If you really want to be freaked out by the KGB Spy Museum that opened just a few months ago in Manhattan, do what I did: come directly from Spyscape, where you learn about the whole business of being a spy, and be in the middle of reading a book like “The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the West,” by Malcolm Vance.
The KGB Museum would be scarier if it were not laid out somewhat like an antique shop (but aren’t all spy centers sequestered behind something innocuous like a tailor shop?). Row by row, there are some 3500 artifacts, all of them real, many on view publicly for the first time. They date from 1910 until 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union when the KGB was replaced by the FSB. But these mundane objects – a lipstick, an umbrella, a pen – were lethal weapons; a tie pin and belt buckle were cameras; a heart reader could seek out a live person hiding even in a refrigerator. Another important tool? A thermometer to determine if a person were truly dead. And if a master key couldn’t unlock an apartment to install a bug? No matter, a transmitter could be aimed at the window from a huge distance to decipher the sound vibrations and eavesdrop anyway. There is even a letter remover which could take out a letter from its envelope, read its contents and replace it back in the envelope, without leaving a mark.
And then there is the “patient chair,”
used in a psychiatric hospital, with scary restraints, that were used for
interrogations under truth serum or other means.
It turns out that those fantastical
gadgets from the James Bond movies, and even the Get Smart spy spoof, were
actually based on the real thing. It seems that there is nothing too absurd in
the spy world.
The KGB story is really scary
though. KGB (КГБ in Cyrillic) stands for “Komitet
Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti,” which can be translated as the Committee for
State Security. The KGB was the main security agency for the Soviet Union, and
during the Cold War the KGB was in direct competition with the CIA and other
state security agencies around the world for cultural, economic, and military
The KGB was born in the Russian Revolution – one of the artifacts is the carpet
memorializing Lenin (not his real last name, it turns out) and the beginning of
the Revolution in 1917 – and was initially designed to ferret out
counter-revolutionaries, or enemies of the Communist state.
One of the
world’s largest and most sophisticated intelligence operations, the KGB served
a multifaceted role as both a spy agency outside of Soviet Union and a force of
secret police within it.
You realize how pervasive and
ruthless the KGB was (is), and sense the constant terror that the people must
have lived under, as that term “enemies of the state” was broadened to mean any
one who criticized or opposed the ruling party, the leadership or policies.
There are real doors from jail cells,
and you look through at real video of real prisoners. Those who were placed in solitary
were allowed nothing to wear but their underwear; they could sleep only four
hours, when the bed would be closed up, and fed only bread and water for 5 to
One of the
world’s largest and most sophisticated intelligence operations, the KGB served
a multifaceted role as both a spy agency outside of Soviet Union and a force of
secret police within it.
Some of the best engineering and
scientific minds were employed to devise gadgets and gizmos – miniaturizing cameras,
maximizing surveillance and detection, inventing new ways of transmitting.
undetectable, the agency used its state-of-the-art tools and ruthless methods
to seamlessly monitor the citizens’ lives and keep them in constant fear of
repercussions for any subversive behavior. The investment in the spy technology
had a devastating toll on the country’s economy yet it was deemed the most
effective and necessary way to keep the state isolated from the rest of the
world and keep the Western world out.”
operating in countries all over the world, the KGB had a vast influence on world
affairs, which reached its peak during the Cold War. KGB Spy Museum presents a
never-before-seen collection of items used in the missions of prominent KGB
agents, illuminating the strategies and methods that underlay many of history’s
top-secret espionage operations.
to perusing artifacts and learning about the history of the notorious agency, you
can read and listen to real stories from spies, witnesses and journalists as
well as explore and interact with authentic objects, such as telephone
switchboards (most of the operators who connected the calls and then listened
in on conversations were KGB), encryption machines, an interrogation chair,
designed to extract information from suspects and enemies.
One of the most interesting stories surrounds a wooden Great Seal in one of the cabinets, that was also one of the KGB’s greatest triumphs, that arose out of the famous summit in the Crimea of Stalin, Churchill and FDR. The head of the KGB, Lavrenty Beria, had a replica of the Great Seal made as a gift for Ambassador Averell Harriman, presented most charmingly by cherubic Young Pioneers (like boy scouts) as a “gesture of friendship.” But inside was an ingenious bug that used electromagnetic energy instead of an external power supply. It hung above the Ambassador’s desk in Moscow for seven years before it was exposed in 1952. “The Americans couldn’t figure out how it worked for a year and a half,” my guide, Sergey, says. (The original is in the NSA’s Cryptology Museum in Washington.)
The inventor of the Zlatoust/Receiver
LOSS, Lev Sergeyevich Termen, was a physicist
and a musician, who began his career by developing previously unseen electronic
musical instruments. In 1947 he won the Stalin Prize for Inventions of Listening
One of the objects that is literally
one-of-a-kind, is a record player made expressly for
Stalin; there is also a safe, made by the Bernstein company in Berlin, that
came from KGB HQ, still containing the currency that would have been enough to buy
30 cars. Both indications of the privilege along with the power amassed by the
Communist leadership despite their calls for a equal society.
Among the rarest objects, which are
a point of pride, also seem mundane but were “mechanical masterpieces”:
Tool set КАРОЕД/KAROED (Bark beetle): This is a manual
set of special drills and instruments for drilling very narrow holes less than
0.04 inches without any sound in the tree or plastic. Holes were needed to
listen to secret conversations with a help of secret microphones. These sharp
and pointed drills are specially machined from the very hard metal. The set
includes drill extensions, which can be used to drill holes in 3.3 ft and even
thicker walls or wooden floors. A special hand-held drill holder had a stopper to
drill holes of a certain depth to protect the drill from coming out across the
wall by making only a small, hardly visible hole. A special container collects
shavings in order not to leave any suspicious marks.
very rare: KGB secret drill ИГЛА/IGLA (needle): “It is a unique mechanical
masterpiece – the drill IGLA. This very complicated drill reflects the name
‘needle’, because it drills a very thin hole through the concrete. It drills
with the help of air compressor with abrasive dust to avoid the sound and
vibration. Even the drilling sound was designed by the constructors to simulate
that era washing machine Малютка/Maliutka. The person at home thought that a
neighbor was probably doing the laundry. The Igla drill had a hole through
which the air pressure was inflated according to the manometer readings, and
when the drill approached the outside of concrete wall, the air pressure
dropped in the drill as the air went out and the drill automatically shut off.
The hole was 0.04 inches in size. If the walls were painted or lined with
ceramic tiles, the eye did not even see the hole or dust outside. With this
drill, the abrasive powder and concrete dust were absorbed by air. Agents who
were very patient, slow and responsible were chosen to drill such a hole. In
order to drill a 4 inches concrete wall took about 4 hours, and with the
preparation – the whole day. Agents, through drilled miniature holes, installed
listening or photo devices. After the operation, they applied a hole with the
cement mixture and no suspicious marks were left.”
There’s an old fashioned
phone where you can “dial” a selection of officials. My guide, Sergey, dials
Putin and hands me the phone so I can hear Putin talking (it’s like listening
to the LBJ telephone tapes at the LBJ Presidential Museum in Austin). There are
also actual phones on display from KGB offices that would have features to
disguise the voice at the push of a button.
The two spy experiences – Spyscape and
the KGB Museum – have completely different approaches and perspectives, but they
complement each other so well, especially when visited one after the other.
Spyscape is modern, state of the art, interactive, pulse-pounding, engaging, immersive experience. KGB is old-school but so relevant today, with the Russian actively hacking elections and using social media to impact US and other elections, policy, and political discourse.
“The KGB Spy
Museum aims to present espionage and intelligence operations in an educational
and interesting way, emphasizing the importance of human intelligence and
setting out a frame of reference for the public to appreciate the great extent
to which spies have always influenced world events. The Museum has a policy of
presenting the history of espionage without political bias, thus offering
visitors a factual and balanced view of the subject. “
The Museum is open daily 10 a.m. to 8
available online or in the museum. You need about 1 ½ hours to visit. Tickets
are adults (18-64)/$25; Children 7-17, seniors, students, $20; a guided visit,
minimum 3 people is $43.99.
Are you Bond or Bourne? Once
you leave Spyscape, you will learn there are many more roles to play in the
complex and ever more ubiquitous world of intelligence. After going through
eight “tests” and many stations which do their best to insert you into the
realm of espionage and profile you to figure out what job you are best suited
to, I would make a
sorry spy. I knew from the start I wasn’t either Bond or Bourne. But I
found a new calling.
I was expecting a museum, even as
museums have become more interactive and engaging and multimedia. But Spyscape,
one of the newest attractions in New York City, is not a museum. It is an
interactive experience more than anything else, designed to inform you, yes,
about the world of espionage and surveillance which, it turns out, is ubiquitous
today, but put you in the picture so that you see yourself in the complex
enterprise that is intelligence.
Spyscape is modern, state of the
art, interactive, pulse-pounding, engaging, immersive experience that lets you
peek into the world of espionage, spycraft, intelligence and
counterintelligence today from the inside.
don’t just get taken on a journey through the history of espionage from World
War II and on, but become immersed in up-to-the-minute, ripped from the
headlines events. Edward Snowdon. Wikileaks. Stuxnet. Black hat hackers. Anonymous. “You might be persuaded not to vote.”
has truly been let out of her box.
There is a feeling of intensity from the moment you arrive – intended to give you that sense of tension and excitement that must be omnipresent in espionage, and visitors will enjoy as much as the adrenaline rush of skiing down a double-black trail. But is there a place for me?
I am risk adverse. I’m not a gamer.
I don’t do puzzles. I’m frightened of going into small dark rooms when I don’t
know what is there. I frighten easily.
As you arrive, you are given a
bracelet that identifies you at scanning machines that basically track your
progress as you go about the exhibit – you complete a series of tasks and
quizzes and at the end, are assessed as to what role you might play in the spy
apparatus – it turns out there are many, many different functions.
entrée into the world of spycraft is the largest passenger elevator in New York
City, escorted by a very professional person with a
clipboard – it turns out that the ride up is also a multi-media orientation
(think “Mission Impossible”).
mission: What kind of spy will you be? Or put another way: Where do you fit in
the pantheon that is the world of espionage.
experience is constructed as if a job interview, to immerse you and personalize
what would otherwise be technical machines and bios. But it turns out that not
all spies work for governments – corporations engage in some of the same
techniques, so do journalists, and so do hackers and criminals. And it turns out that the profile you wind up with at the
end of all the tasks and quizzes is authentic and serious – not tongue-in-cheek
or hokey. I can see some young people seeing new career paths in intelligence
(most of the CIA are analysts, not cloak-and-dagger operatives) or even
outside, since, as is noted, the skills of a spy are broadly applicable.
The layout (Spyscape takes up a
massive amount of space) is purposefully cold, grey, institutional, with
constant pulsing sounds – sometimes electronic music, sometimes sound effects,
I am quite unprepared for the experience, expecting a more conventional exhibit, so am put off stride when all of a sudden confronted with quizzes and tasks. It would have been completely different if I were primed and in a game mode.
One of the tasks I find more engaging (once I got the hang of it), was in the room about coding/decoding, the German’s Enigma machine and the Bombe that British mathematician Alan Turing and colleagues at Benchley developed to break the Enigma code. Here the task is to organize a spy’s escape, but you only have 3 minutes before the Germans will cut off communication to her, and you have to convert a message to code and then decode the response. I do this for the “Limping Lady”, who turns out to be a real person (I later realize she is the spy Virginia Hall) and this was a real scenario.
get personal insights into Alan Turing, the mathematician who developed a
program to break the German “Enigma” machine code. (A fascinating artifact is a
copy of Turing’s notes, as a teenager, summarizing Einstein’s Theory of
Relativity as a gift for his mother). There is also a brief bio of Joan Clark, one
of the Enigma codebreakers who rose to become Deputy Head of the Hut eight. You
get to type code on a replica Enigma machine.
After one “test”, in which I fail to figure out patterns, I am given these words of encouragement: “You didn’t do too well today, but you are obviously better in other things.”
Another that is sure to delight is a
room of laser beams where the timed task is to shut off lights without piercing
the beams – very Oceans 11. (This task gauges your agility.)
All through, the exhibits personalize
the serious issue being raised – the history, technology, impact on society – with
real people, real events and real artifacts. This is serious business after all
with real life and death consequences. Double agents have been exposed and
executed; moles have exposed agents who were executed. Wars declared or
averted, extended or curtailed, won or lost.
you weave through, taking your own quizzes and tasks, the exhibits tell stories
about real spies, double agents, like Robert Hansen and how he was discovered.
Hansen’s treachery led to the unmasking of three soviets who spied for the US,
two of whom were executed. – how he was discovered and trapped. Would you have
detected Hansen’s deceit?
I have all sorts of trepidation about going into a small dark room which turned out to be the test of how well I could detect Deception (I think I do well at that one, probably by accident).
“Gadgets of defiance” describes the
devices that British and American operatives used to carry out perilous
missions in Nazi-occupied Europe – forged documents to support their cover
identifies; one-time encryption pads and miniature radios to communicate with
handlers. They supplied downed Allied pilots with escape maps and compasses and
targeted the enemy with weapons and explosives.
I learn about Virginia Hall, an
American special operations officer who, as a girl, had dreamed of joining the
US foreign service and became fluent in foreign languages, but after she lost
part of her left leg in an accident, her dream was cut off as well. When Hitler
invaded Paris in 1940, Hall was working for a French ambulance service. She
made her way to Britain and joined British special operations. She worked
as a journalist for the New York Post in occupied France, and the Germans
nicknamed Artemis;the Gestapo considered her “the most
dangerous of all Allied spies”. Virginia Hall was the “Limping Lady” of
the code scenario.
about Oleg Penkovsky, known as “HERO” who was a Soviet military intelligence
(GRU) colonel who was responsible for informing the United Kingdom about Soviet
installing missiles in Cuba. The information he provided helped Kennedy through
the Cuban Missile Crisis because he realized that a naval blockade could force
the Soviet Union to stand down. Penkovsky, the highest ranking Soviet official
to provide intelligence for the UK up until that time, is credited with
altering the course of the Cold War. He was executed six months after being
I learn about the British couple, Ruari and Janet
Chisholm, who were his handlers in Moscow. Ruari was Moscow Station Chief for
M16, the British secret intelligence service. Janet collected much of
Pankovsky’s intelligence. During one “brush contact” he walked casually over to
her in a park and offered her children a tin of Vitamin C pills. Janet quickly
swapped the tin which contained military secrets for another identical one
hidden in her baby stroller. The thought of exposing children like that was
chilling. (There’s a photo of Janet with her children on a park bench.)
We meet the real life “Q” gadget wizard,
Charles Fraser Smith, who was Ian Fleming’s inspiration for the character he
used in James Bond. The
new multi-sensory James Bond experience explores the creative process behind
the 007 movies while revealing the secrets of James Bond’s iconic Aston Martin
DB5. You get to peek at gadgets in Q’s lab, examine original concept art in
Oscar®-winning Production Designer Sir Ken Adam’s studio and look behind the
scenes of Skyfall’s explosive finale.
At another section, you go through a
dark curtain and find yourself in this dark round room, illuminated only by
giant screens,that give you some sense of the state of surveillance (it is all
area showcases whistleblower Edward Snowden who exposed the NSA’s surveillance
programs and the reporters who have unmasked government secrets – Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, the
journalists who exposed modern day slavery(old
school pad and pen, videocamera and computer are the weapons of choice).
This is where you see the message
blazing out of a giant screen: “You might be persuaded not to vote.” This is
the brave new world of intelligence – not extracting secrets, but in distorting
and implanting messages to shape, disrupt or derail society.
One of the last stations is actually
the most chilling: Hacktivism discusses hacking, hackers – by anarchists,
profiteers as well as nation states. Stuxnet, which was used to disrupt Iran’s
nuclear program (a centrifuge is on view). After Iran realized
what had been done, it called for the hackers to join in an army.
We learn that Stuxnet is now open
source, sold on the blck market, and could be used by any number of actors to
shut down electric grids, water systems or air traffic control or remotely give
instructions to launch a nuclear attack. And no one knows who has it.
And now, I am really to go into my “debrief –
encryption, deception, surveillance, special ops, brainpower (7/18), which
comes up with my spy role: Agent Handler (I suspect they give that one to all
those who don’t measure up as real spies).
But it isn’t done flippantly or
tongue-in-cheek. The authentic personal spy profile is based on psychologists
and a former Head of Training at British Intelligence, and sounds pretty
authentic (as were the short tests for which I was totally unprepared):
“Your Spy Profile is your unique (and
ever evolving) combination of attributes. When compared to others, it allows us
to determine the Spy Role you are best suited to.”
My profile – “empathetic, inquisitive, composed” – turns out
to be fairly accurate and also serious, developed with real psychologists.
Later in the day, I am sent a comprehensive
profile to my email and a
Welcome letter. “Your Spy Skills can be valuable in everyday life. We’ve evaluated
your Core Attributes and Spy Skills to determine your Spy Profile. Top
psychologists and spymasters helped us build our Spy Profile system. We hope
the self-knowledge in your Spy Profile will empower you, and inspire you to
further develop your Spy Skills.”
The missive gives me more detail about my role as Agent
manager of agents who provide secret intelligence or operational support, and
an insider view from General David Petreus.
In the real life example, I am given the bio of
the agent handler for my new spy hero, Oleg Penkovsky (his code name was Hero)
and the background that I found so compelling in the exhibit, about his
handler, Ruari Chisholm, and an example of a typical operation, procuring cover
material for an agent in the Iranian government who wants to provide info on
Iran’s potential to develop nuclear weapons.
(This makes me think of important omissions in
Spyscape: Valerie Plame, the CIA undercover agent who was infiltrating the Iran
nuclear program until Plame’s
identity as covert officer of the CIA working in counter proliferation was leaked to the press by members of George W Bush administration and
subsequently made public as
retribution for her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s reveal about the false
information that led to the US invasion of Iraq; she also had knowledge to
disprove Bush’s contention that the aluminum tubes that Iraq had could be used
as centrifuges for nuclear material. Also, how Andrew McCabe, the foremost
counter-intelligence expert on Russia, was drummed out of the FBI by Trump to
short-circuit the investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign
and the 2016 election).
Spyscape will excite and thrill as
it informs and intrigues. It helps to be prepared in advance for what you will
encounter – I think I would have done considerably better and had better
And like skiing, it is an experience
that adults and older children will relish doing together.
There is a continuing relationship – they send you the profile, and follow up with articles, stories, spy challenges, sharing news about factual and fictional worlds of spying and hacking “and helping you develop your own spy skills. We will be adding content from top hackers and spies to spyscape.com/academy so check in regularly to see what’s new.”
I think I’m being groomed. I’m
From Spyscape, I walk down to the KGB Museum in
Chelsea. It is an interesting Spy v Spy counterpoint that enhances the
experience of each one separately.
is optimized for adults and teens, but children are welcome. Bringing
pre-school-age kids is not recommended. You
need about two hours. There is a pleasant café and the gift shop is loaded with
spy-related merch. Open Monday-Friday,
10 am-9 pm and Saturday-Sunday, 9am-9 pm, last entry at 7:30 pm. (Adult, $39;
child 3-12 $32).
This spring, the New-York Historical
Society presents Hudson Rising, a unique exhibition that explores
200 years of ecological change and environmental activism along “the most
interesting river in America” through artifacts, media, and celebrated Hudson
River School paintings.
On view March 1 – August 4, Hudson
Rising reflects on how human activity has impacted the river and, in
turn, how the river environment has shaped industrial development, commerce,
tourism, and environmental awareness. The exhibition also explores how experts
in various fields are currently creating ways to restore and re-engineer areas
of the river in response to climate change.
Indeed, we tend to think of the environmental movement as
originating with Yellowstone and the national parks, but it is fascinating to
realize that the beginning of environmental activism – and the techniques –
began here. Citizens rallied to oppose the construction of a Con Ed plant on
Storm King Mountain; one of the new organizations, Scenic Hudson, sued; the
case, in 1965 set a precedent beyond the Hudson, establishing that citizens
have standing to sue on behalf of conservation, even when they do not have a
direct economic interest, that beauty
and history also merit protection – the forerunner of the Environmental
Protection Act. Later, a “viewshed,” modeled on the concept of a watershed, in
connection with landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church’s Olana, also warranted
The Hudson River raised consciousness of the importance of
environmental protection. the exhibit opens with paintings from Thomas Cole,
the founder of the Hudson River School art movement (America’s first
native-grown art movement), who worried even then about the encroachment of
development. His paintings depict an idyllic landscape, but also the
destruction of the forest to lumbering.
Much more than a body of water, the Hudson
and its surroundings have been the home for humans and hundreds of species of
fish, birds, and plants; offered an escape for city-dwellers; and witnessed
battles over the uses of the river valley and its resources. For over 200
years, writers and artists have captured the river in paintings, drawings,
literature, and photographs, and surveyors and scientists have mapped and
measured its every parcel.
has always encapsulated the tension between development and conservation. But
it was more than about aesthetics, and the need for urbanites to be able to
seek respite in the countryside: an early environmental scientist realized that
logging in the Adirondacks, which was discovered to be the source of the
Hudson, was jeopardizing the watershed supplying New York City.
Scientists at the same time discovered the critical link between
forests and the health of rivers. They realized the Adirondack forest supported
the Hudson River and aquatic animals. That begins the movement to save the
Adirondacks, including the forests. Ultimately, it leads to New York State’s
“Forever Wild” amendment to the state constitution, in 1894.
“This path-breaking exhibition explores
ideas about the environment that developed in the context of the Hudson,
examining how we became aware, as New Yorkers and as Americans, of the role
that humans played in the river’s ecological degradation,” said Dr. Louise
Mirrer, president and CEO of New-York Historical. “The exhibit also looks at
the strategies we devised to address it. Spanning the entire industrial
era, Hudson Rising presents a compelling account of how the
Hudson has been an incubator for our ideas about the environment and our
relationships to the natural world for two centuries-plus.”
Indeed, we learn that Theodore Roosevelt,
before creating the first national park as president, innovated environmental
protection as Governor of New York State, working with New Jersey, to protect
the Palisades as a “park for the people” (hugely popular with immigrants who
crammed into cities, the park had 2 million visitors in 1920, many who came by
a free ferry); similarly Franklin Roosevelt, when he was New York State
governor, created what would become the New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps
when he was president.
Curated by Marci Reaven, New-York Historical’s vice president of history exhibitions, and Jeanne Haffner, associate curator, Hudson Rising begins with a prelude featuring artist Thomas Cole’s panoramic five-part Course of Empire series (1834-36), a treasure of New-York Historical’s collection that depicts the transformation of a pristine landscape into a thriving city, then its dramatic decline, and the fall of civilization.
Cole railed against “human hubris” and the exploitation of nature. “The ranges of the ax are daily and increasing,” Cole said. “Nature has spread for us a rich and delightful banquet. Shall we turn from it?” he wrote in his “Essay on American Scenery” (1836). Cole’s poetic questioning of the social costs of what was seen in his time as progress, serves as a prelude to the exhibition narrative, which begins with the industrial age and continues into the present day. The Hudson River, we learn, was the incubator for the environmental movement.
The exhibition is organized chronologically
and geographically into five sections that highlight significant places and
events in the environmental history of the river: Journeys Upriver:
The 1800s, The Adirondacks: 1870s-1890s, The Palisades: 1890s-1950s, The Hudson
Highlands: 1960s-1980s, and A Rising Tide: Today.
The exhibit is designed to meander, like the river itself, and uses actual artifacts – there is even the smell of freshly cut wood from the Adirondacks – that bring you, as much as possible to the Hudson: bricks from Haberstraw; rocks from the Palisades; iron from Cold Spring Foundry across from West Point; wood from Catskills; hemlock (used for tanning), even a fish tank with striped bath (blue eels will be added later). “The layout is a metaphor for the river,” said Ken Nintzel, the designer.
There are historical maps – one of the most impressive is a panorama map from 1847 that stretches the length of a wall, that tourists would use, “one of the great maps of American history”- photos, paintings, news clips that trace the battle to reclaim the Hudson from industrial pollution. A map from 1890s shows how the Hudson was “redesigned” to make it more navigable for shipping, changing the way the river ran, but in the process, did away with the shallows that hosted aquatic life and mitigated flooding. Another map documents how plentiful oysters used to be – New York city used to be the primary exporter of oysters and clams – until sewage in the Hudson killed off the oysters.
The painting by Thomas Cole of the Catskill Mountain House reminds
that American tourism began here in the Hudson – today, you can hike up to
where the hotel used to be and gaze out over the Hudson.
exhibits surround you, and there are various interactive elements.
Journeys Upriver: The 1800s starts with a steamboat journey up the Hudson River from
the New York City harbor to Albany, inspired by one of the great tourist guides
of Hudson River history, the Panorama of the Hudson (1847).
The detailed rendering of the river landscape led steamboat and armchair
travelers from New York City to the last navigable point of the river near
Troy, pointing out natural wonders, Hudson Valley industries, notable
individuals, and Revolutionary War sites along the way. Also on view are
paintings, industrial objects, and an important Army Corps of Engineers map
that shows how the Corps engineered the river to be a more navigable and
predictable shipping channel. Hudson River School art on display include Robert
Havell Jr.’s View of Hudson River from near Sing Sing, New York (ca.
1850) and George Henry Boughton’s Hudson River Valley from Fort
Putnam, West Point (1855), both depicting tourists enjoying the
The Adirondacks: 1870s-1890s examines the creation of Adirondack Park, established
to save the source of the river and combat deforestation in order to protect
the viability of the entire Hudson watershed. Advocates for the area included
surveyor Verplanck Colvin, who mapped the area’s peaks and lakes as
superintendent of the State Adirondack Survey and identified the source of the
river at Lake Tear of the Clouds, and Seneca Ray Stoddard, a photographer whose
images of deforestation made a case for forest conservation. On view in this
section is one of Asher B. Durand’s majestic depictions of the Adirondack wilderness, Adirondack
Mountains, New York (ca. 1870).
The Palisades: 1890s-1950s traces the protection of the forests and cliffs of
the Palisades to maintain the health of the river and preserve a place for
beauty and nature. In the late 1800s, the Palisades cliffs were being blasted
to bits by road builders who prized their rock. Citizen activists, such as the
New Jersey chapter of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs and the American
Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, fought back and helped create
Palisades Park in 1909. Residents of New York and New Jersey thronged to the
park, arriving by foot, ferry, train, and car, with over two million people
visiting in 1920 alone, most of them from Manhattan. The exhibition features a
selection of tourist brochures from that era, including one with a trio of
women posed on the cliff edge, above the river.
The Hudson Highlands: 1960s-1980s explores how activism along the river helped spark
the modern American environmental movement. By the early 1960s, untreated
sewage and industrial pollutants were poisoning the river. Increasing numbers
of power plants were also rising along the Hudson, whose operations were
killing millions of fish, and whose monumental structures were intruding upon
the most treasured vistas. When Con Edison announced plans to build a plant on
Storm King Mountain, citizen activists fought back and prevented its
construction. By the 1980s, citizens could legally intervene to stop
development that put treasured natural resources at risk. On view is an
aquarium featuring striped bass and other fish native to the Hudson River,
which now thrive due to activists’ efforts to save them. Displays of
artifacts, images, and media from the environmental campaigns of the era
include a 1983 photograph featuring John Cronin, river patroller for the Hudson
River Fisherman’s Association (now called Riverkeeper) on his first day on the
job, confronting an Exxon tanker discharging polluted water into the river.
The final section, A Rising
Tide: Today, discusses the process of reimagining and reclaiming the
Hudson River in the 21st century, as experts in many fields explore ways to
restore and re-engineer areas of the river in response to climate change. The
exhibition showcases innovative projects addressing these concerns, such as a
system of “living breakwaters,” reef-like structures designed to restore
diverse aquatic habitats, lessen wave impacts, and restore the shoreline,
implemented by the New York Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery and landscape architecture
“We hope Hudson Rising will inspire visitors to
see the river differently, and how movements like environmental activism get
born,” Dr. Mirrer said.
“It’s not a new story, but this is the first exhibit that presents
such a comprehensive look at the Hudson River as an incubator of the
As part of New-York Historical’s What the
History programs, a suite of interactive talks, history classes, art-making
workshops, and social evenings for a young professional audience illuminates
the environmental history of New York, the lasting impact of the Hudson River
School painters on the American imagination, and how contemporary design and
ideas are engaging with the threats climate change pose to the city.
Visiting families can enjoy a special guide
featuring suggested exhibition highlights to view as a family, discussion
questions, and gallery-based activities. During the April School Vacation Week
(April 19-28), Museum’s family programs explore environmental activism,
including art making using recycled materials in Museum galleries. On the
weekends (April 20-21 and April 27-28) visiting families can interact with
Living Historians portraying famous and unsung activists of American history.
On April 16, architectural historian Barry
Lewis discusses how the Victorians “greened” their homes and cities, bringing
nature into city greenbelts and private home design. On May 22, Douglas
Brinkley, New-York Historical’s presidential historian, explores how presidents
like Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt championed the protection
of the nation’s natural treasures and established a sprawling network of state
parks and scenic roadways, respectively. On June 9, author Leslie Day leads a
tour along the Hudson River exploring its rich geological and human history and
its diverse ecosystems.
exhibit is particularly timely: years of exploitation and pollution have
resulted in the entire Hudson River, from the Battery to Hudson Falls, some 200
miles, designated a superfund site by EPA. Mandated clean-up by industrial
polluters including General Electric, have significantly improved conditions.
But the Trump Administration’s EPA is moving to issue a Certificate of
Completion which would end GE’s responsibility for cleaning up the Superfund
site, despite the state’s research that shows high levels of PCBs remaining in
Cuomo issued a statement ahead of Administrator Wheeler’s visit to New York:
“In New York, we
are leading the fight to protect our environment with the most ambitious
environmental agenda in the nation. Administrator Wheeler, while you are in New
York, I urge you to visit the Hudson River, one of this country’s natural
treasures that is also one of the most pressing Superfund sites in the country.
New York has fought to restore this vital resource but the ball is now in the
EPA’s court. The EPA can either do the right thing and continue to hold GE
accountable for continued clean up, or they can side with big polluters and let
GE off the hook for its responsibility to clean up PCBs in the river.
“We refused to allow PCB
contamination to continue to jeopardize the health and safety of our
communities for generations to come. We hope and expect that the EPA will join
us in ensuring the full completion of the cleanup.”
I suggested Wheeler visit “Hudson Rising”.
The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s preeminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research and presenting history and art exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical’s mission is to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history. New-York Historical is also home to the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, one of the oldest, most distinguished libraries in the nation—and one of only 20 in the United States qualified to be a member of the Independent Research Libraries Association—which contains more than three million books, pamphlets, maps, newspapers, manuscripts, prints, photographs, and architectural drawings.
for Yourself: Hike the Hudson River School Art Trail
Walk in the footsteps of the Hudson River School artists Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, Asher B. Durand, Jasper
Cropsey, Sanford Gifford and other pioneering American landscape artists,
literally walking into their paintings, and appreciating their work in an
entirely new way.
See what inspired Thomas Cole, his art and his passion to save the Hudson Valley environment, when you visit his home and art studio. Visit Frederic Edwin Church’s magnificent Olana, walk the gorgeous trails and see the very first protected “viewshed” (Olana State Historic Site, 5720 State Route 9G, Hudson, NY 12534, 518-828-0135, olana.org.) Hike the trails that take you up to where the Catskill Mountain House would have stood, to Sunset Rock, to Kaaterskill Falls, North-South Lake, just as the Hudson River School painters did, often with markers that show the paintings that were created from that very same vantage point.
“The Hudson River School painters
believed art to be an agent of moral and spiritual transformation. In
large-scale canvases of dramatic vistas with atmospheric lighting, they sought
to capture a sense of the divine, envisioning the pristine American landscape
as a new Garden of Eden. Their work created not only an American art genre
but also a deeper appreciation for the nation’s natural wonders, laying the
groundwork for the environmental conservation movement and National Park
We have become well aware how terrifying Tyrannosaurus rex was, but who knew that T. rex hatchlings were fluffy and gangly, more like turkeys than the massive killing machines they grow to be? Or that the mega-predator had the rare ability to pulverize and digest bones and re-grow its teeth? Or that it grew at the rate of 140 lbs. a month, weighing 6 to 9 tons when fully grown and lived no more than 28 years? That it had excellent vision and sense of smell, but puny hands that probably were vestigial? T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, the first major exhibition of the American Museum of Natural History’s 150th anniversary celebration, brings us face to face with the most iconic dinosaur in the world through life-sized models—including the most scientifically accurate representation of T. rex to date–fossils and casts, engaging interactives, and the Museum’s first multiplayer virtual reality experience.
T. rex: The Ultimate
Predator opens Monday,
March 11, 2019 and will be on view through August 9, 2020, when the exhibit
will likely go on tour.
Founded in 1869, the Museum has a long and celebrated history of international exploration and research in paleontology dating back to the 1890s, with an outsized influence in a field that sits at the intersection of cutting-edge science and the popular imagination. The Museum has a particularly special relationship to T. rex: its famous paleontologist, Barnum Brown, was the first to discover T. rex – in 1902 in Montana – and the first T. rex on display anywhere was here at the museum. This makes the new blockbuster exhibit, T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, inspired by a legacy of scientific exploration and bringing the latest science to the public, a natural launching point for the museum’s 150th anniversary programming.
more than 120 years of dinosaur research and discovery, the Museum continues to
be a leader in this field. Its paleontology collection is one of the largest
and most diverse in the world, with specimens that have led to amazing
discoveries, including the identification of the first dinosaur eggs and early
evidence of dinosaur feathers. A number of recent discoveries about the
tyrannosaur group are highlighted in this exhibition.
and Tyrannosaurus rex in particular,
are such an important and iconic part of the Museum and have been throughout
our history,” said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural
History. “So it seems fitting to launch the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
celebrations with a major new exhibition on the ever-intriguing King of
Dinosaurs. This exciting and fascinating exhibition will do what the
Museum has done throughout its history and continues to do today: share the
latest scientific breakthroughs with the public, introduce visitors to the
researchers on the cutting-edge of discovery, shed new light on the great story
of life on Earth, and inspire wonder and curiosity in visitors of all ages.”
Indeed, while Barnum assembled the most complete collection of dinosaur fossils in the world for the museum, the museum has some 34 million specimens and artifacts – one of the most important collections of natural history anywhere. Its library and archives of research documents – like Barnum’s own field notes and letters which show how painstaking and difficult the expeditions were – are the most complete and extensive in the world.
fossils, like other echoes of ancient life, are discoveries of the science of
paleontology. But dinosaurs have a special status that transcends their
importance to science—they fascinate and inspire the masses like few other
animals—living or extinct—can,” said Michael Novacek, the Museum’s senior vice
president and provost for science. “Chief among them is T. rex, perhaps the most famous and celebrated dinosaur that ever
rex: The Ultimate Predator encounter a massive life-sized model of a T.
rex with patches of feathers—the
definitive representation of this prehistoric predator. The exhibition includes
reconstructions of several T. rex hatchlings and a four-year-old
juvenile T. rex; a “roar mixer” where visitors can imagine
what T. rex may have sounded like by
blending sounds from other animals; a shadow theater featuring a floor projection
of an adult T. rex skeleton coming to
life; and a life-sized
animation of T. rex in a Cretaceous
environment that responds to visitors’ movements. At a tabletop “Investigation Station,” visitors can explore a variety of
fossil casts ranging from coprolite (fossilized feces) to a gigantic femur,
with virtual tools including a CT scanner, measuring tape, and a microscope to
learn more about what such specimens can reveal to scientists about the biology
and behavior of T. rex.
rex: The Ultimate Predator is curated by Mark Norell, who joined
the Museum in 1989. Norell, who is the Macaulay Curator in the Museum’s
Division of Paleontology and its chair, has led and participated in a number of
scientific investigations into the biology and evolutionary history of
tyrannosaurs and other theropods—the group of dinosaurs most closely related to
modern birds. His work includes the first discovery of a feathered tyrannosaur,
Dilong paradoxus, in China in 2004. In
addition to Dilong, many of the
species studied by Norell and his colleagues and former students, and recent
research findings, are featured in the new exhibition.
“In the last 30 years, we’ve seen a huge
increase in both the number of tyrannosaur fossil discoveries as well as the
availability of technology that lets us explore complex questions about these
charismatic animals,” Norell said. “I never would have imagined that one day
we’d be able to look at the shape of T.
rex’s brain, analyze the tiny daily growth lines on their massive teeth to
determine how quickly they put on weight, or use advanced biomechanical
modeling to figure out the force of its bite.”
T. rex may have been a mega-predator, but it evolved from humble origins. The full tyrannosaur family includes more than two dozen different species and spans more than 100 million years of evolution, with T. rex appearing only at the very end of that period, between 66 and 68 million years ago. Most dinosaurs in the superfamily Tyrannosauroidea were not giants like T. rex, which, fully grown, weighed between 6 and 9 tons. Early species were small and fast, likely avoiding confrontations with larger dinosaurs.
the exhibit, we come face to face with life-size
models of a number of tyrannosaurs, including: Proceratosaurus bradleyi, the earliest known tyrannosaur that
lived about 167 million years ago and was about the size of a wolf with a crest
on its snout; Dilong paradoxus, which like many early tyrannosaurs, had arms
that were relatively long and capable of seizing small prey, and was the first
tyrannosaur found with fossilized feathers (discovered by exhibition curator
Mark Norell and his colleagues in China); and Xiongguanlong baimoensis,
a mid-sized tyrannosaur that, when it was discovered in 2009, offered a rare
glimpse of a transitional species between the smaller early tyrannosaurs and
the later giants.
The exhibit features interactive elements: visitors are tasked with placing various tyrannosaur family members in the correct time period on a magnetic wall and can experiment with a praxinoscope that animates the difference between walking and running—T. rex could only truly run when it was young. A hands-on interactive lets visitors attach the right size tail to a T. rex torso to create a balanced posture.
How did T. rex get so big when its ancestors were so small? And how did a young T. rex, the size of a turkey grow to the size of a truck? The simple answer: by growing very quickly. T. rex reached full size by its early 20s—about as fast as a human does—but it put on much more weight in that time, gaining up to 140 pounds (65 kg) per month. The exhibition shows T. rex in early developmental stages, showing how the dinosaur transformed from a vulnerable hatchling with a more than 60 percent chance of succumbing to predators, accidents, disease, and failure to find food in its first year of life, to a gargantuan predator at the top of the food chain. No T. rex has been found that has been identified as being older than 28 years.
“T. rex was the ‘James Dean’ of dinosaurs; he would have been very beat up,” said Gregory Erickson, paleobiologist from Florida State University.
of what we see in the exhibit is the result of a new approach to studying
dinosaurs – integrating other scientific disciplines, such as molecular biology
and chemistry, and comparative techniques to contemporary animals such as
crocodiles and birds, as well as new technologies like 3D scanning.
latest understanding also presents T. rex’s “arms” as even tinier than before,
suggesting that they had no function and were vestigial in the course of
evolution. Also, the “hands” have two fingers instead of three.
So far, though, the scientists have been unable to determine a dinosaur’s sex from the skeleton. “It would be nice to know the sex ratio to understand population biology, how bodies changed over their lifespan,” Erickson said. “You have to appreciate just how rare these specimens are – just 1,000 dinosaurs have been named.”
Erickson explains that though scientists know what strata to search, it has to be relatively close to the surface for paleontologists to safely extract the bones without damaging them; also, many of the sites where dinosaurs might be found are in very remote, difficult places. And it may well be true that there were relatively few of the largest dinosaurs, because of the supply of resources available.
exhibits display T. rex at various stages of its development.
We see a life-size
model of a four-year-old T. rex,
which although not yet the “king” it would become in adulthood, would have
weighed about five times more than a four-year-old boy and was as large as any
other predatory dinosaur in its habitat. Fully covered in feathers for warmth
and camouflage, this juvenile T. rex
had relatively long arms (unlike its adult counterparts), a slim body, and
bladelike teeth that could cut through flesh but were not yet capable of
encounter a real fossil of a T. rex toe bone and a touchable cast of a T. rex thigh bone to gain a sense of scale for the fully grown
giant, which stood about 12 to 13 feet high at the hip and was about 40 to 43
feet long. Fossil casts from a close relative to T. rex, Tarbosaurus bataar, illustrate that T. rex wasn’t the only tyrannosaur that looked and behaved
dramatically differently throughout its life. A cast of the youngest and most complete juvenile tyrannosaur fossil
found to date, a two-year-old Tarbosaurus,
has a delicate skull with thin bladelike teeth it likely used to catch small
vertebrates and insects, while the cast
of the huge adult Tarbosaurus skull
indicates that when fully grown, it used its heavy, bone-crushing teeth and
jaws to eat large animals.
All tyrannosaurs were built to kill,
but the biggest and baddest of them all was T. rex. With its huge size,
sharp claws, and teeth that could bite through bone, it dominated the
competition. New research shows that a T.
rex could bite with about 7,800 pounds of force—equivalent to the weight of
three cars – compared to 3,700 pounds of force of a modern crocodile.
We see a fossil of one of these huge, banana-shaped teeth, which relied on
deep roots to withstand the immense forces during a bite, as well as a cast of a fossilized T. rex lower jaw demonstrating the constant replacement cycle
of its fearsome teeth. A full-scale
reproduction of the T. rex fossil
skeleton on display in the Museum’s Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs—in a
different pose—is the subject of the exhibition’s “shadow theater,” in which the skeleton’s 40-foot shadow (somewhat
jarringly) “comes to life” and demonstrate to visitors how the animal moved and
interacted with prey and its own kind.
Scientists long suspected T. rex could bite through bone, thanks to fossils of its powerful skull and teeth. But now there’s proof in fossilized feces, or coprolites, which contain many tiny chunks of bones eroded by stomach acid. High-tech imaging tools like CT scanners, X-ray fluorescence, and microprobe analysis reveal that T. rex was one of the rare species on Earth that could pulverize and digest solid bone. In fact, some T. rex coprolites are 30-50 percent crushed bone. The exhibition features a cast of one of these telltale coprolites as well as a cast of a tail bone from a duck-bill dinosaur with an embedded T. rex tooth surrounded by new bone growth, indicating that T. rex was not just a scavenger but also attacked live prey.
We learn about the fierceness of two
other top predators in the tyrannosaur subfamily, which lived side by side in
Asia about 70 million years ago: Alioramus
and Tarbosaurus. Bulky Tarbosaurus and nimble Alioramus likely specialized in
different prey, much like lions and leopards do today.
Keen Senses of Sight, Smell
We know T. rex from fossils—but what was it like in the flesh? The exhibition’s massive life-size adult T. rex model is based on the most
up-to-date findings and represents the most scientifically accurate
representation of this pop culture icon to date. New research on this powerful
hunter’s senses show that keen vision, smell, and hearing made it very hard for
this predator’s prey to avoid detection.
casts indicate that T. rex had
excellent vision. Its eyes, the size of oranges—some of the largest eyes of any
land animal—faced forward like a hawk and were set wider apart than most other
dinosaurs, giving it superior depth perception.
can you tell the shape of an extinct animal’s brain? Soft tissues such as
brains rarely fossilize. But fossilized skulls often contain a space where the
brain used to be, revealing its precise shape. Scientists use these fossilized
brain cases to make a model, or endocast, of the missing brain. They also use
CT scanning to make a 3D printout of the brain. The exhibition includes a fossilized partial brain case of a T. rex as well as the endocast
scientists created from it for study.
By comparing the areas of the
brain that are responsible for scent, vision, and hearing in tyrannosaurs’
closest living relatives, birds and crocodilians, researchers have determined
that the T. rex brain had similar
regions. For instance, T. rex had an
unusually large olfactory region for a dinosaur, indicating it had a very good
sense of smell. Also like their alligator and crocodile cousins, tyrannosaurs would
likely have had highly sensitive faces. Visitors
can inspect the series of tiny holes on a fossilized skull of Daspletosaurus torosus, a tyrannosaur
that lived between 77 and 74 million years ago. The holes are nearly
identical in number and location to those on an alligator, which have jaws so
sensitive to touch that they can gently pick up an egg or tiny hatchling
without harming it. Fossils of T. rex
show similar rough, pitted surfaces, suggesting it also had similar sense
Technology has allowed scientists
to uncover a great deal about the inner workings of these gigantic predators,
but a number of mysteries remain. For one, what did a T. rex sound like? No one knows. But a logical place to start is to
study their closest living relatives. In the exhibition, a“roar mixer” enables visitors
to combine the calls of birds and crocodilians with the sounds of contemporary
large animals such as elephants, whales, and bison to create a customized roar
that accompanies an animated T. rex.
And what about its outward appearance? Feathers are very delicate and are rarely preserved, and they haven’t been found yet on T. rex. But many other dinosaur fossils, including those from other tyrannosaurs and their relatives, preserved feathers, suggesting that T. rex had at least some feathers. Many scientists think that T. rex hatchlings were probably covered in fuzz like a duckling—but adults were mostly covered in scales, likely with patches of display feathers concentrated on attention-getting areas such as the head and tail. Nobody knows what color T. rex was, and it is often depicted as drab, like a crocodile. But reptiles come in every color of the rainbow, so T. rex could have been brightly colored. Exhibition visitors get to choose from a wide palette of colors, stripes, and spots to imagine what T. rex may have looked like in an engaging interactive experience.
the high level of scientific research that has gone into T. rex: The Ultimate
Predator, the notes that accompany the displays are designed to be accessible
especially for young people who will be enthralled.
At the end of the exhibition, there is a 32-foot long animated projection of a T. rex and its offspring in a Cretaceous-age setting. The huge dinosaur seems to react to visitors, leaving you wondering, “Did that T. rex see me?”
Engaging with T. rex in Virtual Reality
Museum’s science visualization group renders the latest scientific discoveries
in paleontology and other fields through the visualization of big
data. Using digital technologies, scientists today observe, measure, and reproduce
hidden dimensions of the natural world. From the edges of the observable
universe to the evolution of life on Earth, researchers are developing a
radically new understanding of nature that the Museum strives to communicate to
visitors in highly authentic, intuitive, and novel ways. One of these is
virtual reality: an experiential tool that uses objects, models, photos, video
footage, and other types of physical evidence of life history to engage and
part of T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, the Museum will present T.
rex: Skeleton Crew, its first
interactive, multi-player virtual reality experience, created in
collaboration with HTC VIVE. The five-minute
experience will be offered to visitors ages 12 and up within the exhibition.
reality is a magical realm in which our perceptions of time and space are
suspended,” said Vivian Trakinski, the Museum’s director of science
visualization. “In virtual reality, nothing is too small, too big, too fast,
too slow, too distant, or too long ago to be appreciated. We hope this
technology will let our visitors experience the most fantastic and inaccessible
realms of nature.”
“Through VR, visitors can engage with the subject of the exhibition in an exciting, in-depth way that enriches their knowledge and leaves a lasting memory for years to come,” said Victoria Chang, director of HTC VIVE Arts. “This remarkably engaging VR project harnesses the power of premium VR, bringing visitors closer to the anatomy, scale, and majesty of T. rex like never before.”
The facilitated experience “transports” as many as three players at a time to a space similar to the Museum’s Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs, where they team up to build a T. rex skeleton bone by bone. Once all of the bones are in place, the players watch as the T. rex comes to life in marshland that is now Montana, its home 66 million years ago.
A home version of T. rex: Skeleton Crew will launch on VIVEPORT, HTC VIVE’s global platform and app store, for VIVE owners in summer 2019.
American Museum of Natural History, founded in 1869, is one of the world’s
preeminent scientific, educational, and cultural institutions. The Museum
encompasses 45 permanent exhibition halls, including those in the Rose Center
for Earth and Space and the Hayden Planetarium, as well as galleries for
temporary exhibitions. It is home to the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, New York
State’s official memorial to its 33rd governor and the nation’s 26th president,
and a tribute to Roosevelt’s enduring legacy of conservation.
The Museum’s five active research divisions and three cross-disciplinary centers support approximately 200 scientists, whose work draws on a world-class permanent collection of more than 34 million specimens and artifacts, as well as on specialized collections for frozen tissue and genomic and astrophysical data and on one of the largest natural history libraries in the world. The museum is the launchpad for some 100 expeditions a year. Through its Richard Gilder Graduate School, it is the only American museum authorized to grant the Ph.D. degree and also to grant the Master of Arts in Teaching degree.
Visits to the museum have grown to 5 million, and the Museum’s exhibitions and Space Shows are seen by millions more in venues on six continents. The Museum’s website, mobile apps, and massive open online courses (MOOCs) extend its scientific research and collections, exhibitions, and educational programs to additional audiences around the globe.
Open daily from 10 am – 5:45 pm except on
Thanksgiving and Christmas.
American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192, 212-769-5100, amnh.org.
Dragons and dancers paraded through New York
City’s Chinatown on Sunday, February 17 to usher in the Year of the Pig in the city
with the largest population of Chinese descent outside Asia.
The parade is a colorful pan-Asian procession that incorporates the great variety of Chinese traditions – with a smattering of Brazilian drummers, Hispanic dancers, and Irish bagpipers. Tens of thousands lined the parade route as it wound from Hester Street, Mott, Broadway, and Forsyth to Sara D. Roosevelt Park, with US Senator Charles Schumer and NYC Mayor Bill DiBlasio among other elected officials, along with leaders from the Chinese community, leading the way.
his remarks to the gathering before the parade got underway, Senator Schumer
applauded the contributions of “immigrants from all over who made America
With a population estimated between 70,000 and 150,000,
Chinatown has been a favored home for Chinese immigrants. Indeed, Lower
Manhattan has long been a haven for immigrant communities, from Jews in
neighboring Lower East Side (the Tenement Museum), and Italians in Little
Italy, and today, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Burmese, Vietnamese, and Filipinos
among others add to the multicultural mosaic.
The Lunar New Year is cherished as a time to embrace family and heritage.
“Lunar New Year is the liveliest and most important celebration
in Chinese culture and Chinatown is the place to experience it!”
And the parade is an expression of celebration for Chinese heritage in America – as evidenced by the sheer variety of costumes and traditions on display.
Here are highlights:
The Museum of China in the Americas (MOCA)
offers a walking tour that takes visitors through Chinatown to learn about
holiday traditions and customs observed by Chinese households. Witness how the
neighborhood transforms itself in preparation for the New Year and discover the
characteristics that make this holiday unique.”
Tours are conducted in English and are led by MoCA docents with
personal or family roots in the neighborhood. In case of inclement weather,
tours will be held in the galleries. Advance reservations are required. For
information and reservations call 212-619-4785 or purchase tickets online, www.mocanyc.org.
(Museum of Chinese in America, 215 Centre Street New York, NY 10013, 855-955-MOCA).
Millions will line the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route despite record cold temperatures for the 92nd annual parade, but on the night before Thanksgiving, tens of thousands come out to take part in a pre-holiday festival, which has come to be known as the Macy’s Balloon Inflation.
After braving lines that funnel through 73rd and Columbus to Central Park West, snaking up to 77th Street, they get to see up close as 16 giant character helium balloons and 43 novelty/ornament balloons, balloonicles (a hybrid balloon and vehicle that Macy’s invented), balloonheads and trycaloons (a Macy’s hybrid tandem bicycle and balloon concoction) being readied for their Thanksgiving Day flights. The new class of balloons includes the anime star Goku from “Dragon Ball Super, Broly”; Fleck, Bjorn, Jojo and Hugg the elf stars of Netflix’s “The Christmas Chronicles,” Little Cloud by Friends With You; the newest entry into the Parade’s Blue Sky Gallery series of balloons by renowned contemporary artists, the Go Bowling pins and bowling ball balloonicles; Sinclair’s Baby Dino balloonicles and the astronaut star of Macy’s Christmas celebrations, Sunny the Snowpal.
Hundreds of volunteers take part in the event, many who will be proudly marching with their balloons the next day. Among them, Douglas Malnati, who has been one of the balloon volunteers for 15 years, starting right out of college. He’s otherwise an IT guy.
Here’s who to look for in the parade
CHARLIE BROWN PEANUTS WORLDWIDE
Everyone’s favorite blockhead, PEANUTS’ Charlie Brown once again flies through New York City with his trusty kite. This November, Charlie Brown will practice his flight moves ahead of next year’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of man- and beagle-kind landing on the moon! The celebration kicked off in July with the signing of a Space Agreement with NASA to bring the joy of space exploration to a new generation. Despite getting tangled with his kite’s tail, Charlie Brown is sure to arrive just in time to 34th Street for his big moment in the spotlight. Balloon Dimensions: 53-feet long, 31-feet wide, 46-feet tall Fun Fact: Charlie Brown’s famous kite measures 26-feet wide and nearly 30-feet tall and its tail is more than 80-feet long.
DIARY OF A WIMPY KID® ABRAMS CHILDREN’S BOOKS
The mega-popular star of the internationally best-selling book series, Greg Heffley will fly in the Parade for the ninth time this Thanksgiving. The second edition of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid balloon takes its third trip down the Parade route celebrating the release of the 13th book in the series, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Meltdown.” As always, Greg will delight millions of fans as he seemingly slips on ice during his Parade march down the streets of New York City. Balloon Dimensions: 62-feet long, 32-feet wide, 62-feet tall Fun Fact: 2018 marks the ninth Parade appearance for Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and the third flight of the latest version of the main character Greg Heffley as a balloon giant.
SINCLAIR’S DINO® SINCLAIR OIL CORPORATION
America’s most famous Apatosaurus, Sinclair’s DINO (pronounced DYE-NO), returns to New York City after traveling across the country visiting stations and meeting fans. DINO is a classic Parade balloon, first appearing in the 1963 Macy’s march. Balloon Dimensions: 72-feet long, 24-feet wide, 36-feet tall Fun Fact: The original DINO balloon was inducted as an honorary member of the Museum of Natural History in 1975, and the balloon returned to the Macy’s Parade in 2015, after nearly 40 years.
THE ELF ON THE SHELF® The holiday season would not be the same without Santa’s trusted Scout Elves. The arrival of the Elf on the Shelf® balloon marks the kickoff of the holiday season for families across the country as they prepare to welcome back their Scout Elves during Scout Elf Return Week™. Balloon Dimensions: 46-feet tall, 28-feet wide, 64-feet long Fun Fact: The Elf on the Shelf balloon is one of the biggest balloons in the Parade by height, width and length.
DRAGON BALL SUPER: BROLY’S GOKU FUNIMATION® The legendary hero of Dragon Ball takes to the streets of Manhattan for his Parade debut this year ahead of his starring role in the North American theatrical release of Dragon Ball Super: Broly this January. Goku, the star of the iconic Japanese animation franchise Dragon Ball, is a Saiyan warrior who was sent to destroy Earth as a child. When a brain injury changed Goku’s programming, he became peaceful, good-natured, loving and honest – many adjectives that describe the celebration of Thanksgiving! Balloon Dimensions: 70-feet long, 36-feet wide, 56-feet tall Fun Fact: The Goku balloon is depicted in his new Super Saiyan Blue form, which represents a new era of the Dragon Ball franchise.
ILLUMINATION PRESENTS DR. SEUSS’ THE GRINCH ILLUMINATION ENTERTAINMENT Everyone’s favorite Christmas curmudgeon returns this Thanksgiving as The Grinch, along with his loyal dog Max, return to the Parade route trying to steal more than just Santa’s thunder. With a sack full of toys the duo celebrates their second Parade this year and the release of the new comedy Illumination Presents Dr. Seuss’ THE GRINCH Balloon Dimensions: 49-feet long, 24-feet wide, 37-feet tall Fun Fact: The Grinch and Max are only the fourth-ever giant balloons to take flight as a duo in the Parade’s history.
JETT BY SUPER WINGS™ ALPHA GROUP Jett, the fun-loving transforming plane from the animated preschool series Super Wings on both Netflix and Universal Kids, is used to adventure as he travels the world delivering packages to children and solving problems along the way. This November he will be fueled and ready for takeoff on his second flight through the streets of New York City Thanksgiving morning. Balloon Dimensions: 47-feet long, 39-feet wide, 31-feet tall Fun Fact: Jett made his debut in 2017 and is the widest balloon in the Parade — his wingspan is equal to the size of an actual Learjet.
OLAF WALT DISNEY ANIMATION STUDIOS Olaf, the beloved snowman from Disney’s Frozen, returns to the Macy’s Parade with his usual cheerful disposition on full display. Taking a break from his starring role in the hit Broadway Musical Disney’s Frozen, Olaf will spread dazzling smiles down the route, warming the hearts of millions of spectators this Thanksgiving. Balloon Dimensions: 58-feet long, 32-feet wide, 60-feet tall Fun Fact: Olaf is the first-ever Macy’s balloon to glisten, mimicking real snow. This required perfecting the right mixture of white shades of paint and glitter that truly make Olaf standout as he takes flight down the Parade route.
PAW PATROL® SPIN MASTER LTD. & NICKELODEON Showing the citizens of New York that “no job is too big, no pup is too small” Chase the Police pup from the popular preschool series, PAW Patrol, is ready to protect all as he flies down the 2.5-mile route this November. Balloon Dimensions: 60-feet long, 36-feet wide, 43-feet tall Fun Fact: Chase’s hat could cover an actual police squad car and his paws are larger than two full-grown German shepherd dogs.
PIKACHU™ THE POKÉMON COMPANY INTERNATIONAL The much-loved Pokémon Pikachu returns to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for the 18th consecutive year – just in time for the launch of Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee, the newest video games from the popular entertainment franchise. This year, Pikachu is bundled up in a warm scarf for the chilly New York weather, ready to celebrate the beginning of the holiday season with fans. Balloon Dimensions: 36-feet long, 29-feet wide, 53-feet tall Fun Fact: While the Parade’s third version of Pikachu is of giant proportions, Pikachu in reality officially measures just 1-foot, 4-inches tall.
PILLSBURY DOUGHBOY™ PILLSBURY™ Inspiring Thanksgiving bakers across the country, the classic Pillsbury Doughboy celebrates the fall spectacular at Macy’s alongside millions of Americans as they enjoy both his cheerful giggle and home baked holiday treats. Balloon Dimensions: 54-feet long, 34-feet wide, 46-feet tall Fun Fact: It would take more than four million Pillsbury Crescent Rolls to create a “dough-sized” version of the balloon.
RED MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGER HASBRO The 92nd Parade marks The Power Rangers’ historic 25th anniversary. It remains one of the longest running live action children’s series in television history. The iconic Red Mighty Morphin Power Ranger balloon will remind millions of Parade spectators that it’s Morphin Time! this Thanksgiving. Balloon Dimensions: 77-feet long, 26-feet wide, 56-feet tall Fun Fact: The larger than life Red Mighty Morphin Power Ranger is the longest balloon in the Parade; one of his arms is the length of a standard school bus at 45-feet.
RONALD McDONALD® McDONALD’S® Ronald McDonald, the world’s most famous clown and McDonald’s Chief Happiness Officer, gives his signature “thumbs up!” to the season of thanks as he joins millions in celebrating the start of the holiday season. Ronald says; “see a smile, share a smile” and he is sure to delight spectators and prompt millions of smiles across the country. Balloon Dimensions: 61-feet long, 29-feet wide, 67-feet tall Fun Fact: The iconic “Big Red Shoes” Ronald is wearing are 6-feet long!
SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS NICKELODEON The nation’s favorite pineapple-dwelling sea sponge, will celebrate his 14th Parade this Thanksgiving. Next year, Nickelodeon invites fans to join a celebration of 20 years of SpongeBob – one of the most beloved animated characters in TV history – with a new season of episodes, events and more. Balloon Dimensions: 41-feet long, 34-feet wide, 44-feet tall Fun Fact: SpongeBob SquarePants defied gravity as the first-ever square Parade balloon and is pulled into his signature shape by more than 800 internal tie-lines.
TOOTHLESS DREAMWORKS ANIMATION’S HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD The world’s most heroic dragon, Toothless will return this fall for a new flight down the Parade route. The famed Night Fury will fly above the streets of Manhattan, before he and his Viking friend Hiccup are seen in DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ,which opens in theaters nationwide this winter. Balloon Dimensions: 72-feet long, 36-feet wide, 48-feet tall Fun Fact: This midnight-colored dragon used a special paint to get his signature color. It collects heat in order to properly conserve his helium filled structure.
NOVELTY BALLOONS FLECK, BJORN, JOJO AND HUGG NETFLIX’S “THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES” Meet Fleck, Bjorn, Jojo and Hugg. These charming elves will help Santa save Christmas in the new Netflix film “The Christmas Chronicles.” You can often find tiny Fleck carrying Santa’s bag tracker and Bjorn in a candy cane-fueled toy-making frenzy, while troublemaker Jojo delivers letters to Santa and Hugg is hard at work making toys with his chainsaw. Balloon Dimensions: 16, 20-feet wide, 30-feet tall Fun Fact: The Christmas Chronicles elves are the first Netflix balloons to be featured in the Parade.
LITTLE CLOUD FRIENDSWITHYOU™ Little Cloud, the iconic emblem of art collaborative FriendsWithYou, takes to the sky on Thanksgiving as part Macy’s Blue Sky Gallery series, which invites contemporary artists to recreate their work as Parade balloons. Artists Samuel Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III will join Little Cloud and two raindrops in this year’s Parade, creating an artistic expression of joy and love fitting for the iconic Macy’s Parade route. Balloon Dimensions: 22-feet tall, 30-feet wide Fun Fact: Little Cloud represents the seventh balloon in Macy’s Blue Sky Gallery art balloon series.
THE NUTCRACKER UNIVERSAL ORLANDO RESORT™ This classic Christmas decoration appears in the form of a super-sized balloon to help kick off the holiday season! The Nutcracker balloon made its debut in the 2017 “Universal Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s” at Universal Studios Orlando, and marched its way up to New York to join the Parade this Thanksgiving. Balloon Dimensions: 45 feet tall, 18.5 feet wide, 16-feet long Fun Fact: The Nutcracker balloon is 24 times the size of the traditional holiday decoration.
SUNNY THE SNOWPAL One of the many holiday heroes in this year’s Parade is Macy’s very own Snowpal, Sunny! This cool cosmonaut comes to the rescue with her friend Fox when Santa’s sleigh breaks down on Christmas Eve. Blasting off in her rocket ship, Sunny works her magic to repair the sleigh and save the day, showing us all that there are so many reasons to believe in the wonder of giving! Balloon Dimensions: 26-feet tall, 19-feet wide, 16-feet long Fun Fact: Sunny is an original character created for Macy’s 2018 holiday campaign.
BALLOONICLES (A Macy’s Parade innovation, hybrid cold air balloon and self-propelled vehicle) BABY DINOS SINCLAIR OIL CORPORATION The three newborn Baby DINOS from Sinclair Oil Corporation are anything but prehistoric! The adorable Apatosaurus trio came straight from the nest to join the Sinclair DINO balloon in this year’s Parade. Fun Fact: Like the Sinclair DINO balloon, the Baby DINO balloonicles appear in life-size form. GO BOWLING There will be turkeys at Thanksgiving meals and on the Parade route this year with the new Go Bowling™ balloonicles. Two bowling shoes and six bowling pins will be chased by a determined bowling ball down the route. Fun Fact: With 16-foot-tall bowling pins and a 12-foot diameter bowling ball, this Balloonicle is sure to score! 5 THE AFLAC DUCK AFLAC, INC. The world’s most famous “spokesduck,” the Aflac Duck has returned for his eighth Parade, having smartly prepared all year long so he would not miss this quintessential NYC holiday experience. Balloonicle Dimensions: 30-feet tall, 15-feet wide Fun Fact: The Aflac Duck’s glowing heart is encased by his heart shaped-wings. His inner tube base to “slide” down the Parade route is larger than the size of an in-ground home swimming pool.
HERITAGE BALLOON AND BALLOON
ARRTIE, THE PIRATE Arrtie the Pirate a recreation of the classic Pirate balloon of 1947 returns! Arrtie, the loveable pirate with map in hand is on a search for Holiday treasure this Thanksgiving. Balloon Dimensions: 36-feet tall Fun Fact: A staple of the Parade in the late 1940s and 1950s, Arrtie was recreated as part of the Parade’s heritage balloon program that reinvents historic Macy’s characters for a new audience.
MACY’S STARS (BLUE & WHITE, RED & GOLD, YELLOW, GOLD STARFLAKES, BELIEVE) You’ll be seeing stars at the 2018 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade– literally! See if you can spot them in blue and white, red and gold, with gold star flakes, in yellow and proclaiming “Believe” at various points in the parade lineup! Balloon Dimensions: 12-feet deep, 24-feet wide, 25-feet tall Fun Fact: The Macy’s Stars are representative of the Parade’s changing color scheme from autumnal colors to the bright and cheerful colors of the holiday season.
PILGRIM MAN & WOMAN BALLOONHEADS MAMA, PAPA & BABY BALLOONHEADS The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade family would not be complete without Pilgrim Man & Woman and the Mama, Papa and Baby Balloonheads! Balloon Dimensions: 12-feet tall with costume, 4-feet wide Fun Fact: The balloonheads are based on classic Parade designs from the 1940s.
AMERICANA SPHERES Rounding out the 2018 lineup are the new Americana Spheres. These patriotic balloons bring the colors of the flag to new heights. Balloon Dimensions: 14-feet wide Fun Fact: Originally conceived by legendary Macy’s Designer Manfred Bass in the 1980s
TRYCALOONS (A Macy’s Parade innovation featuring a hybrid tandem tricycle and balloon) BULLDOG Beware of dog! The Bulldog Trycaloon’s bark is as big as his bike. TOUGH GUY There’s been a jailbreak on the Parade route, and the Tough Guy Trycaloon is one inflatable character you don’t want to mess with.
NUTCRACKER Clara joins the title character of Tchaikovsky’s famous holiday ballet on a high-speed Trycaloon chase alongside the Mouse King. MOUSE KING The villainous Mouse King from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet pedals down Manhattan accompanied by one of his furry-tailed soldiers.
For a festive place to shop in New York, The Shops at Columbus Circle is a destination within a destination that draws more than 16 million visitors per year to its 50 shops, renowned restaurants, bars and that priceless view (free) of Central Park (not to mention temperature-controlled and pet-friendly). And there are some spectacular happenings for the holidays:
Broadway Under the Stars is a five-week series of free public performances from today’s hottest Broadway musicals performing on the second floor mezzanine at The Shops at Columbus Circle. Participating shows include: Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Chicago, Dear Evan Hansen, Head Over Heels, Kinky Boots, The Phantom of the Opera, School of Rock, Waitress and Wicked (check out theshopsatcolumbuscircle.com for schedules). Performances, which began Monday, Nov. 12, take place for five consecutive Mondays through Dec. 10.
You get to see the actual cast performing in this extraordinarily intimate space – like your living room, except that it overlooks the massive stars that dip into the atrium. What is more, actor George Psomas (Fiddler on the Roof, South Pacific) who hosts the event, elicits wonderful insights from the performers about their career and the shows in brief interviews.
On Nov. 19, we got to see performances from Head Over Heels, Ruben & Clay’s Christmas Show, The Band’s Visit, and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.
Nov. 26: The Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, Waitress
Dec. 3: The Prom, Dear Evan Hansen
Dec. 10: Mean Girls, Wicked
The shows begin at 5 pm. They are free and open to the public – no reservations or tickets are required but people line up at least an hour before to get a decent view.
On Monday, November 26, there is the 19th Annual Winter’s Eve Event in conjunction with the Lincoln Square Business Improvement District. Artists, up-and-coming musicians, dancers, street performers and more will be present to welcome the holiday season and light up the Upper West Side with an evening of music, food, dancing and fun for everyone. The Shops at Columbus Circle will host an evening of entertainment, shopping discounts and food samplings.
Holiday Under the Stars is The Shops at Columbus Circle’s holiday lights display, featuring 12 massive 14-foot stars which hang from the 100-foot-high ceilings. This is claimed to be the largest specialty crafted exhibit of illuminated color display in the world. There is a 5-minute daily musical light show every half hour from 5 pm to 9 pm, through the end of the year.
Culinary Delights: Among the restaurants are six Michelin Stars among two of its restaurants:Chef Masayoshi Takayama’s Masa is the only three-star Michelin Japanese/Sushi restaurant in the U.S., and the gastronomic jewel box that is Thomas Keller’s Per Se has the rest. The Bluebird London restaurant in London and Momofuku Noodle Bar are newly opened and join the Landmarc and Porter House restaurants.
With its proximity nestled between Lincoln Center a short walk to the north, and Broadway theater a short walk to the south, the restaurants all offer pre-theater dinner and after-theater dining, and will get you out in time for curtain. The shopping and dining venue is also a short walk from Rockefeller Center. (Reservations accepted.)
Also, from the 150-foot-high panoramic windows, you can take in the breathtaking views of Central Park. It’s one of the few indoor places in Manhattan where you can enjoy this vantage point.
What is remarkable is the ambiance of refinement, of calm that you don’t ordinarily feel shopping for the holidays – it’s not so much as a mall (perish the thought!) as an urban oasis. The Shops at Columbus Circle is a real neighborhood place, where Upper Westsiders come to buy groceries at Whole Foods and work out at the Equinox gym. The architecture and décor is absolutely lovely.
The Shops at Columbus Circle, located in Time Warner Center in the heart of Manhattan on Columbus Circle, has become one of New York’s iconic destinations to dine, shop, entertain, and be entertained. The soaring 2.8 million-square-foot landmark has transformed Columbus Circle into a cultural portal to Manhattan’s Upper West Side and Central Park.
The winter holiday season may well be New York City’s most magical time of the year and gets underway with the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, continues with the iconic Christmas Tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center, and constantly delights with festivals, special events and attractions, and all the dazzle of holiday decorations right through New Year’s Day.
“The holiday season in New York City is a spectacle unlike any other,” said NYC & Company President and CEO Fred Dixon “It is a time when the vibrant energy that makes up the very fabric of our city is magnified through the joy of dozens of multicultural celebrations among New Yorkers and global visitors who make the five boroughs a centerpiece of their annual festivities.”
Highlights include landmark events and first-time New York–style holiday celebrations of a nearly endless variety for travelers to enjoy this winter. Visitors delight in historic and new shopping destinations, world-famous department store window displays (Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue), unrivaled outdoor ice-skating rinks and more scattered all throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. The five-borough-wide season wraps up in a fashion as dazzling as ever with various New Year’s Eve celebrations.
As always, three iconic events bookend the introduction and conclusion of the holiday season in New York City:
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade featuring larger-than-life helium balloons, performances by the casts of Broadway musicals, select marching bands from across the nation and celebrity appearances—kicks off the holiday season on November 22 at 9 am. A staple of the holiday season since 1924, the 92nd edition, the line-up will feature 16 giant character balloons; 43 novelty balloons, heritage balloons, balloonicles, balloonheads and trycaloons; 26 floats; 1,200 cheerleaders and dancers; more than 1,000 clowns; and 12 marching bands (macys.com/parade).
But the event has a pre-quel, The Great Balloon Inflation, that takes place the night before, when the streets around the Museum of Natural History on Central Park West are literally flooded with tens of thousands of people coming to delight in seeing the massive balloons being inflated by hundreds of volunteers.
Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, Manhattan, November 28, 2018: A lineup of live performers rivaled by few events all year will help light up New York City’s biggest and brightest home for Santa’s Christmas eve delivery again. The more than seven-story tree will spread holiday cheer to the millions of visitors it welcomes until the lights dim on January 7 (rockefellercenter.com).
New Year’s Eve Times Square Ball Drop, Manhattan, December 31, 2018–January 1,2019: In 1904, the former New York Times owner convinced the City to rename Longacre Square in honor of the world-famous publication. In addition to the name change and the opening of NYC’s first subway line, that year marked the inaugural Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration, and the “Crossroads of the World” has been the historic backdrop of the City’s New Year’s Eve celebration ever since. Approximately 1 million visitors are expected to gather to watch the ball drop in person again this year. This is something that should be on every bucket list to do at least once in a lifetime (timessquarenyc.org).
My favorite activity for the holidays is an evening stroll to see the holiday windows and decorations. My route typically goes from Macy’s (this year’s theme, “Believe in the Wonder of Giving”), up to Fifth Avenue to Saks Fifth Avenue which is directly across from Rockefeller Center (from which you can see the amazing light show that is projected onto Saks building) and across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral (stop in), up to Bergdorf Goodman. Separately, I will take in Bloomingdale’s (a “Grinch” theme this year, connecting with the new movie), and Barney’s downtown on Broadway.
Meanwhile, there are more than a dozen celebratory events to delight this holiday season in NYC.
23 Days of Flatiron Cheer, Manhattan, December 1–23, 2018: The Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership welcomes visitors this December to enjoy contests, performances, free neighborhood walking tours, giveaways from local businesses and an interactive installation in the North Public Plaza. Other unparalleled offerings can be found in the historic 103-block neighborhood stretching from 23rd to 28th Street, bordered by Third and Sixth Avenues (flatirondistrict.nyc).
A Slice of Brooklyn Christmas Lights Tour, Brooklyn, December 1–30, 2018: Every holiday season, more than 100,000 visitors descend on Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights neighborhood to view the most extravagant Christmas displays in the New York City area. This tour, operated by born and raised Brooklynites, stops by the most over-the-top exhibits of the season while telling patrons the story of how “Dyker Lights” came to be nearly 40 years ago (asliceofbrooklyn.com).
Another popular tour is the holiday edition of The Ride, “a 21st century sleigh ride” aboard patented $1.5 million travelling high-tech theaters with floor-to-ceiling gigantic glass windows featuring side-facing VIP seating making the streets of New York the stage. Original seasonal music, videos and hilarious hosts support the dazzling Holiday performances along the 4.2 mile journey through Midtown Manhattan (http://experiencetheride.com, 212-221-0853).
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Holiday Engagement at New York City Center, Manhattan, November 28–December 30, 2018: City Center’s 75th Anniversary Season will feature a wide range of performances including new productions, annual favorites, live music and Alvin Ailey’s feature performance Revelations. A special show on December 11 celebrates City Center’s opening performance in 1943 (alvinailey.org).
American Museum of Natural History’s Holiday Season, Manhattan, November 20, 2018–January 7, 2019: The museum’s cultural celebrations begin with the decoration of the Origami Holiday Tree—complete with more than 800 hand-folded paper models created by local artists—and continue through the New Year. On December 29, the AMNH will host its 40th annual Kwanzaa celebration. The festival of African-American heritage celebrates the seven core principles of Kwanzaa while exploring the rich history behind its traditions. Family-friendly activities, musical performances and an international marketplace are also included (amnh.org).
Apollo Theater Presents “Kwanzaa Celebration: Regeneration Night,” Manhattan, December 29, 2018: The legendary Harlem theater is celebrating Kwanzaa with visitors for the 12th consecutive year with a night of music and dance that honors the principles of Kwanzaa—family, community and culture (apollotheater.org).
Brooklyn Ballet’s Nutcracker, Brooklyn, December 14, 2018: The hip-hop and ballet infused replication of the holiday classic, reimagined in various Brooklyn neighborhoods, is hosted by the iconic Kings Theatre, in Flatbush, for the first time this year (brooklynballet.org).
Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical: Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, December 13–30, 2018: Dr. Seuss’ holiday classic is sure to cause audiences hearts to grow at least three sizes when they watch the story of the true meaning of Christmas come to life in this limited engagement at the world’s most famous arena (msg.com/hulu-theater-at-msg).
Gingerbread Lane at New York Hall of Science, Queens, November 10, 2018–January 21, 2019: Since 2013, the edible village at the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, has set the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of gingerbread houses and structures with each new installment. The record is sure to be challenged again this year (nysci.org).
Grand Army Plaza, Largest Menorah Lighting, Brooklyn, December 2–10, 2018: With the help of local synagogues, the Grand Army Plaza, located in Park Slope, Brooklyn, has hosted the nightly lighting of the 32-foot menorah since 1984. Visitors are invited to celebrate the holiday with concerts and gifts for children through each day of the Jewish Festival of Lights (largestmenorah.com).
Holiday Workshop Weekend at Wave Hill, The Bronx, December 8–9, 2018: At this holiday craft fair, in addition to creating the usual wreaths and treasure boxes, families are invited to work on the feature project: the hamsa, or hamesh, the multicultural symbol of an open hand. Guests explore the spiritual side of the holidays as they make the palm-shaped amulets (wavehill.org).
New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show, The Bronx, November 17, 2018–January 21, 2019: The annual exhibition of classical model trains moving through a hand crafted display of New York City’s built environment is back for the 27th year. More than 175 miniature iconic city structures such as Yankee Stadium, The Brooklyn Bridge and The Statue of Liberty are replicated entirely out of plant parts and will coincide with other holiday celebrations such as a cappella performances, Bar Car Nights and more at the New York Botanical Garden (nybg.org).
TheNew York City Ballet presents George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, one of the most beloved and anticipated holiday classics, November 23–December 30 at Lincoln Center (nycballet.com).
New-York Historical Society Presents “Harry Potter: A History of Magic”, Manhattan, through January 27: Quite literally, the most magical place to be during this holiday season is at the NYHS. Harry Potter: A History of Magic captures the traditions of folklore and magic at the heart of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories through centuries-old treasures, including rare books, manuscripts, and magical objects from the collections of the British Library, the New-York Historical Society, and other museums, as well as never before seen material from Harry Potter publisher Scholastic and J.K. Rowling’s own archives. The New York exhibition, showcasing a selection of objects not featured in the London presentation that are on view to the public for the very first time, is sponsored by Audible. There are also a slew of special events and family programming in conjunction with this not-to-be-missed exhibit, which vanishes, poof, after January 27, 2019. The tickets are timed; you can order online. Also visit The DiMenna Children’s History Museum, created for children 8-13, which presents 350 years of New York and American history through character-based pavilions, interactive exhibits and digital games. (New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West (at 77th Street), 212-873-3400, nyhistory.org)
New York Philharmonic Presents “Home Alone in Concert, ” Manhattan, December 20–21,2018: The acclaimed New York Philharmonic will perform John Williams’ score live to the classic Christmas film Home Alone, for a 2018–19 holiday season special event—booby traps and lovable bandits not included (nyphil.org).
New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex and Store at Grand Central Terminal Holiday Train Show, Manhattan, November 15, 2018–February 3, 2019: A staple of Grand Central Terminal during the holiday season since 2001, the train show features a 34-foot-long track where vintage trains from the museum’s collection travel through a miniature New York City and countryside scene all the way to the North Pole (grandcentralterminal.com).
Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes, Manhattan, November 9, 2018–January 1, 2019: Everyone’s favorite high kickers dance their way from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve and champion the holiday spirit of New York City with their extravagant costumes and breathtaking state-of-the-art production (rockettes.com).
St. Thomas Church which is famous for the Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, and its annual performances of Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 4, 6). Also this year, “A Ceremony of Carols” by Benjamin Britten (Dec. 13). (Purchase tickets, www.saintthomaschurch.org/music/concerts); also take a tour of this magnificent edifice, built in 1913 in the French High Gothic style. (5th Avenue and 53rd Street, www.saintthomaschurch.org).
Visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue is also a highlight of the holidays and it is remarkable that you can just walk in and enjoy an inspirational service.
I personally love to close out the holiday season on New Year’s Eve at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine which presents the most magnificent annual Concert for Peace, founded by Leonard Bernstein in 1984 with the idea of bringing together New Yorkers and visitors from around the world for an evening filled with uplifting music in a most magnificent setting. Indeed, the cathedral offers a rich calendar of concerts throughout the holiday season, as well as tours of this architectural jewel. Check the website for details.(The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue, at 112th Street, New York, NY 10025, 212-316-7540, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.stjohndivine.org)
Favorite Places to Catch the Holiday Spirit
Central Park is magical in any season, but particularly for the holidays. In addition to the Wollman Rink (wollmanskatingrink.com), The Swedish Cottage is an enchanting place that is home to one of the last public marionette companies in the country. The cottage was originally constructed as a model pre-fabricated schoolhouse, and became Sweden’s entry in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. After the exhibit, Central Park’s co-designer Frederick Law Olmsted had it placed in Central Park, where it has been headquarters for the Marionette Theater since 1939 (West Side at 79th Street). Currently playing is “Yet, Set, Snow!”, an original story and production from the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre, with performances through the season until Feb. 24, 2019. (Purchase tickets, www.cityparksfoundation.org/arts/swedish-cottage-marionette-theatre)
Other favorite venues to get into the Christmas Spirit: Bryant Park, with its massive Christmas tree, ice skating rink, festive holiday markets, cafes, and carousel (wintervillage.org) has become one of the city’s iconic holiday places. Of course, there is skating right below the magnificent Christmas tree at the Rink at Rockefeller Center (therinkatrockcenter.com). There is also skating and The Rink at Brookfield Place opens November 1 (230 Vesey St., 860-209-3459, gpice.com).
Besides Bryant Park, there are holiday markets at Union Square, Columbus Circle, and Grand Central Terminal.
For a festive place to shop: The Shops at Columbus Circle, a destination within a destination that draws more than 16 million visitors per year to its 50 shops, renowned restaurants, bars and that free priceless view of Central Park (not to mention temperature-controlled and pet-friendly). But there are some spectacular happenings for the holidays:
Broadway Under the Stars is a five-week series of free public performances from today’s hottest Broadway musicals performing on the second floor mezzanine at The Shops at Columbus Circle. Participating shows include: Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Chicago, Dear Evan Hansen, Head Over Heels, Kinky Boots, The Phantom of the Opera, School of Rock, Waitress and Wicked (check out theshopsatcolumbuscircle.com for schedules). Performances begin Monday, Nov. 12 and take place for five consecutive Mondays through Dec. 10. Shows begin at 5 pm and last approximately 20 minutes. (Free and open to the public, no reservations or tickets are required.)
Holiday Under the Stars is The Shops at Columbus Circle’s holiday lights display, featuring 12 massive 14-foot stars which hang from the 100-foot-high ceilings. This is claimed to be the largest specialty crafted exhibit of illuminated color display in the world. There is a 5-minute daily musical light show every half hour from 5 pm to 9 pm, through the end of the year.
Culinary Delights: Among the restaurants are six Michelin Stars: from Chef Masayoshi Takayama’s Masa, the only three-star Michelin Japanese/Sushi restaurant in the U.S., to the gastronomic jewel box that is Thomas Keller’s Per Se). The Bluebird London restaurant in London and Momofuku Noodle Bar are newly opened and join the Landmarc and Porter House restaurants.
Also, from the 150-foot-high panoramic windows, visitors can take in the breathtaking views of Central Park. It’s one of the few indoor places in Manhattan where you can enjoy this vantage point.
The 45th annual, iconic New York City Village Halloween Parade brought out thousands of costumed participants around the theme, “I AM a Robot!”
“With artificial intelligences learning, adapting, interpreting and reacting as humans do, the times we live in can be overwhelming,” said Jeanne Fleming, Artistic/Producing Director of New York’s Village Halloween Parade. “This traditional and beloved event aspires to bring folks into their creative imagination—celebrating that quality that differentiates us from robots—and by extension make the world a better place. We as New Yorkers and those visiting the Big Apple can come together, affirm our identity, block out the distractions, focus on joy and inhabit the streets of New York LIVE.”
“The 2018 Village Halloween Parade celebrates what makes us human by exploring how we remake ourselves. For our part, we will deploy a floating phalanx of cybernetic figures, each tethered by glowing wires to its human controller to evoke the increasingly complex strands of identity that entangle man with machine. We invite all of our Halloween makers and marchers to join our positronic collective, expressing your inner cyborgs for an evening of robotic revelry as we employ our most uniquely human qualities–dreaming, fantasizing, creating–to do our best robot impersonations.”
The theme is timely, considering 2018 is also the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s publication of “Frankenstein”.
Grand Marshal Machine Dazzle led the VIP Robot Section.
The Village Halloween Parade is:
The nation’s largest public Halloween celebration
Named as The Greatest Event on Earth by Festivals International for October 31
Attended by over 2 million people, seen by over 1 million on TV.
The nation’s only major night Parade.
Listed as one of the 100 Things to do Before You Die.
Picked by Events International as The Greatest Event on Earth on October 31, and ranked 3rd by Citysearch as the best event in New York City.
Ranked by Biz Bash as one of the top 10 events in NYC.
Recipient of the Municipal Arts Society of New York’s Award for making a major contribution to the cultural life of New York City.
Recipient of a major grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in recognition of Longtime Artistic Achievement.
Recipient of the Mayor’s Tourism Grant in recognition of the Parade’s major impact on the economic life of New York City and grants from the Manhattan Borough President’s Tourism Initiative.
Started by Greenwich Village mask maker and puppeteer in 1974, the Parade began as a walk from house to house in his neighborhood for his children and their friends.
After the second year of this local promenade, Theater for the New City stepped in and produced the event on a larger scale as part of their City in the Streets program. That year the Parade went through many more streets in Greenwich Village and attracted larger participation because of the involvement of the Theater.
After the third year, the Parade formed itself into a not-for-profit organization, discontinued its association with Theater for the New City and produced the Parade on its own.
The Village Halloween Parade has been a significant factor in the revitalization of the city and its spirit.
It also affords an opportunity for political expression.
“Harry Potter: A History of Magic”, the newly opened exhibit at the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library only on view until January 27, is a must-see on so many levels. It isn’t just for fans of J.K. Rowling’s phenomenal series, where you get extraordinary insights into her creative process through glimpses at original hand-written drafts and drawings, but insights into the history of magic – the centuries of folklore, myth and legend – that provided the foundation for her stories. Here you see the original documents and artifacts which make you realize (for the first time), how Rowling drew on history and tradition, and how magic and witchcraft actually provided the foundation of science and discovery.
“Abracadabra,” we learn, is an incantation believed to have healing powers, first recorded by Quintus Serenus Sammanicus, physician to the Roman Emperor Caracalla. He prescribed that the word be repeatedly written out, each time leaving off one letter. The charm was then worn as an amulet around the neck to drive out fever. We see it described in “Liber Medicinalis,” a 13th century book from Canterbury.
The invisibility cloak that Harry Potter wore? There actually was an incantation for invisibility that we can see in a mid-17th century spell book owned by a contemporary of Shakespeare. A 4th century papyrus scroll turns out to be an ancient Greek handbook of magic that contains a love charm.
Mandrake roots really do look like men (or women) and the legend of them screaming when pulled out by the roots, causing insanity, was documented across cultures. We get to see a mandrake root, which looks like a shriveled old man in anguish.
The Philosopher’s Stone that plays such a key role for Harry Potter (it was renamed the Sorcerer’s Stone for American readers)? This was the quest of alchemists, who sought to create the elixir of immortal life and turn ordinary metal into gold – in essence, harnessing the energy of the universe and its power. The “recipe” for the Philosopher’s Stone was believed to be prescribed in The Ripley Scroll. We get to see an actual Ripley Scroll, from around 1570 England, exquisite in its color, unfurled over 20 feet, one of only 22 known to still exist. This one is on loan from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.
The scroll takes its name from George Ripley, a canon at Bridlington Priory in northern England and author of “The Compound of Alchymy.” The scroll, full of mystical symbolism, supposedly gives clues to how to make the key red, white and black stones that together would form the Philosopher’s Stone. Rowling wove these symbols into her characters: Rubeus Hagrid (rubeus is Latin for “red); Albus Dumbledore (albus is Latin for “white”) and Sirius Black, Harry’s three father figures.
We get to see a copy of Culpepper’s Herbal, describing the medicinal properties of herbs, the first medical text to be published in English (instead of Latin), so as to break the monopoly of wealthy, educated in having this knowledge. Culpepper was accused of witchcraft in 1642, but acquitted. The book is still in print and we learn from Rowling that she possesses two copies.
We get to see the actual tombstone of Nicolas Flamel, an actual person! who a landlord and bookseller in medieval Paris who married a rich woman and became a philanthropist. His interest in alchemy, according to Pottermore, was apparently sparked after he obtained a mystical book was written by a man called Abraham the Jew in Greek, Hebrew and other languages. Following his death in 1418, rumors began to circulate that Flamel was an alchemist who had discovered how to make the Philosopher’s Stone, and turn metal into gold. He was buried in the church of Saint-Jacques-de-la Boucherie in Paris, his grave marked by this tombstone. But years later, when the body was exhumed, there was no body. Some believe he escaped to India, and with the elixir, still lives.
The exhibition, a cerebral celebration marking the 20th anniversary of the US publication of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, captures the traditions of folklore and magic at the heart of the Harry Potter stories. Based on Harry Potter: A History of Magic, a British Library exhibition, with some special New York twists, it combines century-old treasures—including rare books, manuscripts, and magical objects from the British Library, New-York Historical Society, and other collections—with original material from Harry Potter’s U.S. publisher Scholastic and J.K. Rowling’s own archives, never before collected in one place, and items that have never been shown before. And this exhibit is the only other place where it will be shown, before the items go back to their respective museums, which include the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, in Cornwall.
The entertaining aspect is in the exhibition’s presentation, as if you are wandering through Hogwarts, with the galleries organized around the Hogwarts’ curriculum for witches: Potions, Alchemy, Herbology, Charms, Astronomy, Divination, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Care of Magical Creatures – each one showing the historical and cultural traditions that underlie Rowling’s fantastical world and her creative process.
It is as if instead of J.K. Rowling inventing the Hogwarts curriculum, she graduated from it. It also means that all of us, children and adults, who were so enrapt in the Harry Potter saga of witchcraft and magic 20 years ago, have a whole new dimension for appreciating Rowling’s masterpiece from a mature perspective.
The exhibit is captivating on so many levels – Rowling’s personality and creative process, you get so many insights into her as a person, and the connection to history and tradition at the heart of mythology. Also, we get to see the evolution of science from magic and spiritualism.
Rowling faithfully represented these traditions – even the names she chose for her characters relate back to these traditions, symbolically or literally.
In Potions & Alchemy, we see a copy of Jacob Meydenbach’s 1491 edition of Hartus Sanitatis (Latin for “The Garden of Health”), the first printed cyclopedia of natural history, which actually includes a hand-colored woodcut illustration of a potions class.
One of the plants described, blue hellebore, was the plant Harry Potter forgot to add in his Draught of Peace.
We see an actual bezoar stone, which was believed to be an antidote to poison, first introduced into medieval Europe by Arab physicians. They were expensive to buy and owners often kept their stones in elaborate cases. Here we see a bezoar stone in a gold filigree case from the 17th century.
The Herbology section is particularly fascinating: Here we see an illustration from a 15th century illustrated herbal by Giovanni Cadamasto that describes mandrakes (mandragara) that could cure headaches, earache, gout and insanity. Just as Rowling depicted, the plant was said to be particularly hazardous to harvest because the shrieks from the roots cause madness. “The best way to obtain it safely was to unearth its roots with an ivory stake, attaching the plant to a dog with a card. A horn would sound, drowning out the shrieking, startling the dog and causing it to drag out the mandrake.” We actually get to see a mandrake root and how much it resembles a prone shriveled man who appears anguished. The description of mandrake is also from a 14th century Arabic text, originally in Ancient Greek by Pedanius Dioscorides, a botanist.
We see implements of “magical gardening” of bone and antler, on loan from the Museum of Watchcraft & Magic, Boscastle, Cornwall.
There is an original copy of a book by Elizabeth Blackwell (one of the first women physicians), “A Curious Herbal,” published in London in 1737-38. She was desperate to raise money to spring her husband Alexander from debtor prison, so made drawings that she took to Alexander to identify, which she then published weekly, eventually detailing 500 plants.
An 1807 edition of Robert John Thornton’s “The Temple of Flora,” an elaborate botany book that nearly bankrupted Thornton to produce (it was originally titled, “The New Illustration of the Sexual System of Linnaeus”). There is an illustration of Dragon arum (Dracunculus vulgaris), also known as stink lily, which reproduces the smell of putrefying meat to attract flies for pollination.
In Charms, we see a copy of Cotton Mather’s “The Wonders of the Invisible World,” published in London in 1693 (from the New-York Historical Society Library), in which he justified the Salem witchcraft trials.
This is the area which gives some attention to the way witches were depicted, when in essence, they were shaman, healers, who were extraordinarily connected to the natural world, and in fact, the first scientists and doctors.
We see the earliest printed illustration of a witch, from 1489, depicting witches as powerful and dangerous. “The Iconography went on to influence image of witches for centuries. The printing press was new – like video of the time.”
Here we see a colorful broomstick belonging to Olga Hunt, a 20th century witch of Manatan, Devon (from the Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle). The broomstick is closely associated with the Western image of witches, but has roots in pagan fertility rites. The connection with witchcraft and broomsticks developed during the witch hysteria of 16th and 17th century Europe. Olga was supposed to have used it to leap around Dartmoor on a full moon.
We also see Rowling’s original, handwritten draft of the Sorting Hat Song, sung at Harry’s sorting ceremony in his first year, with some crossings out and additions, and her sketch of Argus Filch, the Hogwarts caretaker (Argus is a name from Greek Mythology of a man-eyed giant who is “all seeing.”)
In Divination, there is a major archaeological find on view: oracle bones some 3,000 years old from China that proved the existence of the Shang Dynasty, which had only been known in legend. The bones offered not only the earliest examples of Chinese writing, but showed that the culture worshipped ancestors – the Oracle Bones were a means of communicating with ancestors, who could send back messages.
We see a black moon crystal ball used by “Smelly Nelly,” a 20th-century British witch who used strong perfume to attract the spirits she believed helped her to see the future (on loan from Museum of Witchcraft & Magic, Cornwall). Nelly is reflected in Rowling’s character of Sybill Trelawney, Hogwarts Divination professor.
There is also a 19th century fortune-telling doll from New-York Historical’s collection.
Astronomy features a 1699 celestial globe by famed cartographer Vincenzo Coronelli, pages from a notebook compiled by the artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci that show the sun and moon revolving around the Earth, and a 13th century astrolabe thought to be one of the oldest geared instruments in existence, from the American Museum of Natural History Library.
Defense Against the Dark Arts features an actual wand, in the shape of a snake (snakes were magical because they were thought to have the ability to regenerate, and a wand in the shape of a snake would have been very powerful), and we learn that there are still wandmakers today who go to the woods where trees speak to them to be selected. There is also a magic staff (1998) carved from timber.
The basilisk in mythology didn’t look like the snake-like creature in Harry Potter but was depicted as a strange chicken, the size of palm, but its stare would kill you, and the way to defeat it was not by sword but by weasels.Care of Magical Creatures features a 13th-century bestiary manuscript depicting a phoenix rising from the ashes, a narwhal tusk, and John James Audubon’s original watercolor of snowy owls, just like the snowy owl that Hagrid gave to Harry Potter.
We see the oldest description of a Hippogriff: 16th century book on vellum paper given to George III –a magical creature that has the front legs, wings, and head of a giant eagle and the body, hind legs and tail of a horse. It is very similar to another mythical creature, the Griffin, with the horse rear replacing the lion rear.
We see examples of unicorn (loaned from the Explorer’s Club), as well as an actual merman – a Japanese creation made by combining two fish with wire and cloth (worthy of P.T. Barnum). This is the first time it has been displayed outside the United Kingdom.
This fascination with these strange new creatures reflects the era of exploration into strange new lands and discovery of new creatures.
This section features Rowling’s hand-written draft of “Deathly Hallows”, with her crossings out, notes to self and ”x” where she needed to add more providing this amazing insight into Rowling’s creative process. There is also her own illustration of Harry and Hagrid going to Gringots and Jim Kay’s drawing of Hagrid.
These items were collected for the exhibition, basically tracing and providing original artifacts that underlie Rowling’s Harry Potter narrative, but it seems as if Rowling had already undertaken the Hogwarts curriculum herself. The exhibit brings together the source material that informed her inspiration.
In the section, Past, Present and Future, one of the most fascinating items is Rowling’s own draft for the “Order of Phoenix” and her meticulous outline of plot and where the characters are, what they are doing. You see original cover art by Brian Selnick for the 2018 (20th anniversary) series, in which he unifies the seven covers as a single image that tells the story of the Boy Who Lived, which had never been displayed before, and models of set designs for the “Cursed Child” on Broadway, as well as an autographed screenplay of “Fantastic Beasts,” and an edition of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” (as “Sorcerer’s Stone” was titled in United Kingdom).
The New York presentation of the British Library’s Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition is special because it features Mary GrandPré’s pastel illustrations for the cover artwork of Scholastic’s original editions of the novels; Brian Selznick’s newly created artwork for the covers of the 20th anniversary edition of the Harry Potter series published by Scholastic; cover art by Kazu Kibuishi featured in Scholastic’s 15th anniversary box set; and the enormous steamer trunk used to transport a signed copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on the Queen Mary to the U.S. The exhibition also includes costumes and set models from the award-winning play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Also on display for the first time in the U.S. are Rowling’s handwritten first drafts of The Philosopher’s Stone and Deathly Hallows, her hand-drawn sketch of the Hogwarts grounds, and portraits and sketches of some of the Hogwarts’s professors and magical creatures created by British illustrator Jim Kay. John James Audubon’s watercolor of Snowy Owls, a 1693 publication defending the Salem witch trials, a study of the Woolworth Building—the landmark New York location featured in the film Fantastic Beasts—and other artifacts from New-York Historical’s collection.
I love the origination story – worthy of fiction – how in 1990, J.K. Rowling was sitting on a delayed train from Manchester to London when an idea popped into her head fully formed: the character of Harry Pottery, a boy wizard with messy black hair, glasses and a lightning shaped scar on his forehead. Over the next five years, she planned out seven books, writing mostly in longhand and amassing a mountain of notes, many on scraps of paper (some we get to see).
She presented a scroll of the draft of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” (as it was titled in the United Kingdom), to Nigel Newton of Bloomsbury, who handed it to his eight year old daughter, Alice, to read. His daughter’s review, “‘it’s probably one of the best books for 8 or 9 year old could read,” encouraged him to publish. The initial print run was just 500 copies, typical for a children’s book by a first-time author. The book turned into a worldwide phenomenon – over 500 million books sold, printed in 80 languages. We see various editions lining the corridor.
There’s so much to absorb – I went through the exhibit twice, and used the Audible guide they make available for free, and after three hours, could have spent considerably more time there.
There is a superb Family Guide for “A History of Magic” that turns the exhibit into an interactive activity.
New-York Historical is also presenting a wide variety of exhibition-related events for grown-up Harry Potter fans throughout the run of the exhibition, including trivia nights, art workshops, creative writing classes, social meet-ups, open mics, book clubs, and engaging courses that explore the Hogwarts curriculum. Programs include an onstage conversation with illustrators Mary GrandPré and Brian Selznick, and a special evening with actor Jim Dale, known for his narration of all seven Harry Potter U.S. audiobooks. Family activities feature History of Magic family days with hands-on activities and crafts, a Harry Potter family book club, historical Hallowe’en celebration, and trivia for families. Additional programming information is available at harrypotter.nyhistory.org.
Harry Potter: A History of Magic is sponsored by Audible and a special audio tour to accompany the Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition at New-York Historical, featuring Natalie Dormer, will be available to ticketholders as a free Audible download, offering in-depth content on fascinating objects throughout the exhibition galleries.
This is the only other exhibition of this collection outside of the British Library. After finishing here on January 27, the artifacts will be returned to the museums and institutions to which they belong. Poof, it’s vanished.
Timed-entry tickets for the exhibition Harry Potter: A History of Magic are $21 for adults, $16 for seniors (65+), $13 for students, $6 for kids ages 5–13, and free for children ages 0–4; tickets include admission to the rest of the Museum. Harry Potter: A History of Magic is on view through January 27, 2019, on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday 10 am–6 pm; Friday 10 am–9 pm; and Sunday 10 am–5 pm. The last entry is 45 minutes before closing.
“History Matters,” is the New-York Historical Society’s motto, and that is clearly on view.
There is so much to see at the New-York Historical Society – it never fails to offer fascinating and provocative exhibits – you need a couple of extra hours beyond the time visiting “Harry Potter.” I went through “Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow” exhibit which is hard-hitting and in your face discussion of how the Emancipation Proclamation, Civil War, and most significantly, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, led to an institutionalized system of terror and subjugation of African Americans, including a series of Supreme Court decisions dating back to Dred Scott, that perpetuated subjugation (on view through March 3).
Also, the relatively new “Gallery of Tiffany Lamps” is not to be missed – this permanent display of 100 illuminated lamps is breathtaking for its beauty and exquisite presentation (by architect Eva Jiricna), and you even get the opportunity to design your own Tiffany lamp shade. You also learn the “hidden history” behind the lamps: about Clara Driscoll, the woman who up until now was virtually unknown and unheralded but was the artistic genius behind many of his designs, who headed the “Women’s Glass Cutting Department.”
There are also two films that are shown in a fantastic theater, each shorter than 20 minutes: “We Rise” about women and social movements that were incubated, flourished and pollinated from New York City (narrated by Meryl Street) and “New York Story,” how and why it grew to be the commercial and cultural capital of the world and remains inextricably connected to the world.
There is a lovely café at the Society.
New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West (at 77th Street), 212-873-3400, nyhistory.org.