caveandbasin).

Whyte Museum

The Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies is a historical museum, art gallery, and archives that celebrates the lively history, heritage and people of the Rocky Mountains.

The museum was founded in 1968 by Peter and Catherine Whyte who were artists and philanthropists. Peter Whyte’s father, Dave, came out with the railroad and started a grocery store. Peter grew up here and built a compound with their home and other cabins.

One of the original Brewster open-top vehicles is on view at th e Whyte Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Whyte Museum offers four galleries, including a heritage Gallery. It is a marvelous display, where we see an actual open-top vehicle the Brewsters designed, fantastic photos (including them driving the King and Queen of England in 1939), so that you feel you are literally walking through history.

But my favorite part of visiting the Whyte Museum is the visit to the Moore House, which is on the museum’s property.

Pearl Brewster Moore’s 1907 cottage is now part of the Whyte Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The cottage belonged to Pearl Brewster Moore, who was Jim and Tom Brewster’s sister (born 1889, she was the only girl among seven children). The cottage dates from 1907 when she married Philip Moore, a Princeton graduate from New Jersey who came to Banff as a guide), and contains the couple’s own furnishings, so is a window into their lives and the times – their sheet music on the piano, their books, a stunning Chippendale dining set from Philip’s New Jersey family.

Philip Moore’s family Chippendale dining room set © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Moore’s furnishings and artifacts are fascinating insight into their lives and times © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“She had 6 brothers – that shaped who she was: a horsewoman, she hunted, played hockey,” our guide tells us. “Pearl led trail rides. Her parents sent her to two finishing schools – she was sent home from both. When Pearl passed away in 1973, the obituary called her ‘one of the best horsewomen,’ and she was remembered for her forthright opinions she was not afraid to express.”

Pearl Brewster and Philip Moore were made honorary members of the Stoney Nakota tribe © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Indigenous artifacts that were presented to Pearl Brewster Moore, who would judge beadwork competitions © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You get to see the Moores’ many indigenous artifacts. The couple had close ties with the Stoney Nakota and were made honorary members of the tribe. Pearl regularly judged their beadwork competitions. And I note a book on Indian sign language in the book case (Philip majored in history and English at Princeton).

The Moore’s furnishings and artifacts are fascinating insight into their lives and times © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

They had one child, Edmee, born 1908, who sadly pre-deceased Pearl. Her husband, Philip died in 1971. That same year, Pearl bequeathed the house and contents to the Whyte Museum and had it moved from its original location on Fox Street (there is a hotel there now) to the Whyte Museum grounds where she lived until her death just two years later, in 1973.

The Whyte Museum is a treasure trove of history, heritage, and culture © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Whyte Museum also houses important archives, especially of mountaineering (it holds the Alpine Club of Canada’s archive that spans 50 meters of shelves), the Banff National Park history, Crag & Canyon newspapers (Norman Luxton’s newspaper) going back to 1900. You can actually consult the card catalog with typed entries (who remembers those?), as well as digital catalogs (www.whyte.org).

A glimpse into the archives housed at the Whyte Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We pick up sandwiches from the café at the Elk & Avenue hotel, and set out to picnic at Lake Minnewanka (the name means “Spirit Water”). There is still snow and the lake is still frozen enough for us to walk on (someone has started to build an igloo and another couple is posing for wedding photos). It is a delightful place that is especially popular in summer – hiking trails, boating and scenic cruises from the marina (also operated by Pursuit Collection which has the snack shop).

Lake Minnewanka, still frozen over, becomes a summer destination for lake cruises, boat rentals, hiking, excursions started by Norman Luxton and now part of Pursuit Collection © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Blackfoot Nations Luxton Museum

I go off on my own to explore, and come to the Blackfoot Nations Luxton Museum, next to the Trading Post which Luxton started.

Visiting the Blackfoot Nation Luxton Museum fills in that 10,000-year gap before the railroad workers discovered the hot springs.

Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum houses Norman Luxton’s fabulous collection in a log re-creation of a Hudson Bay trading post © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is an astonishingly excellent museum that takes a bit of patience and focus to really appreciate. But once you spend a little time, you are overwhelmed by what is on view. It has the feeling of visiting a private collection (it was the collection of Norman Luxton), even with a comfy sofa where you can sit to watch a series of fascinating videos.

There is a feeling of informality and personal engagement. The notes that are provided actually give a more direct and different perspective than other indigenous museums I have visited.

The Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum is dedicated to the appreciation, interpretation, demonstration and display of the cultures, traditions, and values of the First Nations of North America © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You see realistic manikins in indigenous dress, surrounded by artifacts in settings staged to put you in the scene –a meeting in a teepee, a gathering around a fire.

There are fabulous historic photographs often placed adjacent to the artifact. So right beside a beaded leather baby carrier is a black-and-white photo of a woman with that carrier (with baby) on her back.

The Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum exhibits often pair the artifacts with historic photos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You learn that horses, introduced in the 1700s “gave more time for war, religion, craftsmanship….[because they] saved time for hunting, traveling” (and probably was like a major new weapon for battle, like a tank, changing the battlefield.)

I sit myself in a comfortable sofa and watch a video about the residential schools that First Nations children were forced away from their family to attend, and a group’s activism to recover the heritage that had been stolen from them. It takes you into the vacant, dilapidated building, like a prison, that would have been their residential school.

 “Their idea was to kill the Indian in the man, but both were killed…Treaties broken over and over – not just money, but trust,” that narrator says.  “The schools were like jail. You would be punished if you couldn’t find a shoe. You became Christian for survival…the biggest defiance is who I am now.”

Several tribes – the Nahota, Blackfoot and Cree – and the Wildlife Conservation Society are featured in the video signing a Repatriation Treaty to bring back the buffalo.

The museum feels personal because it is founded on the personal collection of Norman Luxton, one of Banff’s pioneering founders, who, the more I learn about him, the more I admire him. He seems to have been a mix of P.T. Barnum, Wild Bill Hickok, William Hearst, and Thor Heyerdahl, and I can’t get enough of his story, especially as I explore Banff.

Norman Luxton earned the nickname “Mr. Banff” for all he created © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I love this man. When he was in his 20s, he sailed around the world in a 100-year old, 30-foot long dugout canoe with an eccentric sea captain, going as far as Tahiti, Samoa and Fiji. He was a newspaper man who took over and saved the Crag & Canyon, still published today, built Banff’s first all-season hotel, filling it with the latest technology (gramophone!); opened its first cinema (one of first to screen talkies and Technicolor, still operating today).

The “Fiji Merman” which Norman Luxton used to draw tourists into his Trading Post © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Luxton promoted trade and economic development of the Indigenous peoples, opening the Trading Post (a combination curio shop featuring indigenous crafts and taxidermy shop), promoting it with a bear (“Teddy”) that tourists were encouraged to feed chocolate they purchased at the shop and, P.T. Barnum-like with a “Fiji Merman”.  

Luxton, who earned the nickname, “Mr. Banff” for all he did to develop and promote Banff,   began the Winter Carnival events in 1917 that helped turn Banff into a snow-sports destination and from 1909-1950, organized the Banff Indian Days, an annual weekend event that brought locals, tourists and First Nations peoples together. And finally, he turned his amazing collection of First Nations artifacts into a museum. (https://banff.ca/1135/Norman-K-Luxton)

Norman Luxton’s Trading Post, still operating today, offering quality First Nations crafts © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Throughout his life, going back to when he was 21 and delivering treaty payments to tribes, Luxton displayed his respect for the indigenous people, and not only helped save their heritage, their culture but provided a proper platform and visibility, when indigenous art and culture was made illegal, invisible, with a goal of eradicating the culture – and the people – altogether.   

The Luxton Museum of the Plains Indian opened in June 1953, now the Buffalo Nations Museum. Built of logs to resemble a Hudson’s Bay Trading Post, the museum allowed Luxton “to share and preserve his extensive collection of Indigenous artifacts and cultural items, providing a better understanding of and appreciation for local First Nations peoples and cultures for locals and visitors alike.” (see www.luxtonfoundation.org).

The Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum seeks to show how the people of this land lived and adapted to their surroundings and each other prior to contact with European culture, and how they continued to adapt after European influences © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum is dedicated to the appreciation, interpretation, demonstration and display of the cultures, traditions, and values of the First Nations of North America and their trading partners. The museum seeks to show how the people of this land lived and adapted to their surroundings and each other prior to contact with European culture, and how they continued to adapt after European influences.” (https://www.buffalonationsmuseum.com/content/museum).

A Town That Cherishes its History

Befitting a town built on tourism, they really know how to cater to visitors – there are wonderful signs, markers, historic plaques (there are 48) and descriptions (there are 179 sites listed on its Inventory of Historic Resources including 25 Landmarks and Legends, which can be accessed on its Heritage Finder website, https://banff.ca/113/History-and-Heritage ) that immerse you in their stories.

Dave White Block, 1894-1913 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of Banff Avenue’s first merchants was David White who arrived in Banff in 1885 and became a railway section foreman. He stayed on and in 1894 opened a general store on this site. In 1908, a brick building replaced the “boomtown’ Park Store. Renovated in 1996, the Dave White Block is the oldest remaining commercial building on Banff Avenue.

There is a Hudson Bay Company store that is only now closing (incorporated 1670, and responsible for European settlement of these western territories).

The Rocky Mountains almost flow into Banff’s streetscape © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I stop at a marker in front of the Elk Lodge, which I learn began “life” as The Browne Residence in 1921, the home of American hunter and wildlife artist Belmore Browne born 1880 in New York City. In 1912, he accompanied one of the first parties to attempt Mt. Mckinley in Alaska and came within 125 feet of the summit, a North American climbing record. Browne arrived in Banff in 1921 and purchased a single room log cabin on this site, later adding an artist’s studio. It served as a summer studio and home from 1921 to 1946, from which he painted many of the illustrations for the Canadian Pacific Railway literature, in exchange for transport to the east coast. Margaret Aldhelm White purchased the property in 1947, added and transformed it into the Elkhorn Lodge, one of Banff’s oldest guest lodges still operating today. “This Lodge is a good example of the adaptation and reuse of older buildings.”

In fact, The Town of Banff was only incorporated as a municipality in 1990 – the first municipality in Canada to be incorporated inside a national park. (The only other national park community in Canada is the Municipality of Jasper, in Jasper National Park, incorporated in 2001.)

The tranquility of Banff, enjoyed by locals and visitors alike © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I delight in wandering Banff, which though very compact and walkable, has all these marvelous trails and paths – my favorite on both sides following the river (actual hiking trails were still too icy during our visit), and bring you to the Bow Falls.

Bow Falls reached along a delightful riverside path. Marilyn Monroe was filmed going over the falls © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

People came out here, settled here to be adventurous, to test their mettle climbing mountains, riding horses, hunting, to be free of the constraints of urban “civilized” society. So many of the pioneers and founders and entrepreneurs we encounter – women included – came from New York, New Jersey, and Europe. Visitors today – the 4.5 million who come to Banff National Park in a year – seek the same sense of adventure.

You can find Pursuit Collection’s services and attractions at https://www.pursuitcollection.com/; to book Pursuit Collection’s Banff and Jasper experiences, https://www.banffjaspercollection.com/.

See also:

PURSUIT COLLECTION CELEBRATES A CENTURY OF TOURISM ENTERPRISE IN BANFF

PURSUIT COLLECTION OFFERS FEAST FOR SENSES AND THE SOUL IN BANFF, CANADA

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© 2023 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/KarenBRubin 

American Museum of Natural History’s New Gilder Center is LightYears Forward in Immersing, Engaging Understanding of the Secrets of Life

“Invisible Worlds” at the American Museum of Natural History’s new Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation puts you inside the body’s nerve system © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

As I walk through a corridor lined with interactive displays on my way into seeing “Invisible Worlds” in the American Museum of Natural History’s new Gilder Center for Science, Education, Innovation, these are the lessons I learn:

All life is related through DNA.

All life is connected with an ecosystem.

All life is connected through food nets – the sun’s energy is in every bite.

Life requires energy.

All of life’s dramas play out in ecosystems as individuals cooperate and compete to survive.

In Nature, nothing exists alone.

And as you go through the iconic American Museum of Natural History, and especially the newly opened Gilder Center, what strikes you is this:  the differences among all living creatures are intriguing but the similarities are even more edifying.

The new Gilder Center which opened in May, goes further than anything before in this iconic institution to engage, immerse, create interactions that make the transfer of knowledge, the act of active learning, the probing and understanding of the Secrets of Life absolutely thrilling.

The presentations are genius in the way they appeal to all ages and levels of understanding. From the dramatic architecture and physical space, to the state-of-the-art delivery to maximize immersion and engagement, to how smartly complex ideas are presented in simple terms without pandering, getting down to the essence, then inviting you to go deeper as you choose.

Why do we study? Why do we collect? What do we learn? These are some of the questions posed as you peer into the innovative displays of the Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. Collections Core, an innovation of the new Gilder Center © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For the first time, we have access to see so much more of the Museum’s collections with the innovative displays of the Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. Collections Core, posing these basic questions:

Why do we study? Why do we collect? What do we learn? Why is it important? What can New York rocks tell us about the history of our continent? What can we learn from a pot? What can a footprint tell us that fossilized dinosaur bones cannot?

I watch as people are transfixed gazing into the spectacular displays, featuring more than 3,000 objects on three levels, representing every area of the Museum’s collections: vertebrate and invertebrate zoology, paleontology, geology, anthropology, and archaeology, with materials ranging from dinosaur tracks to astronomical instruments, and from antlers to pottery.

Why do we study? Why do we collect? What do we learn? These are some of the questions posed as you peer into the innovative displays of the Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. Collections Core, an innovation of the new Gilder Center © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A series of digital exhibits feature stories about how scientists analyze various types of collections and introduce Museum researchers, while the glass-paneled exhibits, including those in the Macaulay Family Foundation Collection Galleries on the first and second floors, let us glimpse into working collections areas situated behind the displays. Together with the collections stored in the new Lepidoptera facility, which is also visible to visitors (located next to the Collections Core on the second floor), the Gilder Center houses more than 4 million scientific specimens

The “pre-show” to “Invisible Worlds” makes these points: All life on earth is related. All life is connected. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Gilder Center is where you can see the astounding “Invisible Worlds,” an extraordinary 360-degree immersive science-and-art experience that represents the next generation in scientific visualization with interactive, immersive elements, stunning photography, graphics, sound and narration. It is visually exciting (you are flushed with the lights, the floor reacts to your movements) – highly instagrammable as you are bathed in color and pattern.

“Invisible Worlds” at the American Museum of Natural History’s new Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation puts you inside the body’s nerve system © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As you walk into “Invisible Worlds” (clever in that it is on a repeating 12-minute loop so you flow in and out on your own time, and don’t have to wait for start times and audiences to empty and fill an auditorium – I watched it twice), you first go through the Susan S. and Kenneth L. Wallach Gallery, where you engage at stations that pose questions you get to choose an answer and learn from the correct answer. (This requires a separate admission ticket.) They make learning so incredibly exciting – I am even fascinated to review the list of acknowledgements of the scientists and institutions that contributed to creating “Invisible Worlds” posted as you exit. The experience was designed by the Berlin-based Tamschick Media+Space with the Seville-based Boris Micka Associates, who worked closely with data visualization specialists and scientists from the Museum and researchers from around the world.

Find yourself in the Pacific Peoples’ exhibit, where you can see an Easter Island Moai ancestor statue © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 230,000-square-foot $465 million, seven-story Gilder Center is brilliantly situated to create 33 connections among 10 Museum buildings, linking the entire campus. I go through one hall and find myself among Pacific Peoples (the Moai ancestor statue from Rapa Nui, better known as Easter Island, is a BIG hit). Through another doorway and into the Hall of Vertebrate Origins (how fossils explain evolution and show a family tree of life of who we are related to full of surprises).

Take a turn from the Gilder Center and find yourself in the Pacific Peoples’ exhibit, © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On the main floor, I find myself walking through an incomparable photo exhibit of mural-sized insects that are endangered or near instinct (photographer Levon Biss, took 1000 images of insects from AMNH’s collection under a microscope to achieve such extraordinary detail) with fascinating descriptions about the animals, then, go down a ramp into the Big Bang (I still can’t wrap my head around the concept that from the size of an atom, the universe burst out within seconds). From here, I walk along the ramp, where every step is 450 million years, through 13 billion years of the formation of the universe, expanding, expanding, expanding; then find myself in the Hall of Earth (still can’t fathom how the moon was formed in just 24 hours), then back in the Gilder Center in the new Insectarium, where you can conduct an insect orchestra, go inside a bee hive, and, as I find myself doing, watch two gigantic grasshoppers mating (fascinating).

My goodness! Witnesses two grasshoppers mating in the Gilder Center’s new insectorium© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Pay attention to insects. Many pollinate plants. Some recycle plants and animal matter into the soil. They are food for countless other things – and even on another, often keeping pest populations in check. Whether beetles, bees or butterflies, insects help natural ecosystems stay healthy.”

For someone who doesn’t (didn’t) particularly care for insects, I have never been so delighted and fascinated to be amid them. The displays are INCREDIBLE.

The display of ants, coming from their nests, each hauling their leaf, traveling, down, up, across metal tubes above the walkway, then down and through a huge enclosure, then up, down, up, down a series of tubes – they work hard!

In the Gilder Center insectariums, follow ants from their nest on one wall, through a bridge above the walkway, and down into a huge tank, up and down tubes to appreciate their work ethic © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The key message: insects are not “pests” but vital as the basis of the ecosystem that sustains all life.

Altogether, the exhibits show these critical themes: all life is connected. All life is related. There are very real threats to survival, to extinction and when you go through the Dinosaur exhibits, you appreciate just how real that is. The notion of extinction also becomes very real when you go through another favorite section, the Hall of Human Evolution (check out how many hominid species have already gone extinct before we homo sapiens came to be dominant).

People of all ages are engaged by the various exhibits and interactive displays in the new Gilder Center at the American Museum of Natural History © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I love the reaction of the children, from the youngest toddlers, to the various experiences. And couples on a date (this is very date-worthy place).

The Gilder Center also houses a now-permanent Butterfly Vivarium (separate ticket required).  The year-round, 2,500-square-foot Davis Family Butterfly Vivarium is where you can mingle with up to 1,000 free-flying butterflies  (as many as 80 species) in various micro-environments along a meandering route. The Vivarium let’s you closely observe one of nature’s vital environmental barometers as well as a view into the pupae incubator, where you can learn about the butterfly life cycle and observe chrysalises (perhaps even see a butterfly emerge!). Staff also helps you view butterflies through a digital microscope.

The imaginative architecture of the new Gilder Center at the American Museum of Natural History sets the tone for the experience that awaits within © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 230,000-square-foot $465 million, seven-story Gilder Center creates 33 connections among 10 Museum buildings to link the entire campus, with a new entrance on the Museum’s west side, at Columbus Avenue and 79th Street from the Theodore Roosevelt Park.

The Gilder Center’s undulating façade, with its inviting expanses of bird-safe fritted glass, is clad in Milford pink granite, the same stone used on the Central Park West entrance. The diagonal pattern of the stone panels evokes both the phenomenon of geological layering and the design of the richly textured, coursing surface of the masonry on the Museum’s 77th Street side.

The imaginative architecture of the new Gilder Center at the American Museum of Natural History sets the tone for the experience that awaits within © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Gilder Center architecture – it was designed by Studio Gang, the international architecture and urban design practice led by Jeanne Gang – evokes the habitats of its subjects. Is this what an ant’s habitat would be like? Or where our cave dwelling ancestors would live? The shapes, patterns are so exciting, it invites instagrammable photos and selfies, as we saw. And so do the exhibits, especially Invisible Worlds, where the lights, lines, shapes wash over you and the entire room, getting everyone snapping and clicking.

The Gilder Center’s exciting design invites photos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Upon entering the Gilder Center, you find yourself in the five-story Kenneth C. Griffin Exploration Atrium, a grand space illuminated with natural light admitted through large-scale skylights. The building’s design is informed by the ways in which wind and water carve out landscapes that are exciting to explore, as well as the forms that hot water etches in blocks of ice.

The Gilder Center’s exciting design invites photos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The texture, color, and flowing forms of the Griffin Atrium were inspired by canyons in the southwestern U.S. and animate the Gilder Center’s grand entrance, evoking awe, excitement, and discovery. Its striking structure was created by spraying concrete directly onto rebar without traditional formwork in a technique known as “shotcrete,” invented in the early 1900s by Museum naturalist and taxidermy artist Carl Akeley. The bridges and openings in the hand-finished shotcrete connect visitors physically and visually to multiple levels housing new exhibition galleries, designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates with the Museum’s Exhibition Department, education spaces, and collections facilities, creating welcoming sightlines that encourage movement into and throughout the building. The verticality of the Griffin Atrium also acts as a key sustainability feature, providing natural light and air circulation to the heart of the building’s interior.

The grand staircase in the Gilder Center’s atrium © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A broad, grand staircase on the east side of the Griffin Atrium, on axis with the entrance, is designed with one side as seating steps, featuring deep, walnut-covered treads and high risers that is popular for visitors to gather for rest and conversation and programs.

You are invited to visit the Museum’s David S. and Ruth L. Gottesman Research Library and Learning Center, which houses one of the largest and most important natural history libraries in the world. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I discover the Museum’s David S. and Ruth L. Gottesman Research Library and Learning Center, which houses one of the largest and most important natural history libraries in the world. An elegant new Reading Room on the fourth floor of the Gilder Center, with sweeping views to the west, is an oasis of tranquility with comfortable sofas, sitting areas and reading areas. With dedicated spaces for researchers and small meetings, as well as an alcove gallery for rotating exhibits, this new learning center serves as an intellectual hub for research, education, and convening, connecting visitors to its resources as never before. As part of expanded access to the Gottesman Library’s collections for visitors, the alcove gallery showcases materials from the Rare Book Collection and other holdings. The inaugural exhibit, What’s in a Name?, explores scientific nomenclature through rare books, art, and current research on insects.

“The Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation is a glorious new facility that fulfills a critical need at a critical time: to help visitors to understand the natural world more deeply, to appreciate that all life is interdependent, to trust science, and to be inspired to protect our precious planet and its myriad life forms,” said Ellen Futter, President Emerita of the American Museum of Natural History. “This opening represents a milestone moment for the Museum in its ongoing efforts to improve science literacy while highlighting for our visitors everything the Museum has to offer, and sparking wonder and curiosity.” 

“The Gilder Center is designed to invite exploration and discovery that is not only emblematic of science, but also such a big part of being human. It aims to draw everyone in—all ages, backgrounds, and abilities—to share the excitement of learning about the natural world,” said Jeanne Gang, founding principal and partner of Studio Gang. “Stepping inside the large day-lit atrium, you are offered glimpses of the different exhibits on multiple levels. You can let your curiosity lead you. And with the many new connections that the architecture creates between buildings, it also improves your ability to navigate the Museum’s campus as a whole.”

Among its 33 connections, the Gilder Center links to some of the Museum’s most iconic Halls, including to the Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals, connected on the first floor through the dazzling Yurman Family Crystalline Pass, and to the Hall of Vertebrate Origins on the fourth floor.

The Gilder Center’s exciting design invites photos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The fifth and sixth floors of the Gilder Center house the Department of Ichthyology, including research spaces and specialized laboratories. These facilities complement the building’s new collections storage which houses the Museum’s ichthyology collection with more than 2.5 million research specimens, one of the world’s largest. The Museum’s Education Department is also located on these floors. (Its Richard Gilder Graduate School, the Museum offers two of the only free-standing, degree-granting programs of their kind at any museum in the U.S.: the Ph.D. program in Comparative Biology and the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) Earth Science residency program.)

You can spend eons roaming about here, so it is good that there is also a new table-service restaurant within the Gilder serving contemporary American cuisine with regional and global influences, as well as beverages showcasing local breweries and vineyards (the main museum also has the lower level cafeteria). There are also two sensational gift shops in the Center.

For anyone who hasn’t been to a museum of the quality like AMNH in awhile and expect static, boring displays with complex notes, this is leaps, bounds and lightyears beyond. Even the iconic dinosaur displays have interactive, engaging elements and make key points that are most relevant to our lives. You really feel you are having a conversation with sheer genius. “State of the art” doesn’t begin to describe it.

The development of the Gilder Center facilities and exhibitions involved nearly every department in the Museum, from operations and exhibition to education and science. The core project team also includes Arup, Atelier Ten, Bergen Street Studio, BuroHappold Engineering, Davis Brody Bond (executive architect), Design & Production Museum Studio, Event Network, Hadley Exhibits, Langan Engineering, Ralph Applebaum Associates, Reed Hilderbrand, Tamschick Media+Space, AECOM Tishman, Venable LLP, and Zubatkin Owner Representation.

And when you think about it, what is so remarkable about AMNH is how what is contained here spans the entirety of history, culture, life,  the natural world, the planet and even the known universe. And you get to explore it all.

All admission to the Museum is by timed entry and must be reserved online. Open daily, 10 am–5:30 pm. New York and New Jersey residents pay a suggested amount (all the attractions though are separately priced); standard pricing is Adults: $28 for general admission, $34 plus one, $39 plus all the attractions; Seniors and students are $22, $27, $31; Child 3-012 is $16, $20, $24.

The American Museum of Natural History, founded in 1869 with a dual mission of scientific research and science education, is one of the world’s preeminent scientific, educational, and cultural institutions. The Museum encompasses more than 40 permanent exhibition halls, galleries for temporary exhibitions, the Rose Center for Earth and Space including the Hayden Planetarium, and the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation. The Museum’s scientists draw on a world-class permanent collection of more than 34 million specimens and artifacts, some of which are billions of years old, and on one of the largest natural history libraries in the world.

American Museum of Natural History,200 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024, 212-769-5606. Visit amnh.org for more information.

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© 2023 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/KarenBRubin 

Newly Opened Museum of Broadway Celebrates Artistry, Legacy of Theater

A ticket for admission to one of George M. Cohan’s shows © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are actual top hat and dance shoes from A Chorus Line. You step into Doc’s drugstore from West Side Story. See costumes from Phantom of the Opera. There are scores of artifacts, music sheets, props, director notes, rehearsal photos. You see the original Playbills of iconic shows and theater posters going back to the very beginning of American (that is New York and ultimately Broadway) theater. And then you go “backstage” to see how all the creative and technical processes all come together, that speaks to you not so much as star-struck audience member but as a person yearning to be in theater. “Hey gang, let’s put on a show!”

This is the Museum of Broadway, newly opened in November, 2022.

Top hat and dance shoes from A Chorus Line, on display at the Museum of Broadway © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rather than burst any star-studied illusions or theater magic, this opportunity to go behind the curtain is tremendously exciting – you get to see (and appreciate) what goes into such show-stoppers, cultural icons as Show Boat, Oklahoma, West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Company, Rent, A Chorus Line, Lion King, The Wiz, Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Hamilton, several offering immersive experiences.

In all (believe it or not), the Museum limelights more than 500 individual productions from the 1700s to what is on stage now.

And you get insights into such theater luminaries as Ziegfeld, Sondheim, Webber, Fosse. You come away even more awestruck and under theater’s spell than when you entered.

The Museum features work from Emmy Award winning illustrator I. Javier Ameijeiras (Rent Live!), neon artist Dani B, Tony Award nominated dancer Robert Fairchild (An American in Paris, former NYCB principal), Drama Desk Award winning scenic designer David Korins (Hamilton, Beetlejuice), choreographer Julio Monge (West Side Story), and dancer Tanairi Vazquez (West Side Story, Hamilton). (Find a full list of the artists featured in the Museum at https://www.themuseumofbroadway.com/artists)

A Museum of Broadway homage to “Cats,” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s landmark musical based on the 1939 poetry collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Museum of Broadway is an immersive and interactive theatrical experience devoted to musicals, plays, and the people who make them. Featuring the work of dozens of designers, artists, and theatre historians, you are taken on a journey along the timeline of Broadway, from its birth to present day.

You travel through a visual history of Broadway, highlighting groundbreaking moments in a series of exhibits that showcase – and show off – dazzling costumes, props, renderings, rare photos, videos, artifacts, awards. Stops along the way highlight the pivotal shows or “game changers” that transformed the landscape of Broadway – the moments that pushed creative boundaries, challenged social norms, and paved the way for those who would follow.

Your visit to the Museum of Broadway starts back stage with sound effects, photos, that show how typical it would be for the Broadway performers to use the back stairs for warm ups © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Your visit to the Museum of Broadway starts back stage (actually on the back stairs of the building, next door to historic Lyceum theater),  with sound effects, photos, that show how typical it would be for the Broadway performers to use the back stairs for warm ups.

Walk up three flights, where you hear “warm-ups” as you climb the stairs and go past rooms to show where hair, make-up would have been (performers are taught how to apply their own); the dressing rooms (one labeled “dressing room” is actually the bathroom) and get introduced to the traditions (even superstitions) of Broadway performers. (There is an elevator for those who cannot climb the stairs.)

You are brought into a waiting room before the introductory video – showcasing the Playbills and synopsis of shows currently on Broadway (can point to a QR code and purchase tickets right there), as the music for “Company” plays.

Then you are taken into a small screening room to see a video packing 250 years of history of New York theater into just four minutes. (It is surprising to learn the first actual public performance was in 1732 at the Playhouse, way downtown.)

The history of Broadway theater, told in a four-minute video at the Museum of Broadway dates back to 1732 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York Theater at first was centered in lower Manhattan – where Financial District and Chinatown are today, then, as rents moved up, theaters moved uptown along Broadway to Union Square, Herald Square and finally to Times Square (renamed for the New York Times newspaper, which took up residence in 1904).

Oscar Hammerstein I (grandfather of lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II) was instrumental in opening a number of theater houses, beginning 1895 with the Olympia; the Schubert Brothers (Sam, Lee and JJ) soon followed, becoming a major powerhouse among theater owners.

Times Square became known as the Great White Way because of the lamps and electric white lights on marquees.

The Great Depression hit the theater industry hard – many theaters were converted to other purposes. But the end of World War II led to a Golden Age of Broadway, and Jujamcyn and Nederlander emerged as theater behemoths. Then, with the decline of New York City in the 1960s – crime, deteriorating condition – theaters were empty.

The city was desperate to revitalize the Times Square area and allowed the Marriott Marquis to build its new hotel (with a theater inside) to spur a renaissance. But that resulted in the destruction of five Broadway theaters – the so-called “Great Theater Massacre” of 1982. The outcry led to a new landmark preservation law to protect Broadway theaters.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s record-breaking, longest-running “Phantom of the Opera,” has been seen by more than 19 million people over 35 years on Broadway. It is due to close in 2023 to make room for Webber’s new musical, “Bad Cinderella” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The revitalization really was spurred in the mid-1990s, when Disney signed a 99-year lease for the New Amsterdam Theater on 42nd Street and the city cleaned up Times Square. Broadway was back and “family friendly”, to the point there was a waiting list for incoming shows.

Then COVID hit in March 2020, shutting down the theaters -“the heartbeat of the city” – for 18 months, the longest period in theater history. Since Broadway is one of the top reasons visitors come to the city, and one of its top revenue-makers as well as employers, shutting down theater took its toll on the city’s finances.

After the video (I sit through it twice), you are brought into a sequence of rooms in a Timeline, showcasing the people and key productions – plays and musicals – that shaped the past, present and point to the future of Broadway theater.

Timeline panels at the Museum of Broadway showcase the people and key productions – plays and musicals – that shaped the past, present and point to the future of Broadway theater, going back to the earliest days with historic posters and photos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The first panels are really interesting, featuring posters of plays starring Edwin and John Wilkes Booth, and (ironically) a production of “An American Cousin,” starring Laura Keene at the New American Theater in March 3, 1859 – the play Abraham Lincoln was watching at Ford Theater in Washington DC when John Wilkes Booth assassinated him. There is also, an interesting discussion of censorship – when Olga Nethersole, who played Sapho, was arrested for corrupting public morals (indecency). The scandal, first unleashed by the producer to generate audience interest and then played up by newspapers to sell papers (Yellow Journalism), backfired on the show, which though actually quite tame, was censored, but Nethersole was ultimately acquitted.

The panels also highlight the contribution and breakthroughs of Black Americans in American theater and breakthroughs by women. But it is odd that the contribution by Jewish creators is hardly a footnote, while incorporating photos and hard-to-read photo captions of the Marx Brothers, Irving Berlin, showcasing Showboat without mentioning Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern, and Porgy and Bess without bothering to mention the Gershwins who wrote them.  

The influence of Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, George and Ira Gershwin, Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Kurt Weill, Sheldon Harnick, Jerry Bock, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Schwartz, Jule Styne is undeniable throughout the museum because of the productions that are highlighted, but unremarked. The only mention of Yiddish Theater comes in a tiny reference in a panel for a 1990 show, “Those Were the Days”) (For this part of history, see “Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy” from Great Performances on pbs.org (https://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/broadway-musicals-a-jewish-legacy-about-the-film/1476/)

There is a showcase of Ziegfeld Follies, as if you are in the (very pink and feathery) dressing room, with stunning costumes. There’s a photo but much information about Fanny Brice and a photo of Irving Berlin at the piano, but the notes emphasize how Ziegfeld reacted “when a few Follies cast members complained about sharing the stage with Black comedian Bert Williams, Ziegfeld’s reply was ‘The stage door is that way. I can do this show without any of you, but I cannot do it without Bert.’ And that was that.”

There is a whole set up for Showboat and how the musical changed the course of theater, redirecting the emphasis from the heavy operettas and the superficial music comedies which had dominated Broadway, providing complex, realistic characters, and integrating music and plot (but only passing mention of lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II and composer Jerome Kern who wrote the breakthrough musical based on Edna Ferber’s 1926 novel).

Hammerstein lambasted racial prejudice again in South Pacific:

 You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear/You’ve got to be taught from year to year/It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear/You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid/Of people whose eyes are oddly made/And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade/You’ve got to be carefully taught.

Show Boat, with music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II based on Edna Ferber’s best-selling 1926 novel, changed the course of musical theater, redirecting the emphasis from the heavy operettas and the superficial music comedies which had dominated Broadway, providing complex, realistic characters, and integrating music and plot © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It isn’t until the 1990s panel that there is any mention of Yiddish Theater – arguably the progenitor if not the incubator of Broadway theater – when we learn that “Those Were the Days” in 1990 brought “the Shteltl” and “The Music Hall” to Broadway in an intimate two-part review performed in both English and Yiddish. “The show evokes a period,” director Eleanor Reissa explained. “Created by Zalmen Mlotek and Moishe Rosenfeld, the musical honored the legacy of a vibrant and influential Yiddish stage that flourished on New York’s Lower East Side in the late 1800s and early 1900s. One of the district’s most formidable figures was Boris Thomashefsky, who opened a Yiddish theater on Broadway in 1923.”

A room is devoted to the coveted Tony Awards and its namesake, Antoinette Perry, an actress, director, producer, and the dynamic wartime leader of the American Theatre Wing who had recently passed away when The Tony Awards made their official debut at a dinner in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria hotel on Easter Sunday, April 6, 1947.

You walk through rooms devoted to Oklahoma and a set for Doc’s drugstore in the homage to “West Side Story” (there’s a Jets jacket on display as well). A small room crams together Fiddler on the Roof, Hello Dolly, Neil Simon’s comedies before getting to the rock musicals – Jesus Christ Superstar – that led a new era on the Broadway stage.

Walk through the West Side Story set for Doc’s drugstore © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Thankfully, a major exhibit is devoted to Sondheim and you walk through what appears to be the set for Company.

The Wiz, we learn, got bad reviews, but the audience gave it a standing ovation and four curtain calls (the musical used a new marketing strategy of television commercials) – and you ease down yellow stairs.

A Chorus Line – one of the longest-running shows and the first to use computerized light board – features original costumes, marvelous 8×10 photos of the cast, plus I loved seeing original creative notes.

Notes for the opening song for A Chorus Line © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Notes for “Handful of Keys” from A Chorus Line © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

(There is so much information crammed into a small space and the captions and notes are so small and hard to read (bring glasses), but you are encouraged to download an app where you can listen or read the notes.)

Honoring Broadway’s longest-running musical, “Phantom of the Opera”: a chandelier made of 13,917 glass beads – for the number of Broadway performances – and if you look at it to an angle, the Phantom’s mask emerges © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then you come to Phantom of the Opera – with some sensational costumes (from 1986) and artifacts from the show. Phantom is now the longest-running production in Broadway history (it was scheduled to close in 2023, when a new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, “Bad Cinderella” is due to open). Among Phantom’s plaudits: it is the largest generator of money and jobs in Broadway history and has been seen by 19.5 million people over 35 years. There is an amazing chandelier made of 13,917 glass beads – for the number of Broadway performances – and if you look at it to an angle, the Phantom’s mask emerges.

Along the way, staff people offer their own anecdotes or point you to artifacts or parts of the exhibit you might not have seen. And there are various interactive and videos, as Broadway tunes play in each exhibit.

The innovative costume/props for The Lion King on display at the Museum of Broadway © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The setting for “Rent” was designed for the museum by the original set designer. I love seeing some of the innovative props/costumes that turn human actors into animals for Lion King. You walk through the “office” for Producers” (a Tony is in the bookcase), costumes from Hamilton, and there is a whole line of costumes representing the shows currently playing.

Costumes from “Hamilton” on display at the Museum of Broadway © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Then you go down the stairs to the first floor where you are really treated to the back-stage, “let’s put on a show” tutorial.

This part of the Museum celebrates the behind-the-scenes of this dazzling American art form with a special exhibit, “The Making of a Broadway Show,” justifiably honoring the entirety of the community of brilliantly talented professionals – both onstage and off – who bring Broadway plays and musicals to life every night.

This section features multiple videos of directors of lighting, sound, music, as well as costumers and set designers discussing their craft. (Here, they should have given way more space and separated the sections of the exhibit better because the videos and sound overlap – even three and four at once – and the room is dark.)

Hey gang! Let’s put on a show: An entire floor Museum of Broadway is devoted to how a theater production comes together. Computerized lighting board © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But if you put in some effort – and time – you are treated to absolutely fascinating information about producing, designing the music, the lights, the sound, costumes (and tricks of “distressing” costumes), direction, choreography. This whole section – most of an entire floor – is a goldmine for anyone who harbors any interest in pursuing a career in theater production. There are even time sheets for what a costumer’s day is like, and a timeline from conception to opening night of a production.

Techniques of a costumer at the Museum of Broadway © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Want to be a costume designer? Check out what a day looks like at the Museum of Broadway © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the end, I follow an arrow and found myself in a fantastic exhibit of Al Hirschfeld – the extraordinary cartoonist/caricaturist who was synonymous with every Broadway opening. We see many of his illustrations – from newspapers, posters, the originals, and I love the display of his sketchbooks that give a glimpse into his creative process – and learn about the origin of his iconic “Nina” embedded into his illustration (that became an obsession, much like Wordle is today, for New York Times readers). There is even a photo of him with his daughter, Nina, and a caricature of Nina, herself.

The origin of the famous Nina’s in Al Hirschfeld’s caricatures that so defined Broadway productions © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Museum of Broadway is founded by entrepreneur and two-time Tony Award-winning producer Julie Boardman and founder of the award-winning experiential agency, Rubik Marketing,Diane Nicoletti. Elie Landauis the general manager.

The team of expert curators for The Museum of Broadway is headed by Ben West (Resident Historian and Curator, Timeline & Special Exhibits) and includes Jennifer Ashley Tepper (Curator, Historical Buildings), John Kenrick (Curator, Game Changer History), Faye Armon-Troncoso (Set Decorator & Props Supervisor, Making of a Broadway Show), Lisa Zinni (Costume & Props Curator) and Michael McDonald (Historical Assets Manager).

The Museum of Broadway is founded in collaboration with Playbill, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, The Billy Rose Theatre Division at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, The Al Hirschfeld Foundation, Goodspeed Musicals, Creative Goods, and Concord Theatricals.

There is so much to delight anyone who enjoys, appreciates theater – you don’t have to be an avid theatergoer or aficionado or maven.

The artifacts, costumes, inside (backstage) info, and insights throughout the Museum of Broadway are fabulous. You need at least two to three hours to go through. And bring reading eyeglasses or magnifying glass to read the tiny captions and notes. Open 7 days a week, 10 am – 10 pm.

Indeed, the Museum of Broadway seems to be very much a hit – the museum had a steady stream of visitors.

The Museum of Broadway, 145 West 45th Street, New York, NY 10036, 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400, www.themuseumofbroadway.com, follow @museumofbroadway on social channels.

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© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

New-York Historical’s ‘I’ll Have What She’s Having’ Examines How Jewish Delicatessens Became a Cornerstone of American Food Culture

I’ll Have What She’s Having’: The Jewish Deli exhibit at New-York Historical Society tells a deeply moving story about the American experience of immigration—how immigrants adapted their cuisine to create a new culture that both retained and transcended their own traditions © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

New-York Historical Society’s exhibition “I’ll Have What She’s Having”: The Jewish Deli, is a fascinating exploration of the rich history of the Jewish immigrant experience that made the delicatessen so integral to New York and American culture. On view through April 2, 2023, the mouth-watering and culturally significant exhibition, organized by the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles (where it is on view through September 18), examines how Jewish immigrants, mostly from Central and Eastern Europe, imported and adapted traditions to create a cuisine that became a cornerstone of popular culture with worldwide influence.

The exhibition explores the food of immigrants; the heyday of the deli in the interwar period; delis in the New York Theater District; stories of Holocaust survivors and war refugees who found community in delis; the shifting and shrinking landscapes of delis across the country; and delis in popular culture. You get to see iconic neon signs, menus, advertisements, and deli workers’ uniforms alongside film clips depicting delis in popular culture and video documentaries.

Laura Mart, co-curator of I’ll Have What She’s Having”: The Jewish Deli, now at the New-York Historical Society, explains the transition from pushcart to delicatessen, along with the fortunes of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Some 2 million Jews came from Eastern and Central Europe to the United States between 1880 and 1924, when nativist anti-immigrant furor shut down immigration (there is a display showing some of the anti-immigrant propaganda). New York was a stopover but also a destination for millions and they brought with them their food culture, which, of necessity, was adapted.

“Why make a museum show out of the Jewish deli – which is a specific and unusual topic? The ‘deli’ allowed us to explore themes of how people of different backgrounds relate to one another” in such a melting pot as New York, said Laura Mart, one of the curators. “It shows how Jewish-American culture was created and maintained through generations. And it is also about joy, more important than ever. Museums are a place for joyful learning.”

“It’s a story of tradition and change, adaptation and resilience,” said Lara Rabinovitch.

“It’s our great pleasure to present an exhibition on a topic so near and dear to the hearts of New Yorkers of all backgrounds,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of New-York Historical, herself waxing nostalgic. I’ll Have What She’s Having’: The Jewish Deli tells a deeply moving story about the American experience of immigration—how immigrants adapted their cuisine to create a new culture that both retained and transcended their own traditions © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“It’s our great pleasure to present an exhibition on a topic so near and dear to the hearts of New Yorkers of all backgrounds,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of New-York Historical. ‘I’ll Have What She’s Having’: The Jewish Deli tells a deeply moving story about the American experience of immigration—how immigrants adapted their cuisine to create a new culture that both retained and transcended their own traditions. I hope visitors come away with a newfound appreciation for the Jewish deli, and, with it, the story of the United States.”

“Whether you grew up eating matzo ball soup or are learning about lox for the first time, this exhibition demonstrates how Jewish food became a cultural touchstone, familiar to Americans across ethnic backgrounds,” said co-curators Cate Thurston and Laura Mart. “This exhibition reveals facets of the lives of Central and Eastern European Jewish immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that echo in contemporary immigrant experiences. It shows how people adapt and transform their own cultural traditions over time, resulting in a living style of cooking, eating, and sharing community that is at once deeply rooted in their own heritage and continuously changing.”

I’ll Have What She’s Having is co-curated by Skirball curators Cate Thurston and Laura Mart along with Lara Rabinovitch, renowned writer, producer, and specialist in immigrant food cultures. It is coordinated at New-York Historical by Cristian Petru Panaite, curator of exhibitions. The exhibition explores topics including deli culture, the proliferation of delis alongside the expansion of New York’s Jewish communities, kosher meat manufacturing, shortages during World War II, and advertising campaigns that helped popularize Jewish foods throughout the city.

As is typical of New-York Historical’s exhibits, expanded presentation from its own collection and local twist includes additional artwork, artifacts, photographs of local establishments, and objects from deli owners, as well as costumes from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, a mouthwatering interactive, and a Bloomberg Connects audio tour.

A soldier fighting in Italy during World War II writes to his fiancée that he “had some tasty Jewish dishes just like home” thanks to the salami his mother had sent, a confirmation of the success of the “Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army” campaign © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Highlights include a letter in New-York Historical’s Patricia D. Klingenstein Library collection from a soldier fighting in Italy during World War II writing to his fiancée that he “had some tasty Jewish dishes just like home” thanks to the salami his mother had sent—confirmation of the success of a famous “Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army” campaign. (Panaite painstakingly poured over a huge collection of World War II letters, one by one, to find it.) 

There are photos of politicians and other notable figures eating and campaigning in delis, including then-US Senate candidate Hillary Clinton at Ben’s delicatessen in Greenvale, Long Island. Movie clips and film stills include the iconic scene in Nora Ephron’s romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally…, which inspired the exhibition title. This and other movie scenes underscore the prominent role of Jewish delis in American popular culture.

Special to New-York Historical’s presentation is a closer look at the expansion of Jewish communities at the turn of the 20th century, not just on the Lower East Side but also in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. In the 1930s, some 3,000 delis operated in the city; today, only about a dozen remain. 

I’ll Have What She’s Having’: The Jewish Deli at the New-York Historical Society will evoke nostalgia in native New Yorkers, as well as a craving for a pastrami sandwich on rye © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibition gives special attention to dairy restaurants, which offered a safe meatless eating experience; a portion of the neon sign from the Famous Dairy Restaurant on the Upper West Side is on display. Salvaged artifacts, like the 2nd Avenue Delicatessen storefront sign and vintage meat slicers and scales from other delis, are also on view, along with costumes by Emmy Award-winning costume designer Donna Zakowska from the popular Prime Video series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Visitors are invited to build their own sandwiches named after celebrities, such as Milton Berle, Sophie Tucker, Frank Sinatra,  Ethel Merman, and Sammy Davis Jr., in a digital interactive inspired by menu items from Reuben’s Deli and Stage Deli (the menus are on display). 

On the Bloomberg Connects app, exhibition goers can enjoy popular songs like “Hot Dogs and Knishes” from the 1920s, along with clips of Mayor Fiorello La Guardia discussing kosher meat pricing, 1950s radio ads, and interviews with deli owners forced  to close during the pandemic lockdown.  

It’s a trip down memory lane for so many of us native New Yorkers – with the neon signs from popular delis and suppliers (Hebrew National), menus (there is one from Reubens, the home of the Reubens sandwich, which was a very popular venue for my family).

The roots for Jewish Deli cuisine were the fermentation, the types of foods, the technology of food, that originated in Europe, but the hallmarks of the Jewish Deli culture go beyond the food – to the booths, the waiters, the zeitgeist of the deli. We learn that that ambiance evolved – first from pushcarts on the streets of the Lower East Side (street food), to stools, to counter-style take-away shops, to finally having seating in full-fledged restaurants.

Case in point: Joel Russ founded his appetizing store out of a barrel in 1907 in Manhattan. He moved up to selling herring and other salt-cured and smoked fish out of a pushcart and finally opened a brick-and-mortar store in 1914.His daughters, Hattie, Ida, and Anne, worked in the store from the time they were 11 and 12. In 1935, he renamed the store Russ & Daughters, and are known as the “Sturgeon Queens.”

The delis introduced Americans to borscht (Slavic), gefilte fish, kishke (Slavic), vereniki (Ukrainian), kasha varnishkes (Russian), herring and chopped liver (“What am I, chopped liver?”). Also latkes (Ashkenazi), blintzes, knishes, rugelach and babka. Cheesecake is actually an American innovation.

The industrialization of beef production and processing actually made Kosher beef more desirable, hence Hebrew National’s slogan, “We answer to a higher authority.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Interestingly, the rise of industrial food processing and cattle production (which mass produced beef and discouraged pork consumption) actually increased the desirability of Kosher food – certified as meeting religious standards, hence the Hebrew National slogan, “We answer to a higher authority.”

Jewish entrepreneurs in Chicago capitalized on the opportunity to produce kosher beef, but ultimately, what became the Jewish Delicatessen was American.

I’ll Have What She’s Having’: The Jewish Deli at the New-York Historical Society traces how Jewish cuisine was assimilated into American culture © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

“Meat was expensive in Europe. Jews couldn’t own land and meat was a luxury. But in the United States, meat became central to deli food.” At first, there was strict separation between deli restaurants like Katz’ and dairy restaurants, like Ratner’s – because Koshruth forbids the mixing of meat and milk – but over time, and with assimilation, even delis would offer items like cheesecake as dessert after a corned beef sandwich.

We learn about the Vienna Beef factory, founded in 1893 by Jewish Austro-Hungarian immigrants Emil Reichel and Sam Ladany. They first sold frankfurters at the 1893 World’s Columbia Exposition in Chicago, then expanded to include Vienna sausages, pastrami, corned beef and salami.

A photo of Katz’ Delicatessen, circa 1900, one of the artifacts on view at I’ll Have What She’s Having’: The Jewish Deli at the New-York Historical Society tracing how Jewish cuisine was assimilated into American culture © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Katz’s Delicatessen, likely the oldest continuously operating deli in the US, was founded in 1888 by two brothers named Iceland. The Katz family became business partners and by 1917, bought out the brothers. At a time when most deli food was being sold from carts and barrels on the street, Katz’s was a brick-and-mortar delicatessen.

In 1916 on Coney Island, Polish immigrant Nathan Handwerker began building his empire by selling franks for five cents and undercutting his competition, Feltman’s.

And then there is this intrigue: fraud and corruption became pervasive in the kosher meat industry. In 1925, an estimated 40 percent of meat sold as “kosher” was non-kosher. In 1933, the NYC Department of Health and US Department of Agriculture raided Jacob Branfman & Son, one of the city’s main kosher delicatessen manufacturers, and seized over 1,400 pounds of nonkosher beef briskets. The owner was sentenced to 30 days in the infamous city workhouse.

A sign from Katz Delicatessen from the World War II-era campaign © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

During World War II, Jewish delis promoted a campaign to “Senda Salami to Your Boy in the Army” (the slogan was developed by Sixth Avenue Delicatessen waiter Louis Schwartz) and used by delis including Katz’s. The slogan became so popular that comedian Jerry Lewis used it in the film, “At War with the Army” (1950).

Louis G. Schwartz, aka “Louie the Waiter,” helped raise more than $9 million in war bonds – that paid for 66 P-47 Thunderbolt fighter planes, each which bore the moniker, “Louie the Waiter.” Schwartz developed a rhyme to inspire patrons to buy the bonds, “you’ll buy war bonds sooner or later, so get them from Louis the Waiter!”

Al Hirschfeld’s caricature of Sixth Avenue Deli’s Louis G. Schwartz, aka “Louie the Waiter,” helped raise more than $9 million in war bonds and created the slogan, “Senda Salami to Your Boy in the Army”.

Most interesting is to learn about some of the people who found refuge in the delis – as owners or workers. Paula Weissman, born in present-day Ukraine, survived Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. She arrived in New York in 1948 with two dollars. After working in a Brooklyn girdle factory, she was hired as a temporary waitress at Fine & Schapiro Kosher Delicatessen on West 72nd Street. The 7-day temp job turned into 30 years.”In her black uniform and white shoes, Paula took the orders of Zero Mostel, Molly Picon, Rita Moreno and many other Broadway stars.”

Rena Drexler was liberated from Auschwitz in 1945 and moved to Munich, Germany, where she and her husband, Harry, began their new lives working in a deli. The couple moved to Los Angeles in 1951 and opened Drexler’s Deli on Burbank Boulevard in 1957, selling kosher meals and products for the Orthodox Jews who settled in the neighborhood.

Paula Weissman, one of the Holocaust survivors who made a new life at Jewish delicatessens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The original owner of the Second Avenue Deli, Abe Lebewohl, was a Holocaust refugee. Upon arriving in America and not even speaking the language, he took his first job in a Coney Island deli as a soda jerk, graduating to counterman and over the next few years, learning the secrets of superb pastrami and other traditional Jewish delicacies. In 1954, with a few thousand dollars he managed to set aside, Abe took over a tiny 10-seat luncheonette on East Tenth Street—the nucleus of the 2nd Ave Deli. Working around the clock for years—often filling in as cook, counterman, waiter, and even busboy—he put all his time and energy into making a success of his tiny establishment. “He never turned anyone away for lack of funds, he fed striking workers, homeless.” In 1996, he was robbed and murdered when making a bank deposit; the case unsolved.

In a nostalgic tribute to departed delis that continue to hold a place in the hearts of many New Yorkers, photographs show restaurants that closed in recent years. Eateries include the Upper West Side’s Fine & Schapiro Kosher Delicatessen, Jay & Lloyd’s Kosher Delicatessen in Brooklyn, and Loeser’s Kosher Deli in the Bronx. An exuberant hot dog-shaped sign from Jay & Lloyds Delicatessen, which closed in May 2020, and folk artist Harry Glaubach’s monumental carved and painted signage for Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen in Queens, also pay tribute to beloved establishments. The exhibition concludes on a hopeful note, highlighting new delis that have opened their doors in the past decade, such as Mile End and Frankel’s, both in Brooklyn, and USA Brooklyn Delicatessen, located steps from the site of the former Carnegie and Stage Delis in Manhattan.

Ben’s, still a force on Long Island and Manhattan is illustrative of the changes in the Jewish Deli that followed changes in the lives of American Jews. To be blunt, in the mid-20th century, restrictive covenants that barred Jews (and Blacks) from living in certain neighborhoods were lifted, and American Jews were flocking to the suburbs. The delis followed.

What I found fascinating was that the Jewish deli grew up as the American industrialized cattle industry grew – displacing home-grown pork – making beef plentiful and giving rise to the sky-high thick pastrami and corned beef sandwiches that would never have been available to Jews in their European shtetls, where meat would have been a cherished rarity.

Folk artist Harry Glaubach’s monumental carved and painted signage for Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen in Queens is on view at I’ll Have What She’s Having’: The Jewish Deliat the New-York Historical Society © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibit ponders how it was, why it was that Jewish deli became so much a part of American pop culture.

“There is no definitive answer as to why the deli has inspired generations of Jewish filmmakers, comedians, musicians and writers. Perhaps it is because so many Jewish creatives got their start in New York City, where they frequented Jewish delis and later infused these experiences into their work. Or maybe it is because the Jewish deli is one of the most public secular environments in Jewish American life. It is a place where characters can demonstrate or celebrate their Jewish identity outside of private or religious spheres. Whatever the reason, the deli continues to have significant influence on Jewish artists.”

The fifth generation “Katz,” Jake Dell, alongside a model of his family’s delicatessen and a video of the famous scene in “When Harry Met Sally” movie which provides the title for the New-York Historical Society’s exhibit, at I’ll Have What She’s Having’: The Jewish Deli. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The better question has to do with how Jewish cuisine has become as integrated into in American culture as bagels (with or without lox). And that’s because so many of the creatives – in Broadway theater, film – were Jewish.

But Jewish delis, themselves, are struggling today, particularly after the coronavirus pandemic, but also because of changing economics – the cost of that two-inch high pastrami on rye, the rent. The sandwich that used to cost $1.95 (see the Reubens menu), now costs $25. The fifth generation “Katz,” Jake Dell, on hand at the press preview, spoke of the changing economics, he said that they don’t even make a profit on a $25 pastrami sandwich. “The profit is in the soup.”

Programming: Private group tours can be arranged throughout the run of “I’ll Have What She’s Having”: The Jewish DeliFamily programming includes a food-focused family day celebrating foodways brought to New York City by immigrants from around the world. Living History programs bring to life the stories of proprietors, patrons, and staff of New York City’s Jewish delis. Visit nyhistory.org for dates and details.

“Confronting Hate 1937-1952”

“Confronting Hate 1937-1952” exhibit at New-York Historical Society documents the American Jewish Committee’s groundbreaking campaign to combat anti-Semitism and ultimately to fight all forms of hate and bigotry © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After enjoying the joyful “I’ll Have What She’s Having,” go up to the second floor of the historical society for another, more serious, exhibition that is so timely in the here and now: “Confronting Hate 1937-1952” about the American Jewish Committee’s groundbreaking campaign to combat anti-Semitism and ultimately to fight all forms of hate and bigotry. To reach as many Americans as possible in the period leading up to the Holocaust, World War II and the aftermath, the agency embraced new mass communication technologies and partnered with talented allies – artists, writers, political leaders, church groups, politicians, magazine and newspaper editors. They produced comic books, ads, articles. Among the celebrities who joined a “Speaking for America” poster campaign in 1946: Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Danny Kaye, plus President Harry Truman and Admiral Chester Nimitz.

New-York Historical Society, New York’s First Museum

At the New-York Historical Society, New York’s first museum, you experience 400 years of history through groundbreaking exhibitions, immersive films, and thought-provoking conversations among renowned historians and public figures. A great destination for history since 1804, the Museum and the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library convey the stories of the city and nation’s diverse populations, expanding our understanding of who we are as Americans and how we came to be. Ever-rising to the challenge of bringing little or unknown histories to light, New-York Historical will soon inaugurate a new annex housing its Academy for American Democracy as well as the American LGBTQ+ Museum. These latest efforts to help forge the future by documenting the past join New-York Historical’s DiMenna Children’s History Museum and Center for Women’s History.

Digital exhibitions, apps, and For the Ages podcast make it possible for visitors everywhere to dive more deeply into history. Connect at nyhistory.org or at @nyhistory on FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube, and Tumblr.

The New-York Historical Society is located at 170 Central Park West at Richard Gilder Way (77th Street), New York, NY 10024, 212-873-3400, nyhistory.org.

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© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Long Island Has New Destination Attraction: Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame Opens in Stony Brook

Guitarist Randy Jackson, bassist Felix Hanemann and drummer Guy Gelso of Zebra perform under a vintage poster from way back when, at the opening of the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame and Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Your eyes open wide as you enter the new, permanent location of the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame, housed in a former Ward Melville Historical Organization building in historic Stony Brook Village, and realize the prominent musicians who grew up, got their start, built their careers on Long Island. That is, the whole of Long Island, from Queens and Brooklyn through Nassau and Suffolk.

While the Hall of Fame has been inducting honorees since 2004, this is its first permanent home, so is the first opportunity to really see the breadth and depth of the talent nurtured on the island. And it is so much fun to see the original posters, costumes, musical instruments, memorabilia from inductees including Twisted Sister, Zebra, Blue Oyster, Public Enemy, Vanilla Fudge, even Billy Joel’s actual motorcycle and Joan Jett’s 1983 Jaguar.

Dee Snider, frontman of Twisted Sister, donated 12 costumes that hadn’t been seen in years, designed by Suzette Snyder © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Jay Jay French, founding member and bassist of the heavy metal band Twisted Sister, manager and record producer, went so far as to declare, “Without Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens, you got nothing.  The circuit never existed before, and will never exist again.”

Jay Jay French of Twisted Sister; Kevin O’Callahan, Hall of Fame creative director and board member;  and Ernie Canadeo, LIMEHoF chairman © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

That might be hyperbole, but he can be forgiven when you go up to the second floor, where there is the “Hall of Fame” with plaques and exhibits that recognize over 120 inductees, displayed across the walls the inductees year by year. In fact, you can easily imagine they will soon run out of wall space entirely when beginning next year, they also induct people from television and film. There are also cases chock full of memorabilia such as Perry Como’s Emmy (you have to really search – it’s like an attic).

An eclectic assemblage of memorabilia from Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Famers © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are also areas for a library, classrooms for educational programs, and master classes, a surround sound theater, and a gift shop with music and entertainment-themed memorabilia.

Having an actual space means that the Hall of Fame also can present special exhibits.

Created by renowned designer Kevin o’Callaghan, “Long Island’s Legendary Club Scene – 1960s-1980s” is laid out to be like a club crawl, sparking those pangs of nostalgia for those places © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Its first exhibit now on display re-creates those cherished clubs. Created by renowned designer Kevin o’Callaghan, “Long Island’s Legendary Club Scene – 1960s-1980s” is laid out to be like a club crawl, sparking those pangs of nostalgia for those places. The exhibit features replicas of clubs – My Father’s Place, The Mad Hatter in Stony Brook, Oak Beach Inn, Malibu in Lido Beach, Speaks in Island Park and Pips Comedy Club in Brooklyn -with videos of artists performing, ads, posters, instruments. There is also a replica of a typical 1960s stage, complete with vintage equipment and sound system (donated by Zebra).

At the opening, guitarist Randy Jackson, bassist Felix Hanemann and drummer Guy Gelso of Zebra performed on that stage with the very sound equipment they used at clubs in the 1970s and donated to the museum (in order to better re-create the sound), and below a poster which showed their 1970s selves. Surreal time warp.

Blue Öyster Cult perform at the opening of the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame and Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also performing, bassist Joe Bouchard and drummer Albert Bouchard of Blue Öyster Cult, Paula Janis and Carole Demas of “The Magic Garden,” singer/songwriter Elliott Murphy, and Jen Chapin, daughter of Harry Chapin.

The newest honoree in the Hall of Fame, Wayne Robins, had to wait two years (because of COVID) to officially be inducted. At the official opening, Robins, who for more than 50 years has been a leading music and pop culture journalist, waxed nostalgic as he recalled being at Shea stadium for the Beatles Concert, Diana Ross sitting in his lap at her concert at Westbury Music Fair, using fake ID to get into music venues before he was 18. He began his career in 1972 at CBS Records, then writing for Rolling Stone, the New Musical Express, Melody Maker, the Village Voice and Creem Magazine before joining Newsday in 1975 as its pop music writer, where he worked for the next 20 years.

The 2020 inductee to the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame is Wayne Robins, a longtime music and culture journalist, who was presented with his award by Norm Prusslin and Chairman Ernie Canadeo © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Throughout, there are compelling visual elements and artifacts on display. Among the inducted artists who have donated memorabilia, are Billy Joel, Joan Jett, Debbie Gibson, Blue Oyster Cult, Twisted Sister, and the families and estates of Harry Chapin, Guy Lombardo, John Coltraine. Donations include various musical instruments, performance outfits, vintage automobiles and motorcycles, rare posters and photos, and handwritten lyrics.

Jen Chapin, daughter of Harry Chapin, performs at the opening of the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame and Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dee Snider, frontman of Twisted Sister, donated 12 costumes that hadn’t been seen in years, designed by Suzette Snyder. Suzette was 15 years old when she first met Dee, having borrowed her cousin’s ID to sneak into a show. She designed an outfit – pink with fringes – and created the ‘Twisted Sisters look’.”

Suzette was 15 years old when she first met Dee Snider. She designed an outfit – pink with fringes – and created the “Twisted Sisters look” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The opening night event included performances by guitarist Randy Jackson, bassist Felix Hanemann and drummer Guy Gelso of Zebra, bassist Joe Bouchard and drummer Albert Bouchard of Blue Öyster Cult, singer/songwriter Jen Chapin, Paula Janis and Carole Demas of “The Magic Garden,” singer/songwriter Elliott Murphy, and Jen Chapin.

Rich L’Hommedieu, one of the co-founders of the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame and Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rich L’Hommedieu, one of the co-founders, said, “The music industry started on Long Island – song sheet sellers came from Manhattan, Jazz musicians who couldn’t afford Manhattan had homes in Queens. Duke Ellington, Louie Armstrong. Then there were the street corner doo wop groups, the hip hop. Garages in suburbia incubated rock bands.

It’s mind-bending to realize how many music groups and musicians have ties to Long Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In fact, every musical genre is represented among the122  honorees (so far) – there’s Aaron Copland, Brooklyn (2008), Barbra Streisand, Brooklyn (2008), Beverly Sills, Brooklyn (2008), Eddie Palmieri, Queens (2010, George Gershwin, Brooklyn (2006), George M. Cohan, Kings Point (2006), Carole King, Brooklyn (2008), Ervin Drake, Great Neck (2012), Cyndi Lauper, Brooklyn/Queens, (2006), Guy Lombardo, Freeport (2008), Marvin Hamlisch, Westhampton Beach (2008), Morton Gould, Queens/Great Neck (2010, Oscar Brand, Brooklyn/Great Neck (2010), Perry Como, Port Washington (2006), Simon & Garfunkel, Queens (2008), Steve Martin, Long island (2010), Tony Bennett, Queens (2006), Vince Giordano, Brooklyn/Hauppauge (2016), William “Count” Basie, Queens (2008), and Cousin Brucie Morrow, Brooklyn (2018), Arlo Guthrie, Coney Island (2008), LL Cool J, Bayshore (2008) (The full list is mind-blowing.)

It’s mind-bending to realize how many music groups and musicians have ties to Long Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the groups with roots on Long Island: Gary U.S. Bonds; the Lovin’ Spponful; Johnny Maestro & the Brooklyn Bridge; Public Enemy; Salt-N-Pepa; The Ramones; The Shangri-las; The Tokens; Twisted Sister, Vanilla Fudge, Zebra, Blue Oyster Cult, little Anthony and the Imperials

Also among the honorees: My Father’s Place, Dream Theater, WALK 97-5 FM, Westbury Music Fair, Jones Beach theater, Stony Brook University, CSS Security Service.

The idea for the Hall of Fame originated with co-founders Jim Faith, Rich L’Hommedieu and Norm Prusslin, who met at Stony Brook University in the fall of 2003 and by January 2004, launched the nonprofit without any government assistance at all, but with lots of volunteer help.

It was created as a place of community that inspires and explores Long Island music in all its forms. In addition to the Hall of Fame, the organization also offers education programs and scholarships to Long Island students, sponsors the Long Island Sound Award, and features traveling educational exhibits, including a state-of-the-art mobile museum.

Billy Joel’s motorcycle is on view at the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame and Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In 2014, when the Billy Joel Band was inducted into the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame, Billy Joel said this in a statement: “After The Stranger was released, people began to recognize that the ‘Long Island Sound’ wasn’t just a body of water.” Indeed, it isn’t. Over the years, Long Island has produced some of the most talented and accomplished musicians and has become a respected music scene.

But, according to the museum’s history, it didn’t start off that way.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Long Island music landscape was rather barren and more of a stepchild to that of New York City, which had become a focal point of the music industry, with recording sudios and iconic music venues such as Max’s Kansas City, Fillmore East, and Electric Circus. Beside some local bars, schools and Westbury Music Fair (which had sporadic star performances, such as Judy Barland in 1967, The Who in 1968 and Bruce Springsteen in 1975), there were few live venues on Long Island.

Paula Janis and Carole Demas of “The Magic Garden” at the opening of the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame and Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

According to Norm Prusslin, music historian and a founding member of the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame, in the late 1960s Stony Brook University, emerged as an important venue to bring music to Long Island.

FM radio stations began popping up on Long Island, giving national recording artists Long Island airplay, and college radio stations began to showcase Long Island’s burgeoning musicians.

 “Long Island college radio stations were important in bringing to the airwaves local musicians of all genres, and that certainly contributed to Long Island artists getting heard and getting spoken about,” Prusslin stated.

Joan Jett’s jaguar is on view at the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame and Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the same time,  Long Island-based publications, such as Good Times magazine, began pioneering local music coverage and talking up Long Island artists. And venues, such as My Father’s Place in Roslyn, brought in a lot of local bands who didn’t have the opportunity for commercial exposure before.

By the early 1980s, some of the commercial radio stations, particularly WLIR and WBAB, began to follow Long Island college radio’s lead, focusing on Long Island artists.

An eclectic assemblage of memorabilia from Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Famers © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By the early 2000s, Long Island had become a hotbed for upcoming musicians as well as a sophisticated music scene. It now had its own music festivals, such as the Great South Bay Music Festival (established in 2006) and the Long Island Bluegrass Festival (which premiered in 2002), as well as the establishment of music-specific societies and organizations such as the Long Island Blues Society and the Long Island Traditional Music Society.

Co-founder Norm Prusslin reflects on how the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame came to be © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In August 2003, Prusslin had been reading an editorial in a local music magazine written by Richard L’Hommedieu—who would go on to become the founding chairman of the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame—about the new Georgia Music Hall of Fame, which had opened in 1996. L’Hommedieu wrote that it would be great if Long Island had its own music hall of fame.

In January 2004, this enterprising group of founding members including Prusslin, L’Hommedieu, and other music educators, held an event at the Patchogue Theater announcing the creation of “a nonprofit organization that would recognize, honor, and preserve Long Island’s longstanding and diverse music heritage—a heritage that fought its way out of the shadow of New York City and would go on to inspire generations of music lovers.”

The Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame was born.

“This is your home, your place, personal space, when can come and remember where great music came from on Long Island,” Jay Jay French said. “It’s your legacy.”

LIMEHoF is open Wednesday-Sunday, 12-5 pm. Tickets are $19.50/adult, $17/seniors (65+)/Veterans; $15/students with id, 12 and under free.

Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame, 97 Main Street, Stony Brook Village, https://www.limusichalloffame.org/.

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© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: Antwerp, Medieval Jewel

Antwerp’s historic center, ringed with Guild Houses © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our BoatBikeTours route on Day 4 of our Bruges-Amsterdam bike tour into Antwerp would normally involve going through an interesting 500-meter long tunnel. But our leader, Arnold Thurko, tells us that the 1930s-vintage elevators broke and they haven’t been able to find the spare parts to fix it, so we ride over a bridge and take a ferry into the city instead, which proves a delightful ride with gorgeous views of the city and a fun (quick) ferry ride.

Arriving into Antwerp by ferry© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We park our bikes (Arnold stays with them) and go off with our leader, Corrie Stein, for a guided walking tour of Antwerp’s historic city center.

Antwerp’s Golden Age was the 1500s (earlier than Amsterdam), largely because of the advantage its Suikerrui (canal) provided traders by connecting the city to the sea. (Today it is closed off but you can visit the De Ruien, the underground waterway. You get to walk along old vaulted ceilings, narrow canals, bridges, sewers and sluices, and see the city’s underbelly. You can visit The Ruien by booking a guided group walk, walk on your own with an interactive tablet at fixed times or navigate a small section of The Ruien by boat. Go to www.deruien.be).  I have this on top of my list for a return visit to Antwerp. 

Antwerp © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Antwerp was apparently spared bombing in World War II. As a result, we can still marvel at the City Hall, which dates from 1560, and a magnificent square ringed with Guild Houses, one for each guild and each with its own decoration.

Antwerp’s historic center, ringed with Guild Houses © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The square has as its center the Silvius Brabo statue, a mythical Roman soldier. According to legend, Corrie relates, a giant, Druon Antigoon, who lived on river, would demand a toll from people who wanted to pass the bridge over the river Scheldt. If they refused, the giant would cut off their hand and throw it into the river. Brabo killed the giant, cut off his hand and threw it into the river. This is supposed to have been the origin of the city’s name, Antwerp, translated as “hand throw.”

Statue of Silvius Brabo, a mythical Roman soldier, who gave Antwerp its name by killing a giant © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We walk over to the Cathedral of Our Lady, built 1550-1800 in Gothic style. The belfry, 1339 meters high is included in the Belfries of Belgium and France list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The cathedral possesses some major works of art: including three major works by Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens (two of which were confiscated by Napoleon and moved to France but returned to the Cathedral in the 19th century).

Antwerp’s historic center, ringed with Guild Houses © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We get back on our bikes and ride to where our ship, the Princesse Royal, is tied up at the dock, and walk a few blocks away to the Red Star Museum, which BoatBikeTours has arranged for us to visit.

This is a fascinating museum that is a kind of bookend to our Ellis Island Immigration Museum in New York City. Indeed, Ellis Island is where 2 million Europeans who boarded the Red Star Lines at Antwerp to come to America would have wound up. But this museum does more – it tells the age-old story of migration through individual people, going back to the Neanderthal, and why migration is such a fundamental quality of being human.

Antwerp’s Red Star Line immigration museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The commentary doesn’t shy away from condemning phrases (that are factually true) – for example, describing the brutal, impoverished conditions these desperate people were escaping, or taken by force as slaves, or fleeing persecution, and up to modern day anti-immigrant policies and speech that has lead to the plight of so many undocumented immigrants.

Between 1892 and 1954, 12 million immigrants came through Ellis Island, with a whopping 1,004,756 entering the United States in 1907 alone. Of these, only 2% were turned away (and if were sent back, it was at Red Star’s expense, which is why, we learn, the line was so very scrupulous with their own medical evaluations)

Anti-immigrant fervor took hold in the United States after World War I; the Great Depression, effectively brought an end to migration to America. By then, almost 20 million Europeans had emigrated to America – settling the West, populating the factories of new Industrial cities. The Red Star Line ceased sailing in 1934.

Antwerp’s Red Star Line immigration museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibits are candid about the difference in how the wealthy traveled in such luxury and style compared to those in steerage. You get to see how passengers in different classes were treated – ‘livid’ – don’t disguise how tough steerage was (but compared to what leaving?). The inescapable conclusion that steerage class was actually key to the company’s revenue and profit.

The exhibits are remarkably personal. It is amazing to see these old photos and recognize the buildings, to see postcards, passports, ID papers, and personal effects.

What I loved most is the display on the first floor which so vividly conveys the central theme: there has always been migration, from beginning of man – and they personalize with one representative person for each era – even Neanderthal.

They show what compels migration in a honest way.

Antwerp © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Interestingly, for many, Antwerp became their final stop and today there are some 170 nationalities in Antwerp (another similarity to New York City). You can see it in the faces of school children on their outings, in restaurants that represent all nationalities.-Vietnam, Indonesia, Argentina, Italy, France.

For many immigrants, Antwerp became their destination and their home – you can see it in school children’s faces © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is the evening we are on our own for dinner. (I miss out on visiting the Red Building, which houses an important museum, but even though it is closed, you can take escalators up eight floors to see the photos of people, old and young, then climb two stories higher to the top for a view.

I go off to wander Antwerp myself and on my way back to the ship, find myself in Antwerp’s Red Light District.

Stumbling into Antwerp’s Red Light district © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I have a story to tell when we are all back on board.

The Oklahoma couple says they wound up at a French restaurant, Bistro de Pottenbrug. They saw steak on the menu and wind up feasting on flattened pig heads, escargots, eel soup in creamy base.

“On this trip,” Lindsey says, “I decided instead of saying ‘no,’ to say ‘yes’.”  

Antwerp’s diversity is reflected in its restaurant offerings © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

She asks what others’ weirdest meals have been:  Anne’s weird meal – bone marrow from buffalo; Janet’s was fish eye. Lindsey says, “Last night’s pressed pig head – but it could have been marketed better.”

Art abounds in Antwerp © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Art – and a sense of humor – abounds in Antwerp © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Art abounds in Antwerp © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What is so notable about Antwerp, which is still a major industrial city, is that in one view, you can see dozens of wind turbines, coal being shipped, even a nuclear plant billowing smoke, which we see as we sail out of Antwerp the next morning.

Antwerp is ringed by wind turbines © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
An “all of the above” energy strategy on view in Antwerp: wind turbines, nuclear plant, and fossil fuels © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Antwerp is really worth a longer stay. The Antwerp City Card provides free entrance to the city’s top museums, churches, attractions and public transport; as well as some great discounts (www.visitantwerpen.be/en/antwerp-city-card).

We leave Belgium and continue on into The Netherlands.

Boat Bike Tours, Aambeeldstraat 20, 1021 KB, Amsterdam, Netherlands, tel.: +31 20 72 35 400,  [email protected], www.boatbiketours.com.

See also:

Idyllic Trip: Biking and Boating from Bruges to Amsterdam

Bruges-Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: Biking to Ghent

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: Antwerp, Medieval Jewel

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: Dordrecht, the Birthplace of Holland

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: The Windmills of Kinderdijk

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© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Best Part of Prague Castle? The Tiny Houses

Tiny Houses on Golden Lane, just the right size for these Prague school children © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

For my second full day in Prague, I head out to what is appropriately its most important attraction, Prague Castle. I walk over the Charles Bridge (Karlov Most), which was built by Charles IV in 1357, and then up, up, and up (you can take a tram) to the castle gate. I flash my Prague Cool Pass app on my phone at the ticket window and get a ticket that you present at for entry to each of the various attractions within the castle complex, which dates back to the 9th century.

Cathedral St. Vitus within Prague Castle was built between 1344 and not finished until 1929© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I am so happy to have the time to just wander and read the various notes that are provided (I opt out of renting the audio tour), and will return the next day with a guide from the CroisiEurope Elbe Princess who will point out the details that I have missed in the famed St. Vitus Cathedral, Royal Palace and Basilica of St George (I note the relief outside of St. George slaying the dragon, symbolic of the Church defeating paganism). (Some of the Castle sites were closed, including the Rosenberg Palace).

St George slays the dragon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Castle is a vast complex and today is the seat of the Czech Republic’s government (a flag is raised when the president is in).

A few tidbits: Cathedral St. Vitus was built between 1344 and not finished until 1929. Half of the Cathedral is “new”. The two original architects are buried within the Cathedral, and in the most elaborate tomb of all is Charles IV, himself, who did so much to build the “New Town” of Prague, the cathedral, and the university.  The Bohemian Crown jewels are kept within a hidden room inside, and seven keys – each one held by a different official – are needed to open it. In a small chapel, I note actual skeleton remains peeking out through a window.

Basilica St. George within Prague Castle © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are horrific stories, too. Ludmilla, with her husband sought to convert the country to Christianity, was killed assassins hired by her daughter-in-law, Drahomira of Stodor, who was jealous of Ludmila’s influence over Wenceslaus (her son and Ludmilla’s grandson). Soon after Ludmilla was canonized. Wenceslaus (widely referred to as Good King Wenceslaus) was killed by his brother around 935 and also was made a saint.

Basilica St. George within Prague Castle © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s interesting who becomes a saint. An extremely popular saint, prominent in the cathedral, is St. John of Nepomuk, the court priest of King Wenceslas IV. Legend has it that he was killed by request of the king, because he refused to tell the king about the queen’s confession, and his body thrown off the Charles Bridge. When you go to the Charles Bridge, you can see the statue (one of 30 that line the bridge) depicting this story, where the tradition is to touch his image in order to return to Prague, and walk a few steps to the place where his body was thrown into the water, in 1383.

Basilica St. George within Prague Castle © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the Royal Palace, we go into a gigantic hall, that dates from 1492, where jousts (on horseback) were held. It is an architectural achievement because it was built without supports for the ceiling.

We learn that Empress Maria Theresa, who brought compulsory education to Europe and was responsible for a major rebuilding of the castle, was the mother of 16 including Joseph II who ruled from 1780-90 and freed the serfs (as well as liberalizing restrictions on the Jews); his sister was Marie Antoinette who lost her head in the French Revolution.

There is a portrait of Joseph II in a ceremonial room where there are replicas of the crown and septre that are hidden away.

The best part is going into the room that was the scene of the “Defenestration of Prague,” a key event in European history. In 1618, the Protestant rebels threw two Catholic Imperial Ministers and their secretary out of these windows. Surviving the fall (they fell on a pile of refuse in the moat), they took refuge in the adjoining Lobkowicz Palace where they were protected by Polyxena.  (The scene is immortalized in a painting which you can view in the palace.) The Defenestration of Prague signaled the beginning of a Bohemian revolt against the Habsburg emperor Ferdinand II, leading to the Thirty Years’ War.

But I am grateful for having the time to really linger on the Golden Lane, my favorite part of the castle – there is simply so much to see.

This, I grin to myself, is where the “tiny house” trend was born.

Golden Lane within Prague Castle © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Golden Lane has a marvelous history. It’s  an irregular strip of land, varying in width from 4-8 meters between the older (12th C) Romanesque walls and the later (15th C) walls that form the outer north fortification of Prague Castle on the edge of a natural ravine, the Stag Moat. Three defensive towers are attached to the castle wall (up to 320 cm thick): Powder Tower on the west, Dalibor Tower on the east and between them, White Tower. And between Dalibor and White towers, 12 vaults, each 720 cm deep and 600-660cm wide, were used as makeshift dwellings.

Number 15, Golden Lane, as it would have been when the Goldsmith occupied it (there is a bird cage to alert the goldsmith when there were toxic fumes) © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Number 15, Golden Lane, as it would have been when the Goldsmith occupied it (there is a bird cage to alert the goldsmith when there were toxic fumes) © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The oldest written reports are from 1560s when the lane was called Goldsmith’s Lane – its residents were probably “lesser” goldsmiths who had fled the strictly enforced guild laws in Prague’s three towns of Old Town, New Town and Lesser Town. We get to see one of these tiny houses, Number 15, as it would have been when the Goldsmith occupied it (there is a bird cage to alert the goldsmith when there were toxic fumes).

Tiny houses as they would have been © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In 1597, artillerymen at the gates asked Emperor Rudolf II for permission to build little rooms within the newly repaired walls. The Red Artillerymen (named for their uniform) had to build their dwellings at their own expense, and bought and sold them. We get to see one of the houses, Number 13, that would have been inhabited by a Red Artilleryman.

A Red Artilleryman’s tiny house © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Red Artillerymen served without fixed salary but were exempt from paying tax and lived in the castle for nothing. There were 24 Red Artillerymen guarding the gates and were subordinate to the Castle Governor. In 1597, they asked Emperor Rudolf II for permission to block the niches in the newly reconstructed castle walls and establish rooms. Their most important source of revenue came from services they performed for the nobles who were imprisoned in the White Tower and Dalibor Tower – they acted as servants, cooks, stokers, and mail carriers in addition to being prison guards. The Red Artillerymen unit was disbanded by Emperor Joseph II in 1784.

Not long after, little houses began to expand into the lane with the addition and fireplaces; new additions made. Hardly idyllic, conditions for basic hygiene remained backward. In the 18th century, there was only one privy for all the houses, a second one was only installed in the 19th century. Water pipes were laid in 1877, but it wasn’t until 1942 that the house at Number 24 had running water.

In 1953, the office of Czech president (which is within the Castle complex) expropriated the little houses from their owners.  The lane was restored in 1955 by architect Pavel Janik, and the façade colors chosen by painter and animator Jiri Trnka. The last reconstruction of Golden Lane took place in 2010-11, with a new drainage system and repaving, the tiny houses were underpinned and repaired, the facades repainted, and the Defense Passage and White Tower restored.

Right up to the departure of the last tenant, in 1952, the Golden Lane community was very colorful. At first, it consisted of Castle employees – gatekeepers, guards, bellringers –and later, people who rented, many who appreciated this place as a source of inspiration.

When you see groups of tiny children coming through, you realize what a fantasy place this is – they stop in front of one that seems out of a fairytale.

Several names in the land records that have been preserved are notable:

No 22 was the home of Franz Kafka in 1916 and 1917, who rented it from his sister. It was here that he wrote “The Country Doctor.” (The house is now a bookshop with Kafka’s books prominently featured; several other tiny houses have been turned into marvelous shops.)

No 22 was the home of Franz Kafka in 1916 and 1917, where he wrote “The Country Doctor.” Today it is a bookshop with Kafka’s novels prominently featured © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

House No 12 was in the late 1930s the temporary home of the dramatist and writer of prose fiction Jiri Maranek.  “In the romantic atmosphere of the lane and in everyday contact with the past, he found inspiration for his writing, particularly for his historical novels and short stories”

No 14 still has an old sign with playing cards, an owl and a crystal ball. For years this was the home of the renowned Prague tarot-card reader and clairvoyant Madame de Thebes.  Before the Second World War, Matylda Prusova (her real name), the widow of a phamarcist, drew attention from afar with her black clothing and old-fashioned hat adorned with ostrich feathers. Since 1914, she had waited in vain for the return of her son who was killed in the first World War. Clients came daily to her cozy room, stuffed with bizarre objects, to have her look into their future. Because of her frequent predictions about an early end to the war and the fall of the Third Reich, she was arrested by the Gestapo and tortured to death.

No 24 was the House of Mrs. Magdalena. By the early 20th c, Golden Lane was already famous and she charged the growing number of tourists and history lovers to see her tiny house. Other enterprising owners rented to artists, writers looking for inspiration.

Number 27 was the Herbalist’s house. This essential skill of treating wounds, curing diseases, and easing suffering was always managed by one of the servants of the Castle, the notes say. Folk healers and herbalists often had enough experience to carry a certificate stating that someone was successfully cured by them. Herbalists used herbs and botanical extracts but also magic and incantation. The herbalist’s household resembled an apothecary – bottles, jugs, boxes containing nectars from plants, purgative and tonic opiates, powders for curing teeth, throat and roundworm, plasters, seeds and sugar coated flowers. A trunk or cupboard would contain snail shells, human craniums, pig’s teeth, bones from the sea spider (octopus) and dried frogs. Ceramic jars had lards from dog, human, tom cat, stork, rabbit, bear and snake.

It’s especially fun to wander through the house of a film critic – seeing the old movie posters, the clutter of cans of film, the movie projectors, as if he recently left.

A 1920s film critic’s house © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I climb a narrow, spiral staircase to an upper floor where there is an astonishing exhibit of arms and armor (really intimidating helmets). And in the Dalibor Tower, a prison from 1496 to 1781, there is a horrifying display of implements of torture. You realize that those movies depicting Dark Ages brutality were not fiction or fantasy. You can see the rack, a skeleton hung in a cage, the “Spanish boot.”

In Dalibor Tower, a prison from 1496 to 1781, there is a horrifying display of implements of torture © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are told that the most famous of the prisoners was the knight Dalibor Kozojed, imprisoned because he backed rebels and confiscated property. After two years of bread and water, he was sentenced to forfeit “his chattels, his honour and his head” and was executed in the courtyard in 1498. Much later, the romantic legend of Dalibor and his fiddle emerged: Supposedly, out of boredom, he played the violin so masterfully in prison that people came from far and wide to listen, enraptured. But it turns out that “fiddle” was a nickname for an instrument of torture:  a rack (which we see) on which the convicted man was stretched until he began “to fiddle” – change his tune and confess.

In Dalibor Tower, a prison from 1496 to 1781, there is a horrifying display of implements of torture © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I find the place extremely disturbing (a skeleton is in a cage dangling from the ceiling as you walk down the stone stairs), but a group of school kids seem enthralled.

When I come out from Golden Lane, I look across to see the Lobkowicz Palace and realize it is included on the Prague Cool Pass (praguecoolpass.com). This turns out to be the absolute highlight for me in Prague. The Palace, itself, is fabulous, owned by a noble family that was once one of the richest in the land. The collection inside is breathtaking. And the family’s story is utterly fascinating.

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