Queens County Farm Museum

Edification value  2/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 32 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned In the dormant children’s garden, the sign for Egyptian walking onions, which I learned are a type of perennial onion.

Queens County Farm Museum
Walk Like An…Nevermind

Queens County Farm MuseumThis is a necessarily incomplete review.  Visiting a “farm museum” in midwinter is not a recipe for seeing the place at its best, busiest, or most inviting.  Indeed, I’m not sure why the Queens County Farm Museum doesn’t just shut down from December til March.  But it was open and it’s on my list. So I gathered an intrepid friend and we trooped out to the far eastern fringes of Queens, where New York City blurs into Nassau County, to get the lay of the land.

I imagine this place exists mainly so that city kids can learn that chickens come in forms other than McNuggets and wool doesn’t start out life as a sweater.  And I bet most visitors arrive on school buses.

The Farm in Winter

Queens County Farm MuseumI’m sure that in more clement seasons the 40+ acres of grounds are verdant and bucolic.  This time of year, not so much.

Queens County Farm Museum
Alpaca Truths

On a winter weekday, the only things to see are the livestock and some dormant farm equipment.  A couple of alpacas, some goats, a few sheep, a couple of cows, and a whole flock of laying hens.  Indeed on that last point, you can buy farm fresh eggs at the gift shop when it’s not winter (hens apparently don’t do much laying in cold months).  You can also get farm-fresh honey and alpaca yarn at the gift shop.

Queens County Farm Museum
Urban Chickens

As I was flying the coop a touring school group came crowding around to look at the birds.  One kid asked if he could pet them, the answer to which was a resounding “no!”  Chickens like to peck.  And as I got further away I thought I heard a kid say “KFC! KFC!” However, I was almost out of earshot.  It might have been “I can’t see!  I can’t see!”

Queens County Farm Museum

A Little History

The origins of today’s farm museum extend all the way back to an actual farm founded in 1697, though there aren’t any physical traces from that era.  The grounds do still have an historic house belonging to the Adriance family, dating to just before the American Revolution.

Queens County Farm Museum

The Adriances kept the place in their family for about a century, before it passed quickly through a succession of other farming families, and from there to the Creedmoor State Hospital, which owned and operated it from 1926 through the 1970s.

Creedmoor is a nearby psychiatric hospital associated with this and another New York museum, the Living Museum (review coming very soon).  Creedmoor used the farm for rehabilitation and to grow food for patients, and flowers and ornamental plants to brighten its campus.

As Creedmoor’s population shrank, it had less need of its own farm, and so the place spun off into a museum in 1975.

Should You Visit the Farm?

The Queens County Farm Museum website claims that its receives 500,000 visitors annually, making it “the highest attended cultural institution in Queens County.”  I feel skeptical about the superlative given that the borough is home to New York’s great contemporary bastion of tragedy (and occasional farce), Citifield.  But it likely is the highest attendance of a Queens County museum.

Regardless of the myriads of others who go, should you?

Certainly you shouldn’t visit the farm in the dead of February.  Most of the buildings are shut down, there’s no public greenhouses like the New York and Brooklyn Botanic Gardens or Wave Hill have, and the various zoos offer more convenient places to encounter a goat if you feel inclined to do that.

Queens County Farm Museum
For de-goating yourself

I felt disappointed in the place from a learning perspective; I wanted more in the way of explanatory texts. Even with fields fallow, the place could explain what farms do during the winter. But perhaps they have an awesome brochure, or do a great guides/docents/explainers program in warmer seasons.  I will have to come back.

The largest downside to the Queens County Farm Museum is its location. For anyone coming from more central parts of the city it’s decidedly inconvenient.  You have to really want to go (and ideally have a car).

Additionally, I didn’t see much attraction for grown-ups. Buying farmstand stuff grown right there would be neat, but New York these days is blessed with an abundance of farmers markets offering terrific produce.  But I reckon the Queens County Farm Museum offers a fascinating and eye-opening experience for city kids.  And New York has nothing else quite like it.

Queens County Farm Museum

For Reference:

Address 73-50 Little Neck Parkway, Floral Park, Queens
Website queensfarm.org
Cost  General Admission:  Free
Other Relevant Links

 

Woodlawn Cemetery

Edification value  4/5
Entertainment value  4/5
Should you go?  
Time spent 120 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned My favorite monument at Woodlawn is the Straus family mausoleum.  Three mini-tombs form a complex for the sons of Isidor and Ida Straus, plus a memorial to their parents, famously lost on the Titanic.  

Woodlawn Cemetery, the Bronx, New York  It’s a unique hybrid of art deco and Egyptian Revival, complete with an awesome, streamlined, funeral barge.

Woodlawn Cemetery, the Bronx, New York
Woolworth Chapel

I need to preface this review with a disclosure.  I have been visiting Woodlawn Cemetery for almost 20 years.  Also, I’m a member of, and volunteer with, the Woodlawn Conservancy, and help out with guided tours there.

So I have a strong bias. I love this place.

Cemeteries as Museums

In my review of Green-Wood Cemetery (New York’s other masterpiece cemetery, in Brooklyn) I explain why I think great historic cemeteries merit consideration as museums. In short, their unique combination of history, art, architecture and nature makes them both edifying and, for some definition of the word, entertaining.  And definitely inspiring.

Continue reading “Woodlawn Cemetery”

Wave Hill

Edification value  
Entertainment value  
Should you go?  
Time spent 114 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Rather than the grounds or the view I decided to limit myself to the “Call and Response” exhibit.  Steven Millar’s “Many-Eyed Object,” 2017, is wood and glass, constructed and organic, and all about changing vistas and views.  

Wave Hill, Riverdale, the Bronx
Steven Millar, “Many-Eyed Object,” 2017

In that, it neatly summarizes Wave Hill as a whole.

For the first time since I started this project, I feel the need for absolution.

“Forgive me, City, for I have sinned.”

“My son, how long has it been since your last confession?”

“Well, Bloomberg was in office, so it’s been a while…”

“What did you do?”

“It’s not a sin of commission, but a sin of omission.  I confess that it has been twenty-three years since I last paid a visit to Wave Hill.”

What the Heck is Wave Hill?

Wave Hill, Riverdale, the Bronx

Wave Hill is difficult to describe.  

I mean, partly it’s easy:

Two fancy old mansions and associated outbuildings and landscaping across 28 acres of surrounding land, on a bluff in Riverdale in the Bronx, overlooking the Hudson and the majestic cliffs of the Palisades in New Jersey, now used as a venue for contemporary art.

So it’s a hybrid art museum, botanic garden, and historic home.  Cut and dried.

Continue reading “Wave Hill”

Vander Ende Onderdonk House

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Edification value  2/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  2/5
Time spent 37 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Before January, 1769 the towns of Newtown and Bushwick disputed the exact disposition of their border — and therefore the border between the counties of Kings and Queens.  

Vander Ende Onderdonk House, Queens

A survey line finally settled the issue, and Arbitration Rock, now located on the grounds of Onderdonk House, helped mark the divide.

In the flatlands of Queens near the Brooklyn border, where hipster Bushwick transitions into less-gentrified Ridgewood, amidst warehouses and tawdry wholesalers, stands one of New York’s historic houses. Unlike several of its fellows (which tend to get moved to less valuable real estate), the Vander Ende Onderdonk House still stands on the site where it was built over 200 years ago. 

Vander Ende Onderdonk House, Queens

Continue reading “Vander Ende Onderdonk House”

Green-Wood Cemetery

Edification value  4/5
Entertainment value  4/5
Should you go?  4/5
Time spent 219 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned You never know who you’ll meet at Green-Wood.  For example, Do-Hum-Me, an Indian princess who came east with some of her tribe and died in New York.

Gravestone, Green-Wood Cemetery
Do-Hum-Me, Daughter of Nan-Nouce-Rush-Ee-Toe

Green-Wood CemeteryI feel like I’m on thin ice with this one. There’s a fairly strong argument to be made that cemeteries are not museums. Start with the fact that they are called “cemeteries” and not “museums.” But bear with me here.

First off this isn’t the first cemetery I’ve visited on this project. A significant part of what makes Trinity Church important is its graveyard, and Trinity’s is relatively tiny.  Grant’s Tomb offers a lone voice trying to rehabilitate the General’s somewhat tattered reputation.  And the African Burial Ground seeks to recall those whom history has forgotten.

New York’s two great cemeteries, Green-Wood in Brooklyn and Woodlawn in the Bronx, represent an amazing convergence of art and architecture, landscape design, nature, and the people, famous, infamous, and not-famous-at-all, who over centuries have made New York City what it is. A stroll through a one of these vast and amazing places can be almost as edifying, and at least as entertaining, as going to a gallery or historic house (or certainly a botanical garden).

The great cemeteries were parks before the City had parks.  They provide a visceral a tie to the past that dusty displays at historical societies can’t match. Continue reading “Green-Wood Cemetery”

New York Botanical Garden

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  4/5
Should you go?  4/5
Time spent 176 minutes (including lunch) — I could easily spend a whole day
Best thing I saw or learned The display of plant carnivores:  flytraps, sundews, pitcher plants.  My favorite members of the floral kingdom.

Carnivorous Plants, New York Botanical Garden
Chomp!

New York Botanical GardenBoth New Yorkers and non-New Yorkers alike tend to think of the Bronx as entirely, unremittingly gray: paved urban overdevelopment at its very worst. In reality, the Bronx features large expanses of green.

  • Pelham Bay Park (home to the Barstow-Pell Mansion) is the largest of the city’s parks.
  • Van Cortlandt Park (home to the eponymous house) is also sizable.
  • Wave Hill and the other verdant bits of Riverdale along the Hudson are beautiful.
  • Woodlawn Cemetery recently got certified as an arboretum.
  • And let’s not forget the Zoo.

But of all the many green spaces the Bronx has to offer, the most beautiful must surely be the New York Botanical Garden.

Chihuly at New York Botanical Garden
Herbarium and Library, Fountain, Glass Art

The New York Botanical Garden dates to 1891 and sprawls across 250 acres. (Don’t worry, there’s a tram.) Its vast holdings include a spectacular neoclassical Herbarium & Library, and an even more spectacular glass conservatory. Calvert Vaux and the Olmstead Brothers had hands in the Garden’s design, and of course it’s hard to beat them for this sort of thing. Continue reading “New York Botanical Garden”

South Street Seaport Museum

Edification value  
Entertainment value  
Should you go?  
Time spent 48 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The Museum is home to the Alan Govenar & Kaleta Doolin Tattoo Collection. The current modest Gus Wagner show is like a teaser for what they might be able to do once material in the collection (Wagner’s notebooks and such) is conserved and stable. I was sad to learn the Staten Island Tattoo Museum is no more, so I’m hopeful this enables the Seaport Museum to fill that gap.

The South Street Seaport Museum just celebrated its 50th anniversary, and its establishment contributed to the survival of a collection of historic buildings in the face of Lower Manhattan’s relentless pressure for development.  The museum includes a print shop (worth visiting; great cards), the museum building proper, and the “street of ships,” a collection of historic vessels, several of which are open for tours when the museum is open.

Upper museum floors not currently open

The museum itself is still not fully back on its feet following 2012’s Hurricane Sandy.  This is unfortunate because a significant part of the museum’s space is not currently open, and the exhibits on display now are long on words and short on artifacts — the science fair school of museum displays, wherein you might as well just read about it on the internet.  Told that way, even something as fun as the story of an early 20th century tattoo artist is only so engaging.

 

 

A wall of reproductions and captions, the bulk of the Gus Wagner, Tattooist exhibit

Until it fully reopens, the museum by itself is not worth the time or $12 to visit.  However, the museum also offers the chance to tour the lightship Ambrose and the tall ship Wavertree.  And the museum also runs the sailing vessel Pioneer (which needs to be booked separately) which is an awesome way to get out on the Harbor.

Wavertree, open for visits

I only had time to visit Wavertree, but she’s impressive.  Immense, steel-hulled, and built in 1885 as a cargo ship, Wavertree just completed a massive restoration effort that has helped put her back in seaworthy condition.  The brief public tour gives a taste of what life was like for sailors (i.e., tough) and the officers (i.e., less tough) aboard.  She’s still a work in progress, which is interesting too:  there’s always staff or volunteers performing some work or other on her.

Ambrose is a lightship, which was a sturdy class of ship used as a floating lighthouse, in places where terrestrial ones weren’t feasible.  She went into service in 1908 and helped ships navigate the entrance to Lower New York Bay until 1932. 

The collection is completed by two sailing vessels, Lettie G. Howard and Pioneer, and an adorable wooden tugboat named W. O. Decker.

I want to be more enthusiastic about the Seaport Museum than I am.  I love ships, the sea, and the city’s history. South Street Seaport is about as central as it gets, while many of the city’s other maritime museums are in far flung locales like Staten and City Islands.  Still, in its current state, it’s operating at only a fraction of its potential, and having two historic boats to tour only goes so far.  With regret, the best I can muster for it is a lukewarm nod to anyone with an interest in those topics.  

For Reference:

Address 12 Fulton Street and Pier 16, Manhattan
Website southstreetseaportmuseum.org
Cost  General Admission With Ship Tour: $12
Other Relevant Links

 

The Cloisters

Edification value  
Entertainment value  
Should you go?  
Time spent 115 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned I’m going with the crowd on this one, but I’m picking the Unicorn Tapestries.  I just love them — the allegory, the sheer beauty, the amount of work that went into making them (and any tapestry really).  I love the mystery to them — we don’t know exactly who the “A” & “E” were for whom they were made.  The unicorn has a rough time of it, but they fill me with joy, and I see new things in them every time I visit.  Also don’t overlook the narwhal horn tucked in the corner of the room where they reside.

This is a milestone post, my fiftieth museum review.  So I decided to treat myself to my very favorite of all New York museums, The Cloisters.  But now that I’ve started, I realize, what can I say about The Cloisters?  I feel overmatched and inadequate.  The Cloisters isn’t just my favorite museum, it’s quite possibly my favorite place. It’s so unlikely, it’s like magic or a miracle happened in this park at the far northern tip of Manhattan.  But as with so many of the miracles in New York City, it was money not magic that made The Cloisters happen. Continue reading “The Cloisters”

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Edification value  
Entertainment value  
Should you go?  
Time spent 80 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The BBG’s amazing tulip collection was going full-force the day I visited. This time of year always makes me think that the Dutch 17th century tulip-mania wasn’t entirely irrational.

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) is one of the two great arboretums (arboreta?) in the city.  It’s sibling/rival is the New York Botanic Garden in the Bronx, and there are a number of other botanic gardens of note, to say nothing of the great parks.  The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is also a bit problematic for me:  it was on the original list of all the museums in NYC, and even back in February I can remember thinking, “but is a botanic garden really a kind of museum?”

At best the answer is “sort of.”  I think of botanic gardens as zoos for plants, more than museums of plants.  What’s the difference?  A zoo and a museum can both be places of edification and entertainment. But I had trouble ranking BBG on the scale I’m using for this project–it didn’t turn out well, not because it’s a bad place, but because the museum yardstick doesn’t really work for it.

The great bits of the BBG are:

  • The Japanese Hill and Pond Garden
  • The Shakespeare Garden
  • The lilac hill
  • The rose garden (at its best in late spring through summer)
  • An estimable collection of bonsai
  • A fantastic cherry collection

The annual Sakura Matsuri, or Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival, is a bonkers mix of cosplay and traditional dance and music. Packed with people but worth it.

Admissions line to the BBG, random spring Saturday

About the only downside of the BBG is that it can be immensely crowded.  Not the whole place of course, and not every day.  But on a nice weekend day in springtime, the picturesque parts of the gardens are packed with hipsters and others, out for an Instagrammable moment in the sun.  To the point where I wonder if it’s really worth paying $15 for an experience you could closely replicate right next door in Prospect Park for free.

I guess that’s my big point of hesitation with any botanic garden:  if you’re looking for a quiet tree under which to read a book, or spring blossoms to admire, or a place for a picnic with friends, all those things are available other, freer places, which might even be less crowded than the garden is.

Of course the garden is educational and beautiful.  

There are some art pieces by Shayne Dark installed currently (hit or miss, though I do like the faceted steel boulders), and you can definitely learn about going greener, or about desert or rainforest ecosystems in the small greenhouse the BBG maintains.  And it has a children’s garden and other educational areas as well.

Whether I’d advise going to the BBG…in some ways, of course.  It’s a beautiful place to spend an afternoon outdoors. But I can’t give it an unadulterated, unhesitating “go!” recommendation, on two counts.

First, the aforementioned over-crowdedness.  The garden is at its peak of beauty in springtime, but it’s also at its peak of annoyingness.  Any other season, on a day with nice weather, I’d say it’s worth it.  But in springtime, I’d regretfully advise avoiding it on weekends. Or at least go forewarned.

Second, if you only have time or desire to visit one botanic garden in New York City, go to the New York Botanic Garden in the Bronx instead.  It is much bigger, usually less crowded, the greenhouse environments are larger and prettier, and the spring flowers are more spectacular.  It can’t match Brooklyn on cherries, but it has a whole hill of crab apples that this time of year are magnificent.  It’s got the last patch of old-growth forest inside the city limits.  It’s got a waterfall.

So BBG, with its convenience both a blessing and a curse, should be your second botanic garden visit.

For Reference:

Address 990 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn (convenient entrance on Eastern Parkway near the Brooklyn Museum)
Website bbg.org
Cost  General Admission:  $15
Other Relevant Links

 

African Burial Ground National Monument

Edification value  
Entertainment value  
Should you go?  
Time spent 39 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The Visitor Center focuses quite a bit on the efforts at balancing the human desire to learn from the skeletons and artifacts in the burial ground, with the human desire to treat those remains respectfully and not have them end up on dusty museum shelves for eternity.  That’s a hard balance, and it’s valuable to have a glimpse into the  conversations that led to the compromises they made. 

African Burial Ground National MonumentThe African Burial Ground is a small monument overshadowed by the government buildings around Foley Square.  As they were digging for a new federal building in 1991 they discovered bodies, and from there re-discovered a forgotten cemetery used by the city’s African American population in the late 1600s and early 1700s.

African Burial Ground National MonumentToday a corner of what used to be the cemetery is a small green open space with a black granite monument, standing in for a headstone.  There aren’t any markers, of course, and if it weren’t for the signs and a series of low humps of earth, you’d probably just think it was a pocket park.  It’s not the whole extent of the cemetery, as this city is sufficiently about commerce and building that it won’t let the past fully forestall progress, even when that past includes the earthly remains of slaves.

Mosaic of Skeletons, African Burial Ground
Photomosaic of the remains examined and then re-interred at the African Burial Ground

You can visit the national monument in just a few minutes.  However, the as is the norm with the National Park Service, the visitor center’s exhibits are simple, thoughtful, and earnest, and merit spending some time and contemplation.

Comparative mortality ages show almost no African Americans lived to a ripe old age.

It looks at what we know about the people laid to rest at the Burial Ground — nothing in terms of written records, but quite a bit based on archaeological evidence.  It also talks a bit about contemporary black residents of New York about whom we do know something, and paints an unflinching picture of the hardships they faced.

 

The narrative of the visitor center speaks of “ancestors” (the remains of the people they dug up) and “descendants” (the modern activists who argued for humane treatment of those remains.  It forges a compelling but unproveable link– we don’t know the names of those who were buried there, and there probably isn’t enough DNA in bones that old to connect them with certainty to any living person.  Without a doubt, though, they were New Yorkers, and it seems very right that there is a space in the heart of the civic center of the city to note and remember the role that they played.

African Burial Ground National Monument Museum The African Burial Ground is definitely not entertaining.  But it is important.  Every New Yorker and everyone with an interest in the city and its history should go and pay their respects.

For Reference:

Address 290 Broadway (Visitor Center) and corner of Duane and Elk Streets (National Monument), Manhattan
Website nps.gov/afbg
Cost  Free