New York City’s major cultural institutions are
temporarily closed to help minimize the spread of coronavirus, but many are
making their exhibits and programs available virtually, and have websites that
really engage, that make the time spent in enforced hibernation that much
richer and more productive, and frankly, less maddening.
When the Met reopens,
it will offer a series of special exhibits marking its 150th anniversary:The exhibition Making The Met, 1870–2020 will present
more than 250 works of art from the collection while taking visitors on a
journey through the Museum’s history; The reopening of the galleries for
British decorative arts and design will reveal a compelling new curatorial
narrative; Transformative new gifts, cross-cultural installations, and major
international loan exhibitions will be on view throughout the year; and special
programs and outreach will include a birthday commemoration on April 13, a
range of public events June 4–6, and a story-collecting initiative.
galleries may be closed, but never fear! Social media never sleeps.”
Follow @metmuseum on Instagram for Tuesday Trivia, #MetCameos, and daily art
Being confined to home is a perfect time to take advantage of the Museum of Modern Art’s free massive open online course What Is Contemporary Art?, available now on Coursera. This course offers an in-depth look at over 70 works of art from MoMA’s collection—many of which are currently on view in the expanded Museum—from 1980 to the present, with a focus on art produced in the last decade. Learners will hear directly from artists, architects, and designers from around the globe about their creative processes, materials, and inspiration. What Is Contemporary Art? can be found at mo.ma/whatiscontemporaryart.
I can’t wait for MoMA to
reopen so I can see Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures,
the first major solo exhibition at the Museum of the photographer’s incisive
work in over 50 years. The exhibition includes approximately 100 photographs
drawn entirely from the Museum’s collection. Dorothea Lange: Words
& Pictures also uses archival materials such as correspondence,
historical publications, and oral histories, as well as contemporary voices, to
examine the ways in which words inflect our understanding of Lange’s pictures.
These new perspectives and responses from artists, scholars, critics, and
writers, including Julie Ault, Wendy Red Star, and Rebecca Solnit, provide
fresh insight into Lange’s practice. (Scheduled through May 9, 2020).
American Museum of Natural History while closed, the
website is a treasure trove of information and engaging photos and ways to
explore and interact on your own. At the section of its site labeled “Explore” https://www.amnh.org/explore, there are
videos, blogs and OLogy: The Science Website for Kids, where kids of all ages
can play games, do activities, watch videos and meet scientists to learn more
about fossils, the universe, genetics, and more. (Check out https://www.amnh.org/explore/ology/brain)
New-York Historical Society is closed so you will have to wait to experience “Women March,” presidential/election exhibits (take a selfie in Reagan’s Oval Office) and “Bill Graham” (phenomenal and surprising exhibit with fabulous musical accompaniment about this iconic concert impresario). Meanwhile, the N-YHS website offers sensational online exhibitions featuring some of their important past exhibits, including ‘Harry Potter; A History of Magic,” and “the Vietnam War: 1945-1975” and Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion (https://www.nyhistory.org/exhibitions/online-exhibitions). You can also delve into its digital collection, with selections from the N-YHS Museum and Library’s holdings paintings, drawings, photographs, manuscripts, broadsides, maps, and other materials that reveal the depth and breadth of over two centuries of collecting. (http://digitalcollections.nyhistory.org/). (See: Many Pathways to Mark Centennial of Women’s Suffrage)
some outdoor venues are open, as of this writing (the situation has changed
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden remains open to
the public, having implemented stringent cleaning protocols and posted new
signage on-site about best practices in personal hygiene. “We hope that the
Garden might offer you some comfort and beauty even during a particularly
stressful time.” (https://www.bbg.org/visit)
Central Park, Prospect Park and Flushing Meadows may well provide needed respite. However, the Wildlife Conservation Society has temporarily closed the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, Queens Zoo and New York Aquarium, effective Monday, March 16. Check wcs.org for updates.
Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
2017 Women’s March may have been the largest single protest in history, but
women have been marching literally and virtually for 200 years. And for 200
years, the march, the campaign for women’s rights has been shorthand for
voting, education, health care, equal pay, workers rights, civil rights,
environmental justice, gun safety. Yes, there was that period when temperance
was a priority, as well. But it has only been in the 1970s, that Feminism – the
fight for women’s equality – took hold, and with it, the fight for the
essential right: reproductive freedom.
new exhibit at the New-York Historical Society simply
called “Women March” (part of The Women’s Suffrage NYC Centennial
Consortium, www.WomensSuffrageNYC.org) traces
this long arc which has not always moved toward justice or equality. Indeed,
progress, on just about every front, has been in brief spurts of enlightenment.
In reality, that long arc is more zig-zags and a maze with brick walls to block
the beginning, women directed their activism to abolition of slavery, labor
rights, working conditions and pay equity, civil rights, health, education,
property rights, custody, rights for Native Americans – issues regarded as “moral imperative.”
“Women seized on the notion that women had a moral power, beyond home, a moral imperative to effect public policy,” said Jeanne Gardner Gutierrez, curatorial scholar in women’s history at the New-York Historical Society.
Without the right to vote, they took
advantage of the Constitution’s right to petition Congress – until Congress
said they would ignore any anti-slavery petition.
“It was infuriating. The one right
available to women, guaranteed by Constitution, swept away. They realized that
moral suasion has limits.”
rights was not at the core of the women’s activism, which was hardly a movement
then. Even at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, the women leaders – mainly
Quaker women who already had a measure of equality within their religious
society – had to be persuaded (by
Frederick Douglass) to include the right to vote among their demands, enunciated in the Declaration of Sentiments, that
mimicked the Declaration of Independence. Their demands centered on equal pay
and rights to own property and have control of one’s own earnings, a growing
issue for women who were being employed in factories and for the first time
earning their own wage. Many women did not sign on. It may surprise many to
learn (as I did when visiting the Roosevelt historic site at Hyde Park) that
Eleanor Roosevelt was not an early supporter of suffrage.
the Civil War – as in the Revolutionary War and later World War II – women took
on roles that had been reserved for men: they managed their farms and
businesses while husbands and fathers were off fighting, they were nurses, and
organized fundraisers showing they could manage large financial projects (Sanitary Fair raised $1 million for union, the treasurer was
After the Civil War, there was a
great debate over whether women should seek the vote, whether under the 15th
amendment which said that men could not be denied the right
to vote simply based on their race,
voting should be a right of citizenship. Women were considered citizens, but
the Supreme Court found that citizenship did not automatically bestow voting
But a section of the exhibit labeled “Go West Young Woman” notes that in the Western territories, women did have right to vote (and apparently, women had the right to vote briefly in New Jersey, from 1776 to 1807 when the vote was restricted to white men. (See:On the Trail of America’s First Women to Vote)
those who think that Hillary Rodham Clinton was the first woman to run for
president (she was the first to run as a major party candidate) might be
surprised to learn that even before women won the right to vote, Victoria
Woodhull was the first woman to run for president as the Equal Rights Party
candidate in 1871. “Despite questions about eligibility to vote, women, she
reasoned, still could run for political office,” the notes read. Lawyer Belva
Lockwood, the first woman to argue before the Supreme Court, followed in 1884
and 1888 on the National Equal Rights Party
ticket and was the first woman to appear on
official ballots, endorsing equal rights, temperance, civil service
reform and citizenship for Native Americans; she won some 4,000 votes.
at a certain turning point, the women’s movement realized that moral suasion
wasn’t going to effect real change; the key to getting any of the changes and
rights they wanted was the right to vote.
used the latest techniques and technology to build support. Film was new in
1915, and a newsreel agency, Universal Animated Weekly, captured a 1915 strike
for workers rights (we get to see the film on a screen almost life-sized). The
films were distributed and shown in nickelodeons (small movie houses), and were an inexpensive
way to reach working-class people.
only in the 1960s-1970s, it seems, that women’s rights became equated with
reproductive rights, or more precisely, abortion, and coming almost
simultaneously with The Pill and sexual freedom that broke down gender
barriers. The threat to male domination became much starker – uprooting the
concept of women in the home, being consumers of appliances and cosmetics,
caring for children while men held the economic reins. Women could be fired for
becoming pregnant, could be paid a fraction of the same wage, and relegated
into specific jobs. Check out the classified job listing in the 1970s, and you
will see “male” and “female” listings.
really only comes to play in the 1980s, when the right to control one’s own
body, make one’s own choices, have the same right as men to self-determination,
takes hold. The outrage at women as
property, chattel, of objectification comes into focus.
you see a display with the first issue of Ms. Magazine, an organizing force
which reinforced women’s yearning for equal status.
in the earliest stages of activism, women’s issues were those that were
considered the “moral imperative” – abolition, workers rights – now it boiled
down to self, individual rights, but exploded back up again: women’s rights are
for others, feminism boiled down to one word: abortion.
Magazine publishes an amazing call to sign on to “a campaign for honesty and
freedom” along with a long list of 53 famous women who declared, “We have had
abortions” On the list: Gloria Steinem, Nora Ephron, Judy Collins, Susan
Sontag, Lillian Hellman, Lee Grant, Gael Greene, Billie Jean King.
exhibit follows to the 2017 Women’s March, with some of the posters.
just to emphasize the importance of Women’s Suffrage, just outside the exit
door is a computer where you can check on your voter registration.
For as long as there has been a
United States, women have organized to shape the nation’s politics and secure
their rights as citizens. Their collective action has taken many forms, from
abolitionist petitions to industry-wide garment strikes to massive marches for
an Equal Rights Amendment. Women March celebrates the
centennial of the 19th Amendment—which granted women the right to vote in
1920—as it explores the efforts of a diverse array of women to expand American
democracy in the centuries before and after the suffrage victory.
On view in the Joyce B. Cowin
Women’s History Gallery, Women March is curated by Valerie
Paley, the director of the Center for Women’s History and New-York Historical
senior vice president and chief historian, with the Center for Women’s History
curatorial team. The immersive exhibition features imagery and video footage of
women’s collective action over time, drawing visitors into a visceral
engagement with the struggles that have endured into the 21st century.
The exhibition begins with the many
ways women asserted political influence long before they even demanded the
vote. Objects and images demonstrate how they risked criticism for speaking
against slavery, signed petitions against Indian Removal, raised millions to
support the Civil War, and protested reduced wages and longer days. A riveting
recreation of an 1866 speech by African American suffragist and activist
Frances Harper demonstrates the powerful debates at women’s rights conventions.
Absence of the vote hardly prevented women from running for political office:
one engaging item on display is a campaign ribbon for Belva Lockwood, the first
woman to argue before the Supreme Court, who won around 4,000 votes in her own
Multiple perspectives on the vote,
including African American and working-class activism, are explored, upending
popular assumptions that suffragists were a homogenous group. The 19th
Amendment is hailed as a crucial step forward, but recognized as an incomplete
victory. One photograph shows an African American women’s voter group in
Georgia circa 1920, formed despite wide disenfranchisement, and another shows
women of the League of Women Voters who sought to make suffragists’ goals real
with legislation that addressed issues such as public health and child welfare.
A digital interactive monitor invites visitors to explore the nuances of voting
laws concerning women across the entire United States.
Offering an examination of women’s
activism in the century after the Amendment, the exhibition concludes by
showing how women engaged with issues such as safe workplaces, civil rights,
reproductive justice, and freedom from violence. Photographs and video footage
of women building warships, boycotting segregation, urging voters to register,
and marching for the Equal Rights Amendment convey the urgency of their desire
for full citizenship. The dynamism of women’s collective action continues to
the present day with handmade signs from the 2017 Women’s Marches and footage
of a variety of marches and speeches on topics ranging from reproductive
justice to indigenous peoples’ rights to climate change. Visitors can also
learn about many individuals who have been instrumental in women’s activism
over the past 200 years in an interactive display compiled by New-York
Historical’s Teen Leaders program. Meanwhile, young visitors can explore the
exhibition with a special family guide.
on view through August 30, 2020, is one of four major special exhibitions
mounted by the New-York Historical Society that
address the cornerstones of citizenship and American democracy.
the Presidentswhich opened on President’s Weekend, is where you can
discover how the role of the president has evolved since George Washington with
a re-creation of the White House Oval Office, decorated “thread by thread”
exactly as it was during Ronald Reagan’s tenure, and a new gallery devoted to
the powers of the presidency.
Colonists, Citizens, Constitutions: Creating the American
Republic explores the important roles
state constitutions have played in the history of our country.
The People Count: The Census in the Making of Americadocuments
the critical role played by the U.S. Census in the 19th century—just in time
for the 2020 Census.
To encourage first-time voters to
learn about our nation’s history and civic as they get ready to vote in the
presidential election, New-York Historical Society offers free admission to the
exhibitions above to college students with ID through 2020, an initiative
supported, in part, by History®. This special program allows college students to
access New-York Historical’s roster of upcoming exhibitions that explore the
pillars of American democracy as they prepare to vote, most of them for the
“The year 2020 is a momentous time
for both the past and future of American politics, as the centennial of the
19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, coincides with both a
presidential election and a census year,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and
CEO of New-York Historical. “This suite of complementary exhibitions showcases
the ideas and infrastructure behind our American institutions that establish
and protect our fundamental rights to make our voices heard and opinions count.
We hope that all visitors will come away with a wider understanding of the
important role each citizen plays in our democracy.”
New-York Historical Society is located at 170 Central Park West at Richard
Gilder Way (77th Street), New York, NY 10024, 212-873-3400, nyhistory.org.
The Women’s Suffrage NYC Centennial
One hundred years ago, women earned
the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th amendment. To honor their
fight and commemorate this moment in history, a collective of New York City
cultural organizations has formed the Women’s Suffrage NYC Centennial
The Women’s Suffrage NYC Centennial
Consortium is a collaboration of cultural
organizations citywide that foregrounds exhibitions and programs that,
together, offer a multi-dimensional picture of the history of women’s suffrage
and its lasting, ongoing impact. The consortium has launched www.WomensSuffrageNYC.org to highlight the activities being presented across New
York City throughout 2020.
Founding members are the New-York
Historical Society, the Staten Island Museum, the New York Philharmonic, The
New York Public Library, Brooklyn Historical Society, the Museum of the City of
New York, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Brooklyn
Museum, Park Avenue Armory, and Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical
Announced programming includes the
exhibition Women March at the New-York Historical
Society, which explores the efforts of a
wide range of women to expand American democracy in the centuries before and
after the suffrage victory (February 28 – August 30); Women
of the Nation Arise! Staten Islanders in the Fight for Women’s Right to Vote at
the Staten Island Museum, which presents the remarkable stories of local
suffragists acting on the grassroots level to create the momentum necessary for
regional and national change and the bold tactics they employed to win the vote
(March 7 – December 30); the New York Philharmonic’s Project 19—a
multi-season initiative to commission and premiere 19 new works by 19 women
composers, the largest women-only commissioning initiative in history, which
launched earlier this month and continues in the spring (May – June) and
beyond; and 100 Years | 100 Women a partnership of Park
Avenue Armory with National Black Theatre and nine other cultural institutions in
New York City to commission work exploring the complex legacy of the 19th
Amendment 100 years after its ratification from 100 artists who identify as
women or gender non-binary (showcase of commissions on May 16).
The consortium is committed to
showcasing women’s contributions to the past, present, and future. Though many
women were given access to the right to vote 100 years ago, the fight for
equality continues. Their goal is to expand the conversation through meaningful
cultural experiences that convey that all women should be seen, heard, and
The Women’s Suffrage NYC Centennial
Consortium is co-chaired by Janice Monger, president & CEO of the Staten
Island Museum, and Valerie Paley, director of the Center for Women’s History
and senior vice president and chief historian at the New-York Historical
Society, to bring together a group of vital New York City cultural
organizations with a shared vision to honor the Women’s Suffrage Centennial.
“We are so proud to bring together
this collective of organizations and colleagues who share the vision that
women’s stories are important and need to be told. All of these activities
represent multi-faceted, nuanced cultural and historical insights into the
early 20th century movement and equality in progress today,” said Janice
Monger, consortium co-chair and Staten Island Museum president & CEO.
“In an effort that was many decades
in the making, a century ago, women came together to fight for and win the
right to vote. While that right was not fully and immediately extended to all
women, their continued collective action galvanized movements to expand and
give substantive meaning to American democracy after the suffrage victory,”
said Valerie Paley, consortium co-chair and senior vice president and chief
historian at the New-York Historical Society, where she directs the Center for
Women’s History. “Through these cultural experiences across New York City, we
hope New Yorkers and visitors alike will be inspired by the women who made
history and the women who are making history now,” she added.
The Women’s Suffrage NYC Centennial
Consortium will continue to grow as new programs and exhibitions are announced
during the year.
the National Trust for Historic
is compiling a catalog of 1000 sites associated with women of accomplishment and
is more than halfway to the goal of
identifying places Where Women Made History
and is inviting people to submit entries (go to the site to submit a photo and
year the United States commemorates the 100th anniversary of women gaining the
right to vote, providing an important opportunity to celebrate the place of
women in American history. While history, of course, is complicated, and voting
rights for many women continued to be denied because of discriminatory
practices, we at the National Trust want to tell the full history—to uncover
and uplift women across the centuries whose vision, passion, and determination
have shaped the country we are today. Our goal: discover 1,000 places connected
to women’s history, and elevate their stories for everyone to learn and
to do this, we need your help. What places have you encountered where women
made history? They can be famous or unknown, protected or threatened, existing
or lost. No matter their condition or status, these places matter, and we
encourage you to share them with the world.
a place you’d like to share? Submit a photo and a short description.”
checking the listings in New York State, I see already listed is Grange Hall, Waterloo,
NY, associated with Belva Ann Lockwood; Harriet Tubman House and Gravesite,
Auburn, NY; the former Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, New York City, “Little
Nellie,” Newspaper Editress, Penfield, NY; Alice Austen House, Staten Island;
and Matilda Joslyn Gage Center for Social Justice Dialogue, Fayetteville, NY.
Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
Out of 1200 artifacts, photos, video testimonies, it comes down to one:
a tiny, well-worn leather child’s shoe, the sock still hanging out of it. Was
it taken off in anticipation the child was just going to a shower, or was the
child ferociously pulled out of the shoe and sock?
Shoes take on special significance at the “Auschwitz: Not so long ago.
Not far away.” landmark exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in
downtown Manhattan, which has been extended through August 30, 2020 before
touring to other cities.
As you first walk in, there is a single red shoe in a glass case that perversely sparks an image of the ruby slippers in “Wizard of Oz.” set against a grey-toned wall-mural sized photo of piles of shoes. Further on as you walk through the three-floors of exhibits, there is the pair of hardened leather clog-looking shoes in a case with a prison uniform so rough and raw they would irritate, then infect and swell the feet, a death sentence for the hapless prisoner.
Another display case in the “Selection” section contains shiny leather boots, much like those that the prisoners would see Mengele wearing as they were forced out of the freight cars minutes after being unloaded at Auschwitz, beneath the sign that said. ‘Work Sets You Free.” He was the doctor who selected out twin children for his medical experiments. The rest of the children – 200,000 of them – were immediately sent to the gas chamber along with their mother, aunt, sister, grandmother or friendly stranger who had accompanied them on their journey. The tiny leather shoe with the sock still in it is the only evidence this child existed at all, his life extinguished.
800,000 more Jews were immediately sent to their deaths in the gas
chambers, 2000 at a time, their bodies thrown into crematoria that worked 24/7
to keep up with the factory-scale exterminations, their ashes thrown into a
Out of the 1.1 million “deported” to Auschwitz, the largest of the Nazi
killing camps, only 200,000 were “selected” not for immediate death but to
become slave labor in the concentration camp. They too were immediately marched
into showers, their hair shaved, their arms tattooed, their bodies stripped of
any dignity or humanness. Few lived more than a month or two under the
atrocious conditions – dying of starvation, disease, overwork, beatings or
simply shot on the spot. Some became so infirm, they settled into their fate,
and welcomed being carried by stretcher to end their daily terror and pain.
Others, packed six to a wooden plank in the barracks, would wake up to find a
dead person next to them.
“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” offers a different perspective on the Holocaust, a horror on a scale that is incomprehensible, by focusing down to the most personal elements.
This exhibit, which focuses down to one “tiny dot” on a map that was the
largest killing camp in the Nazi’s network – makes it as personal as is
possible. You walk in their shoes. And yet, as well as they show the faces, the
horrors, the personal objects, the testimonials of survivors, the drawings and photos,
an actual freight car and an actual barracks, even so, it is still hard to
Indeed, the incomprehensibility of the horror was key to its success – along
with secrecy and deception. People could not imagine the level of brutality,
cruelty, savageness. So they packed up what they could in suitcases, expecting
they were being resettled to places free of anti-Semitism, where they could
work and live out their lives.
It is also the danger that such dehumanization, genocide, industrial-scale
killing can happen again. Indeed, Auschwitz was not that long ago, nor that far
“Auschwitz” isn’t just a look back with graphic evidence to plant a marker in the history books that others are working so hard to erase . It is a look at now, a look at where the trajectory can lead. That is what is embodied in the phrase. “Never Again.”
I had been steeling myself to visit the Auschwitz exhibit at the Museum
of Jewish Heritage. I recognized that I had an obligation, a responsibility to
be a witness to the extent possible. A NYC-Arts special on PBS helped
enormously because I could visualize, know what to expect and better prepare
for the horror – unlike the millions who were sent to the killing camps. Then
there was that television screening of the story of Irena Sendler, a Warsaw
nurse who smuggled 2,500 children out of the Ghetto to safety – the film so
graphic, her courage and nobility so palpable. Surely I could summon the
courage to face the past. To Remember. Never Forget.
If you thought you knew about the Holocaust and the Nazis’ Final Solution
that exterminated 6 million Jews and too many (40% of adults and 65% of young
people) don’t know anything at all, this rare exhibit, with artifacts gathered
from 20 institutions around the world, focuses just on Auschwitz – from how a
simple Polish village, Oswiecim where half the population was made up of Jewish
families who had lived there for centuries, was turned into the largest of six
killing factories in Poland. Original artifacts – documents, personal items,
posters, photos – show the roots of anti-Semitism and how being Jewish was
converted from a religion to “an inferior race,” a sub-human species, stripped
of legal, political, property and professional rights. That’s the first floor.
You see and hear from survivors how families were stuffed 100, 150 into a
box car (like the one outside the museum), with the ploy of telling them they
were being resettled to a better place free of anti-Semitism, then locked in
with just one pail as a toilet and one pail for water, so crowded, one had to
stand up in order for someone to sit down. And then they arrive on the “ramp”,
where they are “selected,” crossing under a wrought iron sign that said, “Work
Makes You Free.” That’s just the middle of the second floor.
Here you see stacks of suitcases, a pram (a rare artifact) that eerily reminds
you of the display as you enter Ellis Island, the gateway for millions of
immigrants into the United States. But here, it shows how unwitting the victims
were. Because they were only moments away from being sent to their death. And
because access to safe harbors like the United States were shut off to them.
Turn the corner in a room shrouded in darkness and you come upon a white
door of a gas chamber, a metal mesh chimney down which the Zykon B poison was
sent, a gas mask. In another case, one of the innocuous looking showerheads
that survived the fire the Nazis set to destroy evidence of their Final
Solution. Extraordinarily powerful and horrifying drawings by survivor Alfred Kantor depict how women and
children were told to undress and hang up their clothes on a numbered hook so
they would find them again – “Remember your number.” And then they would be
locked into the gas chamber.
They, too, were told they were going to shower to be de-loused. The Nazis
made a show of having them undress in a changing room, have them put their
clothes on numbered hooks so they could find them again. They were shoved 1000
at a time into a shower room, the doors clanked shut, and Zykon B poison pumped
in. It took barely 15 minutes to exterminate them all.
The door would open at the other end and a group of Jewish prisoners, called
Sonderkommandos, would pull the bodies out one by one, drag them to a dumbwaiter
to the crematoria. To keep the secret safe, the Sonderkommandos were kept
isolated from the rest of the camp, living in barracks above the crematoria. A
rabbi among them, a Hungarian, took each child and said Kaddish before placing
the small body in the crematorium.
But one of the Sonderkommandos, working with Polish resistance, smuggled
a camera and film and took photos of bodies being burned in vast fields with
the overflow that couldn’t be handled in the crematoria, working night and day.
There are four of these photos on display.
The Nazis harvested their victims. As the bodies were pulled from the gas
chamber, a Sonderkommando designated “The Dentist” would pull out their gold
teeth. Their clothes and meager belongings had already been plundered and sent
to “Kanada” – vast warehouses named for a country that was considered rich but
out of reach. Between the various business enterprises that the Nazis used
their slave labor and the looting, it is estimated that each prisoner returned
$794 in profit to the SS.
How were the Nazis able to lead 11 million including 6 million Jews to
slaughter like sheep? The secret is how they kept such a massive killing secret,
and who could have imagined such diabolical cruelty, such grotesque brutality,
who could have imagined a Final Solution?
How did they keep such a monstrous secret? How they managed to move
people by the thousands – trapping them into the freight cars when the people
thought they were being resettled to a pleasant village where they would be
allowed to work. They kept it a secret when immediately upon arriving at
Auschwitz, they were separated into two groups. One line was pushed to showers,
told to strip and were turned into slave labor – their hair shaved, arms tattooed,
all their property stripped away along with their identity, their personhood,
stuffed into a prison uniform with an appropriate identifying symbol as to
You continue on to learn what life was like in Auschwitz for the 200,000
who were not immediately murdered. You listen to harrowing testimonials by survivors,
see part of an actual barracks.
death toll of 1.1 million was the largest
among all the German death camps. But it also had the greatest number of
survivors – some 200,000 people brought to Auschwitz were sent to other camps
before the war ended, and some 7,000 prisoners were liberated at Auschwitz in
You leave this section, which is dark, almost completely black, into a
room called “Persistence and Resistance,” which is off-white, round, with
natural light streaming from a domed ceiling.
Persistence took the form of ways that the prisoners preserved their
Resistance took the form of getting the story of what was going on in
Auschwitz out to the world, in the hopes that the Allies would bomb the killing
center or disrupt the deportations, and preserving evidence that would
ultimately hold perpetrators of such colossal evil accountable.
This is the most moving section of all –
when I can finally start breathing again.
Auschwitz SS aimed to destroy any possible solidarity between prisoners…‘Resistance’
in Auschwitz therefore consisted of acts in which prisoners, against all odds,
showed solidarity with others. It included heroic actions made with a view to
the larger world outside of the camp, grand gestures of generosity and small
acts of kindness and charity, along with spiritual resistance. And it was
expressed in the determination that-despite the best efforts of the SS – death
in Auschwitz would not remain anonymous, and the victims would not remain
I learn the amazing story of Witold
Pilecki, a Second Lieutenant in the Polish Army who had himself arrested under
the name Tomasz Serafinski and sent to Auschwitz in 1940 (prisoner no. 4859) in
order to spy for the Polish government.
managed to smuggle out messages about life and death in the camp while organizing
fellow prisoners. In April 1943, Pilecki escaped, and returned to Warsaw to
convince the Polish Resistance to attack Auschwitz in a coordinated effort with
prisoners. But the commander who had sent him on his mission had been arrested,
and the new leader judged an attack on the large and well-armed Auschwitz
garrison to be suicidal. They also realized they wouldn’t be able to shelter
the tens of thousands of inmates who might be freed. Pilecki wrote the first
full report on conditions of Auschwitz and the mass murder of Jews in the gas
chambers. The allies received the report but ignored it. Pilecki continued to
fight the Germans, participating in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.
Outrageously, in 1947, he was arrested
by the Polish Communist government, tortured, and executed in 1948.
It was so critical to
get information out that several risked their lives to smuggle information out.
I learn the story of The
Auschwitz Protocols: In March 1944, Slovakian Jewish inmates Walter
Rosenberg (aka Rudolf Vrba) and Alfred Wetzler observed the Nazi’s preparations
for the arrival of transports from Hungary. With a lot of planning and luck,
they escaped from Auschwitz on April 7, 1944 and fled to Slovakia in the hopes
of warning the Jews of Hungary.
The testimony of Vrba and Wetzler, along with
information supplied by Czeslaw Mordowicz and Arnost Rosin, who escaped Auschwitz
on May 27, 1944, yielded the first substantial report of the use of Auschwitz
as a death factory. It became known as the “Auschwitz Protocols” and detailed
the continuing massacres in the gas chambers. But the information didn’t reach
the Hungarians in time: beginning in May, over 400,000 Jews were deported and
murdered. A summary of the report arrived in the US in July. That same month,
the Red Army’s liberation of the Majdanek camp led to the publication in the US
of sensational reports written by well-known journalists in America media.
Though it didn’t succeed in its primary objective, the Auschwitz Protocols led
to diplomatic pressure that forced the Hungarian government [the leader now
fearing he would be tried for war crimes] to stop further deportations, saving
the lives of over 150,000 Jews. It also triggered a debate among the Allies:
what parts of Auschwitz could or should be bombed.
On August 20, Allied bombers attacked the IG
Farben factory, but not Auschwitz camps.
“I firmly believed that [the daily killing in
the crematoria] was possible because the victims who came to Auschwitz didn’t
know what was happening there,” Auschwitz survivor Rudolf Vrba wrote in 1985.
“I thought that if this would be made known by any means within Europe, this
might stir up the Resistance outside and bring help directly to Auschwitz. And
thus the escape plans are finally formulated and the escape took place on April
organized an ill-fated revolt in October 1944.
Roza Robota recruited women prisoners working in
the munitions factory operating next to the camp to smuggle gunpowder off-site.
Robota passed it to Timofei Borodin, a Russian technician, who carried it to
the Sonderkommandos. Their aim was to destroy the crematoria and spark a
But the uprising went awry. The Sonderkommandos
of Crematorium 5, hearing they were to b e gassed, revolted ahead of schedule.
On October 7, they killed 3 SS, wounded 12 and burned down Crematorium 4. At
the same time, the Sonderkommandos of Crematorium 2 attempted a breakout.
In retaliation the SS killed 451
Sonderkommandos. The camp Gestapo identified Robota and three other Jewish
women – Regina Sapirstein, Ala Gertner and Ester Wajeblum – as plotters. After
weeks of torture they were hanged publicly. As the noose was placed around her
neck, Robota cried out ‘Nekama;’ (Revenge!)
Sonderkommando Zalman Groiadowski (Sept 6, 1944), leaves a note. “Dear finder,
search everywhere, in every inch of soil. Tons of documents are buried under
it, mine and those of other persons, which will throw light on everything that
was happening here. Great quantities of teeth are also buried here. We, the
Sonderkommando workers, have expressly strewn them all over the terrain so that
the world should find material traces of the millions of murdered people…”
This groundbreaking 18,000-square-foot exhibition takes up three
floors, 20 thematic galleries. Through the artifacts and Holocaust survivor
testimony, it brings you inside and re-creates the experience as best as possible,
raising the alarm how the unimaginable, the inconceivable happened and can
happen again. The commentary notes that one demagogue like Hitler could not
have produced the Holocaust.
“Genocide is a social
act,” the audio guide says toward the end of the exhibit. “It requires a
society who conspires…But the same society can resist.”
But there is one question that is not answered: who, what and how those
who administered torture, who beat and murdered and presided over such intense
suffering. That is a critical question to knowing whether such a thing could
happen again. Just what percentage of a given population are sociopaths?
There are some clues provided in the statements that are presented:
Once Hitler had decided that the “Final Solution”
would be enacted, one important question remained: Who was to be in charge of
the genocide? Heinrich Himmler sought this responsibility as he believed it
would help him consolidate his power.
Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoss (1946)
testified, “I visited Treblinka to find out how they carried out their exterminations.
I did not think his methods were very efficient. I used Zykon B, a crystallized
prussic acid dropped into the death chamber from a small opening. It took from
three to 15 minutes to kill the people. Another improvement we made over
Treblinka was that at Treblinka the victims almost always knew that they were
to be exterminated and at Auschwitz we endeavored to fool the victims into
thinking that they were to go through a delousing process.”
“The children, they’re not the enemy at the
moment. The enemy is the blood inside them. The enemy is the growing up to be a
Jew that could become dangerous. And because of that the children were included
as well.” (Former Auschwitz SS man Oskar Groning explaining in a 2004 interview
why he condoned killing Jewish children).
The exhibition explores the dual identity of the camp as a
physical location—the largest documented mass murder site in human history—and
as a symbol of the borderless manifestation of hatred and human barbarity.
Consider this: Jews had lived in Germany for 1000 years before the
Holocaust; they had lived in the Polish town of Oswiecim.that the Germans renamed
Auschwitz and repurposed for a killing factory for hundreds of years. It was
only 10 quick years between when Hitler was democratically elected Chancellor
in 1933, to the Final Solution in 1942. By the time Germany surrendered, two
years later, 6 million Jews – two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population – had
That’s how fast things can descend into unimaginable evil.
Produced by the international exhibition firm
Musealia and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland, the groundbreaking
exhibition is the largest ever on Auschwitz with more than 700 original
objects and 400 photographs. The New York presentation of the exhibition allows
visitors to experience artifacts from more than 20 international museums and
institutions on view for the first time in North America, including hundreds of
personal items—suitcases, eyeglasses and shoes—that belonged to survivors and
victims of Auschwitz. Other artifacts include: concrete posts that were part of
the fence of the Auschwitz camp; part of an original barrack for prisoners from
the Auschwitz III-Monowitz camp; a desk and other possessions of the first and
the longest-serving Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss; a gas mask used by the
SS; Picasso’s Lithograph of Prisoner; and an original German-made
Model 2 freight train car of the type used for the deportation of Jews to the
ghettos and extermination camps in occupied Poland.
The exhibition also features 10 artifacts on
loan from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, which include the spilled, dried
beans Anne wrote about in her diary and that were later discovered lodged
between the cracks of stairs in the home where she hid from the German Nazis.
The beans have never been displayed anywhere before. Most recently, the Museum
announced the exhibition’s incorporation of a shofar (a ram’s horn that is made
into a special wind instrument used during Jewish High Holiday services) that
was hidden and clandestinely blown in the Auschwitz. The shofar was newly added
to the exhibition on the cusp of the High Holy days and temporarily transported
to two New York City synagogues to be blown on Rosh Hashanah and Yom
The Museum of Jewish Heritage has incorporated
into the exhibition nearly 100 rare artifacts from its collection that relay
the experience of survivors and liberators who found refuge in the greater New
York area. Alfred Kantor’s sketchbook and portfolio that contain over 150
original paintings and drawings from Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and
Schwarzheide; the trumpet that musician Louis Bannet (acclaimed as “the Dutch
Louis Armstrong”) credits for saving his life while he was imprisoned in
Auschwitz; visas issued by Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania
often referred to as “Japan’s Oskar Schindler”; prisoner registration forms and
identification cards; personal correspondence; tickets for passage on the St.
Louis; and a rescued Torah scroll from the Bornplatz Synagogue in Hamburg,
postcards sent home in order to deceive family members as to what was really
going on at the camp.
Most profound is a
film that has survived showing a killing field in which the killers are so
casual, even bored by the routine as villagers look on, and the four photos of
Crematorium 5 smuggled out by Alberto
Errera, a Jewish-Greek army officer who joined the resistance during the German
occupation, assuming the name Aleksos (Alex) Michaelides. Captured, Errera was
sent to Auschwitz in April 1944 and selected for the Sonderkommando. On August
9, Errera attempted an escape but was captured, tortured and killed.
Most poignant are the video testimonials of
survivors describing their personal experiences.
Also on display from the Museum of Jewish
Heritage collection is Heinrich Himmler’s SS helmet and his annotated copy of
Hitler’s Mein Kampf, as well as an anti-Jewish proclamation issued
in 1551 by Ferdinand I that was given to Hermann Göring by German security
chief Reinhard Heydrich on the occasion of Göring’s birthday. The proclamation
required Jews to identify themselves with a “yellow ring” on their clothes.
Heydrich noted that, 400 years later, the Nazis were completing Ferdinand’s
work. “These artifacts stand as evidence of a chapter of history that must
never be forgotten.”
information is presented as clearly, simply, directly, forth-rightly and in
excruciatingly personal terms, but it is all still so hard to comprehend, to
process, the magnitude, the scale of cruelty.
The artifacts and materials in the exhibition
are on loan from more than 20 institutions and private collections around the
world. In addition to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and the Museum of
Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, participating
institutions include Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Anne Frank House in Amsterdam,
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, Auschwitz Jewish Center
in Oświęcim, the Memorial and Museum Sachsenhausen in Oranienburg, and the
Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide in London.
Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. was conceived of by Musealia and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State
Museum and curated by an international panel of experts, including
world-renowned scholars Dr. Robert Jan van Pelt, Dr. Michael Berenbaum, and
Paul Salmons, in an unprecedented collaboration with historians and curators at
the Research Center at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, led by Dr. Piotr
“When we, the Musealia curatorial team set out
to design the Auschwitz exhibition, we realized that we faced a difficult
problem. In Auschwitz over a million people, mostly Jews, were murdered shortly
after their arrival or suffered and died in unimaginable circumstances. How
does one create an exhibition about such a dark chapter in human history that,
in our understanding, is not long ago and happened in a place not far away? How
does one make the public, that has so many opportunities to explore a great
city like New York, decide that it would want to see such an exhibition? Our
tools were straightforward: a narrative told through more than 700 original
artifacts, 400 original images, 100 stories, made present by means of filmed
testimonies and quotes – all revealing individual experiences of a history we
must learn from,” said Dr. Robert
Jan van Pelt, Chief Curator.
Following the New York presentation, the
exhibition will tour to other cities around the world.
You need 2 ½ to four hours to see just this
exhibit (I was there five hours before I realized it). hours).
Entry is by timed ticket available at
Auschwitz.nyc. Audio guide (available in 8 languages) is included with
admission. Tickets are $25 Flexible Entry (entry any time on a specific day); $16
Adults; $12 Seniors and People with Disabilities; $10 Students and Veterans; $8
FREE for Holocaust survivors, active members
of the military and first responders, and students and teachers through grade
12 in schools located in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut (with valid
The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living
Memorial to the Holocaust is
New York’s contribution to the global responsibility to never forget. The third
largest Holocaust museum in the world and the second largest in North America, since
1997, the Museum of Jewish Heritage has welcomed more than 2.5 million
visitors; it maintains a collection of more than 40,000 artifacts, photographs,
documentary films, and survivor testimonies and contains classrooms, a 375-seat
theater (Edmond J. Safra Hall), special exhibition galleries, a resource center
for educators, and a memorial art installation, Garden of Stones,
designed by internationally acclaimed sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. Set in
the southernmost tip of Manhattan overlooking the New York Harbor, the Museum completes
the cultural and educational triad with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island,
visible from its balcony.
The Museum also partners with Jewish Heritage Travel – offering heritage trips to Germany & France; Poland; The Baltics; Germany; Spain & France; Argentina; and India (jhtravel.org, 845-256-0197).
The Museum is closed on Saturdays, Jewish
holidays, and Thanksgiving.
of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, 36 Battery Place, New
York City, 646-437-4202, mjhnyc.org.
Global Scavenger Hunt teams arrive in New York City for the last leg of the
Global Scavenger Hunt, a mystery tour that has taken us to 10 countries in 23
Chalmers, the ringmaster and Chief Experience Officer of this around-the-world
mystery tour, has designed the rules, challenges and scavenges to get us out of
our comfort zone and immerse us in a culture, fine-tune our skills as world
travelers, and most significantly, “trust in the kindness of strangers.”
in New York, he is delighted all 10 teams circumnavigated the world “in one
piece” without dramatic incident, in this, the 15th annual
Global Scavenger Hunt competition.
There is one more challenge in New York (an easy urban Par 1), and even though, based on points and placement, the winners of the 15th annual, 2019 edition of the Global Scavenger Hunt have been determined, still the teams go out and give it their all. The four teams still in contention must complete at least one of the scavenges in New York, and complete their time sheet and hand in by the 4 pm deadline.
Examples of the scavenges: take in a Yankees game or a Broadway show (actually difficult because of the deadline of 4 pm); have one of each of following: a New York bagel, a New York hot dog, a New York deli sandwich, a slice of New York pizza, New York cheesecake, a New York egg cream, or an old-fashion Manhattan; locate five pieces from five of the nations you just visited in the Met; visit Strawberry Fields to pay John Lennon tribute; do one scavenge in each of the five boroughs of New York City.
A native New Yorker, this is really
my turf, though there is the oddest sensation of feeling like I am in a foreign
place, reminding myself of what is familiar and not having to think twice about
things like language, currency, drinking water from the tap, eating raw
vegetable, the street grid).
fact, that is the genius of the way the Global Scavenger Hunt is designed – we
are supposed to feel off-balance, disoriented because that’s when you focus
most, the experiences are more intense, you are out of your comfort zone and
need to rely on the kindness of strangers, as opposed to the style of travel
where you stay long enough to become familiar, comfortable in a place so it (and
you) no longer feels foreign.
I elect to take up the challenge of going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to seek out objects from five of the countries we visited (Canada, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Abu Dhabi, Jordan, Greece, Morocco, Gibraltar, Portugal, Spain). Greece will be easy, of course, but Morocco and Jordan (Petra), Vietnam and Myanmar (Burma) are trickier. It is Chalmers’ way of making us experience things on a different level, and for me, it brings together so much of what we’ve seen, learned and experienced along the way. I have a context in which to appreciate the artifacts, dare I say a personal connection. Indeed, the Metropolitan Museum of Art enables you to travel around the world, be transported over millennia, within the confines of its walls.
I first join a docent-led Highlights
Tour, knowing from past experience that these always lead me to parts of the
museum I am unfamiliar with, and enlighten me about aspects of art and culture
with the in-depth discussion of the pieces the docents select to discuss.
The docent, Alan, begins in the
Greco-Roman exhibit with a stunning marble sculpture of the Three Graces,
showing how this theme – essentially copied from the Greek bronzes (which no
longer exist because the bronze was valuable and melted down for military use)
– was repeated over the eons, into the Renaissance and even beyond. Greece. One
finding an object from Greece would be easy, and I hope to find objects from
Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma), and Thailand in the Asia wing where there is a
massive collection of Buddhist art (it proves just a tad more difficult, but I
and Jordan (Petra) prove trickier than I expected, but bring me to an
astonishing, landmark exhibit, “The World Between Empires: Art and
Identity in the Ancient Middle East,” with an extraordinary focus on
the territories and trading networks of the Middle East that were contested
between the Roman and Parthian Empires (ca. 100 BC and AD 250) “yet across the
region life was not defined by these two superpowers alone. Local cultural and
religious traditions flourished and sculptures, wall paintings, jewelry and
other objects reveal how ancient identities were expressed through art.”
This is a goldmine for my hunt.
Featuring 190 works from museums in the Middle East, Europe and the United
States, the exhibition follows the great incense and silk routes that connected
cities in southwestern Arabia, Nabataea, Judea, Syria and Mesopotamia, that
made the region a center of global trade along with spreading ideas, spurring
innovations (such as in water control), and spawning art and culture. It is a
treasure trove for my scavenger hunt.
It is the most incredible feeling to come upon the objects from Petra, having visited the site (was it only 10 days ago?) and having a context for seeing these isolated objects on display. I recall seeing their counterparts in the newly opened Archaeological Museum at Petra.
The World Between Empires
landmark exhibition The World between Empires: Art and Identity in
the Ancient Middle East (unfortunately it is only on view through June
23, 2019), focuses on the remarkable cultural, religious and commercial
exchange that took place in cities including Petra, Baalbek, Palmyra and Hatra
between 100 B.C. and A.D. 250. “During this transformative period, the Middle
East was the center of global commerce and the meeting point of two powerful
empires—Parthian Iran in the east and Rome in the west—that struggled for
Among the highlights is a Nabataean
religious shrine, reconstructed from architectural elements in collections in
the United States and Jordan; the unique Magdala Stone, discovered in a
first-century synagogue at Migdal (ancient Magdala) with imagery that refers to
the Temple in Jerusalem; and wall paintings from a church in Dura-Europos that
are the earliest securely dated images of Jesus.
Sculptures from Baalbek illuminate
religious traditions at one of the greatest sanctuaries in the ancient Middle
East, and funerary portraits from Palmyra bring visitors face to face with
ancient people. The exhibition also examines important contemporary
issues—above all, the deliberate destruction and looting of sites including
Palmyra, Dura-Europos, and Hatra.
“The compelling works of art in this
exhibition offer a view into how people in the ancient Middle East sought to
define themselves during a time of tremendous religious, creative, and
political activity, revealing aspects of their lives and communities that
resonate some two millennia later,” stated Max Hollein, Director, The
Metropolitan Museum of Art, in a video that accompanies the exhibit. “Further,
in focusing on an area of the world that has been deeply affected by recent
conflicts and the destruction of sites, monuments, and objects, this show also
engages with complex questions about the preservation of cultural heritage.”
The exhibition evokes a journey
along ancient trade routes, beginning in the southwestern Arabian kingdoms that
grew rich from the caravan trade in frankincense and myrrh harvested there and
used throughout the ancient world. Camel caravans crossed the desert to the
Nabataean kingdom, with its spectacular capital city of Petra, which I have
just visited, walking through very much as the caravan travelers would have.
From here, goods traveled west to
the Mediterranean and north and east through regions including Judaea and the
Phoenician coast and across the Syrian desert, where the oasis city of Palmyra
controlled trade routes that connected the Mediterranean world to Mesopotamia
and Iran and ultimately China. In Mesopotamia, merchants transported cargoes
down the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to the Persian Gulf, where they joined
maritime trade routes to India. These connections transcended the borders of
empires, forming networks that linked cities and individuals over vast
“Across the entire region, diverse
local political and religious identities were expressed in art. Artifacts from
Judaea give a powerful sense of ancient Jewish identity during a critical
period of struggle with Roman rule. Architectural sculptures from the colossal
sanctuary at Baalbek and statuettes of its deities reveal the intertwined
nature of Roman and ancient Middle Eastern religious practices. Funerary
portraits from Palmyra represent the elite of an important hub of global trade.
Wall paintings and sculptures from Dura-Europos on the River Euphrates
illustrate the striking religious diversity of a settlement at the imperial
frontier. And in Mesopotamia, texts from the last Babylonian cuneiform
libraries show how ancient temple institutions waned and finally disappeared
during this transformative period.”
From my visits in Athens and Petra,
particularly, I appreciate this synergy between trade, migration, environmental
sustainability and technology (in Petra’s Archaeology Museum, you learn how the
ability to control water supply was key to the city’s development) and the
links to economic prosperity and political power, and the rise of art, culture,
and community. (I recall the notes from the National Archaeology Museum in
Athens that made this very point.)
It is rare (if ever) for the
Metropolitan Museum to venture into the political, but a key topic within the
exhibition is the impact of recent armed conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen on
archaeological sites, monuments, and museums, including deliberate destruction
and looting. Some of the most iconic sites affected—Palmyra, Hatra, and
Dura-Europos—are featured in the exhibition, which discusses this damage and
raises questions regarding current and future responses to the destruction of
heritage. Should the sites be restored or will they now only exist “on paper”?
How much money and resources should go to restoring or excavation when villages
and homes for people to live in also need to be rebuilt?
There is a fascinating, if frantic,
presentation of three archaeologist/historians speaking about what the
destruction by ISIS and Islamic fundamentalists of Palmyra, Eura-Europos and
Hatra – what it means to destroy a people’s heritage, their cultural identity.
“It may seem frivolous to focus on [archaeological sites] when people are
enslaved, killed…but to wipe out, destroy culture is a way of destroying
Happening upon this exhibit made the
travel experiences we had to these extraordinary places all the more precious.
It is a humbling experience, to be
sure, to go to the origins of the great civilizations, fast forward to today.
How did they become great? How did they fall? Greatness is not inevitable or
forever. Empires rise and fall. Rulers use religion, art and monuments to
establish their credibility and credentials to rule; successors blot out the culture
and re-write history.
I peek out from the American Café windows to Central Park and see sun and the early spring blossoms on the trees, and dash out to walk through my other favorite New York City place. There is nothing more beautiful than New York City in the spring – brides are out in force taking photos; there are musicians and entertainers. There is a festive atmosphere as I walk through the park toward the Palace Hotel in time for our 4:30 pm meeting.
And now, drumroll please, Chalmers
announces the winner of the 2019 Global Scavenger Hunt: “Only one team wins.
The competition was fierce.”
third place is Order & Chaos, Sal Iaquinta & Vivian Reyes,
doctors from San Francisco.
second place, Lazy Monday, Eric & Kathryn Verwillow, computer networking
and think tank professional of Palo Alto, California “I am in awe of how hard
working, beginning to end – embracing the spirit,” Chalmers says.
the World’s Greatest Travelers of 2019: Lawyers Without Borders, Rainey
Booth and Zoe Littlepage of Houston, who have competed in the Global Scavenger
Hunt 12 times, and win it for their 6th time. “You
embody the spirit of the event, to go out of your comfort zone.” (You can
follow Zoe’s blog of her experience to get a sense of how strenuous,
outrageous, and determined the team was in accumulating their points: https://zoeandraineygreatescape.blogspot.com/2019/05/gsh-2019)
We celebrate at a final bon voyage
The Global Scavenger Hunt is the
brainchild of Bill and Pamela Chalmers, who in addition to forging
understanding and bonds among travelers and the people in the destinations
visited, use the program to raise money for the GreatEscape Foundation and
promote voluntourism – one of the scavenges in Yangon, Myanmar is to volunteer
at an orphanage or school; past GSH travelers visited and helped out at Tibetan
refugee camps in Nepal, orphanages in Laos, hospitals in Cambodia, homeless
schools in India, hospices in Manila, disabled facilities in Sri Lanka,
Ethiopian schools, the slums of Nairobi.
“The foundation is one of main
reasons we do the event,” Chalmers says at our final meeting before going out
for a celebration dinner. The foundation has raised money to build 12 schools
(1 each in Niger, Haiti, Ecuador, India & Ethiopia; 2 each in Sri Lanka
& Sierra Leone, and 3 in Kenya), helped build the Tamensa Medical Clinic in
Niger for migrating Tuareg nomads which serves as a midwives & nurse
training center too. “We know that we saved lives and bettered the lives of
hundreds. We have helped over 2400 families in more than 60 countries (mostly
women entrepreneurs) with our interest and fee free micro-loans (96% of which
have gone to women with a 99% repayment).”
Through the event this and last
year, the foundation will build 2 more co-ed elementary schools , in Ethiopia
Global Scavenger Hunt Set for April 17-May 9
Chalmers has just set the dates for the 23-day
2020 Global Scavenger Hunt: April 17-May 9, 2020. Entry applications are now
Eager Indiana Jones-types of adventurers and curious travelers wanting to test their travel IQ against other travelers in an extraordinary around-the-world travel adventure competition that crowns The World’s Greatest Travelers, can apply at GlobalScavengerHunt.com.
The 2020 event will pit savvy international travelers against each other by taking them on A Blind Date with the World, visiting ten secret destinations without any prior preparation, and then have them unravel a constant blitz of highly authentic, participatory and challenging culturally-oriented scavenges along the way, like: meditating with monks, training elephants, taking flamenco lessons, cooking local dishes with local chefs, searching out Lost Cities, cracking sacred temple mysteries, joining in local celebrations, and learning local languages enough to decipher their scavenger hunt clues. Trusting strangers in strange lands will be their focus as they circle the globe for three weeks. Over the past 15 years, the event has touched foot in 85 countries.
The title of The World’s Greatest Travelers and free trip around the world to defend their titles in the 2021 event await the travelers worthy enough to win the 16th edition of the world travel championship.
Event participation is open but limited; the $25,000 per team entry fee includes all international airfare, First Class hotels, 40% of meals, and special event travel gear. All travelers are interviewed for suitability and single travelers are welcome to apply. For additional information visitGlobalScavengerHunt.com, or contact GreatEscape Adventures Inc. at 310-281-7809.
Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
transported in time, place and even space. Immerse yourself into the realm of
ideas and imagination. Come in from the heat or whatever the weather is doing
outside by taking in one of New York City’s museums. Here are just a few
highlights of summer’s blockbuster attractions:
Met Museum Welcomes ‘Saint Jerome’
Metropolitan Museum of Art is about to welcome a very special visitor: Leonardo
da Vinci’s Saint Jerome. To
commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci
(1452–1519), The Met is presenting the artist’s painting Saint Jerome
Praying in the Wilderness (begun around 1483), a special loan from the
Vatican Museums. The exquisitely rendered work represents Jerome (A.D.
347–420), a major saint and theologian of the Christian Church. The scene is
based on the story of his later life, which he spent as a hermit in the desert,
according to the 13th–century Golden Legend. The unfinished painting provides
viewers with an extraordinary glimpse into Leonardo’s creative process; a close
examination of the paint surface even reveals the presence of his fingerprints.
The display of this monumental masterpiece pays homage to one of the most
renowned geniuses of all time. Opening July 15, the painting is on view
through Oct. 6, 2019.
the oldest works of art to the first forays of civilization into outer space, ,
the Met Museum is marking the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11
mission with Apollo’s Muse: The Moon in
the Age of Photography, on view through September 22, 2019. Apollo’s Muse traces the progress of astronomical
photography and attempts to produce ever-sharper images of the moon,
particularly during the 130-year period between the invention of photography in
1839 and the moon landing in 1969 as astronomers and artists capitalized on
technological improvements to cameras and telescopes to create ever more
accurate visual records of the lunar surface. Exhibition highlights include two
newly discovered lunar daguerreotypes from the 1840s, believed to be the
earliest existing photographs of the moon, and works by such pioneers of lunar
photography as Warren De La Rue (1815–1889), Lewis Morris Rutherfurd
(1816–1892), and John Adams Whipple (1822–1891). A stunning photographic atlas
of the moon, produced at the Paris Observatory between 1894 and 1908 by the
astronomers Maurice Loewy (1833–1907) and Pierre Puiseux (1855–1928), will be
displayed for the first time in its entirety.
these scientific achievements, the show explores the use of the camera to
create fanciful depictions of space travel and life on the moon, including
George Méliès’s (1861–1938) original drawings for his film A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la lune, 1902) and
a large selection of “paper moon” studio portraits from the early 20th century.
Also featured will be artists’ evocations of the otherworldly effects of
moonlight, including major works by German Romantic painter Caspar David
Friedrich (1774-1840) and American Pictorialist photographer Edward Steichen
The night of the Museum Mile Festival, I popped into the opening of this year’s P.S. Art exhibit, an annual celebration of achievement in the arts in New York City public schools. This juried exhibition of the work of talented young artists showcases the creativity of 122 prekindergarten through twelfth grade students from all five boroughs, including students from District 75, a citywide district serving students with disabilities. The exhibition consists of paintings, prints, sculptures, photographs, mixed-media works, collages, drawings, and video. Each work of art demonstrates personal expression, imaginative use of media, the results of close observation, and an understanding of artistic processes. Some of the works on display are completely astonishing
Met is three museums.
At the Cloisters, “The Colmar Treasure: A Medieval Jewish
Legacy,” is on view July 22-January 12, 2020. A cache of jeweled rings,
brooches, and coins—the precious possessions of a Jewish family of medieval
Alsace—was hidden in the fourteenth century in the wall of a house in Colmar,
France. Discovered in 1863 and on view in an upcoming exhibition at The Met
Cloisters, the Colmar Treasure revives the memory of a once–thriving Jewish
community that was scapegoated and put to death when the Plague struck the
region with devastating ferocity in 1348–49. A generous loan of the Musée
de Cluny, Paris, the Colmar Treasure will be displayed alongside select works
from The Met Cloisters and little–known Judaica from collections in the United
States and France. Although the objects on view are small in scale and
relatively few in number, the ensemble overturns conventional notions of
medieval Europe as a monolithic Christian society. The exhibition will point to
both legacy and loss, underscoring the prominence of the Jewish minority
community in the tumultuous fourteenth century and the perils it faced.
the Met Breuer,
“Home is a Foreign Place:
Recent Aquisitions in Context,” through June 21, 2020.
residents still can pay what they wish, by presenting proof of residence;
out-of-towners need to pay the regular admission).
The iconic Metropolitan Museum of Art is at 1000 Fifth Avenue, on Central Park, (definitely take a Highlights tour when you visit), The Met Breuer (945 Madison Avenue) and The Met Cloisters (99 Margaret Corbin Drive, Fort Tryon Park). Visit metmuseum.org to plan your visit.
Jewish Museum Pays Homage to
Leonard Cohen With Multi-Media Exhibition
“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect
offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets
in.” from Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem”
from the album The Future (1992), provides the title for the special exhibit at the
“Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything”.
The contemporary multi-media exhibition devoted to the imagination and legacy
of the influential singer/songwriter, man of letters, and global icon from
Montreal, Canada can be experienced through September 8, 2019.
Cohen: A Crack in Everything includes commissioned works by a
range of international artists who have been inspired by Cohen’s life, work and
legacy. A world-renowned novelist, poet and singer/songwriter who inspired generations
of writers, musicians, and artists, Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) supplied the world with melancholy and urgent
observations on the state of the human heart. In songs such as “Suzanne,” “Bird
on the Wire,” and “Hallelujah,” he interwove the sacred and the profane, mystery and accessibility. Collectively, it is
the oddest, most creative biographical tribute. Featured works include:
Your Man (A Portrait of Leonard Cohen) (2017), a
multi-channel video installation by Candice Breitz, brings together a community
of ardent Cohen fans who pay tribute to the late legend. Each of the 18
participants was offered the opportunity to perform and record his own version
of Cohen’s comeback album I’m Your Man (1988) in a
professional recording studio. At Breitz’s invitation, the album’s backing
vocals were reinterpreted by the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Choir, an all-male
choir representing the congregation in Montreal, Canada, that Cohen belonged to
all his life.
Ari Folman’s Depression Chamber (2017) allows one visitor at a
time into a darkened room, where they are confronted by the demons of
depression, a theme that can be traced throughout Cohen’s body of work. After
the visitor lies down, Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” plays while
the song’s lyrics are projected on the walls, slowly morphing into letters and
icons that symbolize Cohen’s multifaceted thematic universe.
Heard There Was a Secret Chord (after the 2017 work of the same
title, 2018) is a participatory humming experience by the art and design
studio Daily tous les jours that reveals an invisible vibration uniting people
around the world currently listening to Cohen’s Hallelujah. The
work is an exploration of the metaphysical connection between people on a
common wavelength. At the Museum, real-time online listener data is transformed
into a virtual choir of humming voices. The number of voices played back in the
gallery corresponds to the current online listener count, which is visible on
the hanging numerical display. Participants can sit or lie down on the
octagonal structure, and by humming along with the choir into the microphones,
low-frequency vibrations are generated, closing the circuit of collective
resonance with their bodies.
Organized by the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC), the exhibition is curated by John Zeppetelli, Director and Chief Curator at the MAC, and Victor Shiffman, Co-Curator. Following its New York showing, the exhibition will tour to Kunstforeningen GL STRAND and Nikolaj Kunsthal, Copenhagen, Denmark (October 23, 2019 – March 8, 2020) and the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco (September 17, 2020 – January 3, 2021).
During the run of Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything, the Jewish Museum will open one hour earlier than usual on Saturdays and Sundays, from 10 am to 5:45pm. Advance tickets are available online at thejewishmuseum.org/buy/general-admission. For questions about ticket sales, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 866.205.1322.
Founded in 1904, the Museum, on Fifth Avenue’s fabled Museum Mile, was the first institution of its kind in the United States and is one of the oldest Jewish museums in the world. Devoted to exploring art and Jewish culture from ancient to contemporary, the Museum offers diverse exhibitions and programs, and maintains a unique collection of nearly 30,000 works of art, ceremonial objects, and media reflecting the global Jewish experience over more than 4,000 years.
Admission: $18 for adults, $12 for seniors, $8 students, free for visitors 18
and under and Jewish Museum members. Free on Saturdays and select Jewish
holidays. 1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street, New York City, 212.423,3200, email@example.comTheJewishMuseum.org.
of the City of New York: New York at Its Core
make it a ritual to visit the Museum of the City of New York during each year’s
Museum Mile Festival. I never cease to be fascinated and intrigued by the
York at Its Core
is the first-ever museum show to comprehensively interpret and present the
compelling story of New York’s rise from a striving Dutch village to today’s
“Capital of the World,” a preeminent global city now facing the future in a
changing world. There are different galleries that tell the story, but most
fascinating is The Future City Lab, where you get to design the city of the
future, tackling the most pressing problems like housing, public spaces, water
supply. You even get to put yourself in the picture.
to be missed: Timescapes, the museum’s popular and
critically-acclaimed multimedia experience, brings the sweeping narrative of
New York City from the early 1600s to the present day. The 28-minute,
award-winning documentary explores how NYC grew from a settlement of a few
hundred Europeans, Africans and Native Americans into the multinational
metropolis of today, re-inventing itself multiple times along the way.
Activist New York, an
ongoing exhibit, examines the ways in which ordinary New
Yorkers have advocated, agitated, and exercised their power to shape the
city’s—and the nation’s—future, from the 17th century to the
City of Workers, City of Struggle: How
Labor Movements Changed New York, traces how New York became the most
unionized large city in the United States.
in the City: A 200–Year History, on
view through October 6, 2019, tracex how the bicycle transformed urban
transportation and leisure in New York City and explores the extraordinary
diversity of cycling cultures, past and present.
Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Ave., Manhattan, NY 10029, 212-534-1672, mcny.org.
Guggenheim: Summer of Know
in the Frank Lloyd Wright building, a major attraction in itself (just walking
through the spiral is an experience),from June 18 through September 3, the
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is open until 9 pm for Summer Tuesdays, offering
music and refreshments in the museum rotunda in addition to exhibitions on view
in the galleries. Films, conversations, and performances enhance opportunities
for visitors to engage with the museum and the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed
building that celebrates 60 years as an architectural icon in 2019. Also
starting in June, Summer of Know, a conversation series addressing urgent
issues through the generative lens of art, returns to the Guggenheim, featuring
artists, activists, and other professionals discussing topics such as LGBTQIA+
rights in a global context, environmental activism, and housing rights. Details
are available at guggenheim.org/calendar.
Biennial has long been one of America’s
foremost showcases of emerging artists. Every two years, the exhibition serves
as a bellwether for the culture, both reflecting on and mirroring the country’s
political and social moods. No surprise, then, to see that this year’s work—on
view now at the Whitney Museum of American Art—offers plenty of tension, with
pieces that focus on gender identity and race, among other issues. Curators
chose the works because they represent “a snapshot of contemporary art making”;
read on for more about a few of our favorites. (See: https://www.nycgo.com/articles/whitney-biennial-2019) (99 Gansvoort
St., Meatpacking district).
of Natural History Presents T.rex, The Ultimate Predator
At the American Museum of Natural History’s blockbuster exhibit, T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, you encounter a massive life-sized model of a T. rex with patches of feathers—the definitive representation of this prehistoric predator, T. rex hatchlings and a four-year-old juvenile T.rex; a “roar mixer”where you can imagine what T. rex may have sounded like; a shadow theater where a floor projection of an adult T. rex skeleton seems to come to life. At a tabletop “Investigation Station,” you can explore a variety of fossil casts with virtual tools including a CT scanner, measuring tape, and a microscope to learn more about what such specimens reveal about the biology and behavior of T.rex. Finally, you encounter a massive animated projection of aT. rexand its offspring in a Cretaceous-age setting. which reacts to visitors, leaving you to wonder, “Did that T. rex really see me?”
T. rex: The Ultimate Predator is the first major exhibition of the
American Museum of Natural History’s 150th anniversary celebration. Plan your
visit (you could spend weeks in the museum), check out the special programming
and events, and pre-purchase timed tickets at amnh.org.
Hayden Planetarium Space Theater, see “Dark Universe” (through December 31,
Open daily from 10 am – 5:45 pm. American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192, 212-769-5100, amnh.org.
Summer at New-York Historical Society
The New-York Historical Society, the oldest museum in New
York (and directly across the street from the American Museum of Natural
History on Central Park West), is presenting a Revolutionary Summer. A Museum-wide
exploration of Revolutionary War times, Revolutionary
Summerpresents outdoor events every weekend featuring characters
from the era; 18th-century art and artifacts; a diorama of the Continental Army
and a host of programs for all ages, including trivia nights, DJ evening, and Revolutionary
Drag Tea Party. On select weekends, visitors can explore a replica of George
Washington’s Headquarters Tent at an outdoor Continental Army encampment, meet
Living Historians portraying soldiers and spies, and learn about the many
facets of camp life during the War for Independence. (Through September 15,
Also on view: LIFE: Six Women Photographers showcases the extraordinary work created
by Margaret Bourke-White, Hansel Mieth, Marie Hansen, Martha Holmes, Nina
Leen, and Lisa Larsen. (through October 6, 2019); Stonewall 50 at New-York Historical Society, through September
22, 2019, commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising and the
dawn of the gay liberation movement; Hudson Rising explores 200 years of ecological change
and environmental activism along “the most interesting river in America” (through
The Big Picture,
opening August 23 through December 8, 2019, explores wide-angle, bird’s-eye
imagery from the 17th to the 20th century, revealing the influence that
panoramas had on everything from mass entertainment to nationalism to imperial
expansion. Through more than 20 panoramas, the exhibition presents the history
of the all-encompassing medium in New York City, San Francisco and beyond.
New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West (77th Street), New York, NY 10024, 212-873-3400, nyhistory.org.
Spy v. Spy
Want a real escape? Visit Spyscape, which offers a different twist on spy museums, and is more of an experiential attraction, immersing you into the psychology and ubiquity of surveillance and espionage, and literally, with the ending “profile” (developed with the a former head of training at British Intelligence) showing you where you might fit into this world (I’m an analyst). SPYSCAPE, which opened in 2018, illuminates secret intelligence, from espionage to hacking, and investigative journalism. It offers a balanced perspective on big issues – privacy, security, surveillance. You get to engage in real spy challenges, including lie-detection in interrogation booths, surveillance in a 360 degree environment and test strategy and agility in special ops laser tunnels. The museum also features quite a good Spy Shop, a Book Shop, Café and multiple Event Spaces. (928 8th Avenue, entrance on SE corner of 55th Street, spyscape.com).
And in a very real Spy v. Spy scenario, a very different
experience awaits at another new entry to New York City’s museum scene: the KGB Museum. This place presents the
artifacts and history of the KGB in a kind of antique-shop setting but the
items are chilling. You realize that the spy movies, even the satirical “Get
Smart,” didn’t so much fabricate as reveal the tools and techniques and
paranoia of Cold War spying. (KGB Spy Museum tickets are available online or in
the museum. (245 West 14th Street, New York,
NY 10011, 10 am -8 Mon-Sun).
Museum of Illusions
The Museum of Illusions, which opened September 2018 in New York City’s West Village, contains three-dimensional illusions on the walls and floors which will mesmerize visitors of all ages. You might assume by its name that it is a children’s museum or about magic which depends so much on illusion. Nor can it be considered an “attraction” although many of the exhibits are interactive and you get to help create the illusions. It is really about educating about the physical and psychological science behind illusion – placards posted near each exhibit provide the explanations for what you sense. And while the museum does not explicitly delve into magic, when you leave, you will have a better understanding of how some magic tricks work. (77th 8th Ave, New York, NY; newyork.museumofillusions.us)
Cradle of Aviation Museum: Countdown to
Apollo at 50
out of this world, beyond the city limits, to Long Island: The Cradle of
Aviation Museum and Education Center is one of the great space and aviation
museums, home to over 75 planes and spacecraft representing over 100 years of
aviation history and Long Island’s only Giant Screen Dome Theater. Currently,
the museum is celebrating “Countdown
to Apollo at 50”
sponsored by the Robert D.L. Gardiner Foundation, showcasing Long Island and
Grumman’s significant role in the Apollo program. The Museum was recently
recognized and listed on New York State’s National Register of Historic Places
as a significant part of American history. The museum is located on Museum Row,
Charles Lindbergh Blvd., in East Garden City. For more information call
(516) 572-4111 or visit www.cradleofaviation.org.
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.
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.
“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.
Even if you were unable to get to the once-a-year Museum Mile Festival along Fifth Avenue on June 13, when six museums (some of them with pricey admissions) throw their doors open to one and all for free, it provided a marvelous preview of some spectacular exhibits that are on through the summer or fall.
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at the southern “border” of Museum Mile, I visited the Irving Penn Centennial, a marvelous survey of this brilliant photographer’s career and an opportunity to see the museum quality prints that would have been seen in the pages of important magazines like Vogue; the exhibit is on through July 30, 2017.
I went from Irving Penn Centennial to the “Age of Empires” exhibit of breathtaking sculpture and artifacts from the Qin and Han dynasties, spanning 221 BC to 220 AD, including near life-size but extraordinarily realistic statues of terracotta warriors from Xian (so life-like they appear to breathe) that I had seen for the first time when I visited what was at the time newly uncovered site in 1978 in China. This important exhibit is on view through July 16, 2017.
Then, I couldn’t resist, I luxuriated in the galleries devoted to Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.
Outside, the Met Museum hosted performance art – a troupe of dancers whose movements formed artistic poses. (My favorite time to visit is on a Friday or Saturday evening when the Met is open late, has music on the mezzanine; favorite place to eat is in the American Café in the sculpture garden; also, take a docent-led “Highlights” tour, which brings you all around the museum.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue (at 82nd Street), New York, NY 10028, (212) 535-7710 http://www.metmuseum.org/.
(My clever strategy was to start at the Met at 5 pm, giving me an extra hour of the Museum Mile Festival in order to cover more territory.)
I next visit the Neue Galerie New York and get my annual “fix” of the breathtaking “Woman in Gold” and other Gustav Klint paintings (Klint has become one of my favorite artists). The Austrian Masterworks exhibit is a celebration of the 15th anniversary of the museum’s founding, highlighting Gustav Klint, Oskar Kokoschka, Alfred Kubin and Egon Schiele.
The Solomon R.Guggenheim Museum, which always gets an enormous crowd for the Museum Mile festival, is featuring “Visionaries: Creating a Modern Guggenheim,” “Hugo Boss Prize 2016: Anicka Yi, Life is Cheap” Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue (at 88th Street) New York, NY 10128, (212) 423-3500, https://www.guggenheim.org/
Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, which is part of the Smithsonian Institutions, a collection established by Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt as the Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration in 1897, housed in an exquisite mansion, is presenting a marvelous exhibit, “The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s” – bringing together the design elements of the era through a range of furnishings, architecture, clothing, paintings and music, and what made the designs so distinctive and reflective of cultural trends of the time. For example, “Bending the Rules,” the cross-pollination of American and European artists (“A Smaller World”), the infatuation with technology and machines. One of the special delights of the Cooper Hewitt is their interactive opportunities to create designs.
Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian National Design Museum, 2 East 91st Street (off Fifth Avenue) New York, NY 10128, 212-849-8400, http://www.cooperhewitt.org/
The Jewish Museum’s special exhibit this season also focuses on the 1920s, featuring the painter and poet and exemplar of the avant-garde, Florine Stettheimer. This was all new to me – I had never heard of her, or her incredible sisters, before (their independence, feminism and stunning range of creativity reminded me of the Bronte sisters, except these ladies did not keep their creative output a secret).
The Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Avenue, (between 92nd & 93rd Streets), New York, NY 10128, (212) 423-3200, www.thejewishmuseum.org.
The two exhibits – at the Cooper Hewitt and the Jewish Museum – are that much more inspiring to see contiguously, to have this extraordinary in-depth insight into the Jazz Age, a time of tumultuous change in culture, social mores and political currents on a scale that only recurred 40 years later, in the 1960s, and now. I became intrigued when I heard of the Jewish Museum’s exhibit at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island in June (you have another opportunity to enjoy this fantastic festival August 26 & 27, jazzagelawnparty.com; see story)
From there I walked further north, to just about the top of the Museum Mile with only about an hour to go of the festival.
The Museum of the City of New York always has smart, clever exhibits. The not-to-be missed exhibit, “New York at its Core,” that is on now is in three parts, in three different galleries. It explores the essential question, “What makes New York New York?” (Answer: Money, Diversity, Density, Creativity) and takes the city from its very beginnings (room-sized images of neighborhoods morph from centuries ago into today), to its development as a melting pot for cultures, and then lets viewers imagine what the city of the future should look like (“Future City Lab”) and how it should solve the challenges of affordable housing, greenspace, environment, transit, and so forth. One of the most interesting parts is a computer-generated animation that puts you into the scene.
Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Avenue (at 104th Street), New York, NY 10029 (212) 534-1672, http://www.mcny.org/
Then, at the end of the Museum Mile, El Museo Del Barrio is featuring “Belkis Ayon: Nkame” and “A Retrospective of Cuban Printmaker Belkis Ayon” El Museo del Barrio, 1230 Fifth Avenue (at 104th Street), New York, NY 10029, (212) 831-7272 (http://www.elmuseo.org/)