National September 11 Museum

Edification value  4/5
Entertainment value  
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 133 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned A special exhibition of New Yorker covers that featured the Twin Towers both before and after Sept. 11. My favorite of all is probably this one from 2003, showing New York’s iconic buildings twinned.

National September 11 Memorial and Museum

Particularly timely exhibition now that Condé Nast’s headquarters are in One World Trade Center.

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum bills itself as a single, unified whole.  And indeed, the museum is integrally part of the plaza, a cavernous underground space that extends all around– and under– the footprints of the World Trade Center towers.  However, for my purposes I’m thinking about them separately.  

National September 11 Memorial and Museum
The WTC Memorial

The September 11 Memorial, with its somber square fountains and all the names, is one thing:  well worth a visit even as the Trade Center has gone from being a giant hole in the ground to being a thriving center for commerce and commuting once again.

The September 11 Museum I don’t recommend so heartily.

National September 11 Memorial and Museum
Eerie architecture evokes a knocked over tower

Continue reading “National September 11 Museum”

Weeksville Heritage Center

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  2/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 89 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned  I have a fascination with kitchens. I loved the 1930s kitchen in the Williams House. Full of obsolete appliances and a pantry stocked with canned good brands that no longer exist.

In 1838, about a decade after New York State abolished slavery, James Weeks bought some land in central Brooklyn with the aim of creating a community of free, landowning, African Americans.

Weeksville Heritage Center

Weeksville thrived for about a century, before changing times and demographics conspired to end it as a distinct neighborhood. While local people never quite forgot Weeksville, the larger city did, as Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant absorbed and paved over it. Continue reading “Weeksville Heritage Center”

Ground Zero Museum Workshop

Edification value  
Entertainment value  
Should you go?  
Time spent 57 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned I appreciated the inappropriate irony of this shot of a movie poster in the destroyed subway station at the World Trade Center.

Ground Zero Museum Workshop, New York
Collateral Damage

During this project, mercifully few museums I’ve visited have felt like a waste of time.  Some because they required significant travel time to get there.  Some because their collections, space, or abilities just failed to live up to expectations.  But up until I visited the Ground Zero Museum Workshop, I never felt ripped off.

Ground Zero Museum Workshop, New YorkThat it’s an institution related to September 11 doing the ripping makes it all the more vexing.  If you want to learn about 9/11, the large museum at the World Trade Center, the 9/11 Tribute Museum, or the moving display at the Fire Museum are all reasonable choices.  This is not.

Continue reading “Ground Zero Museum Workshop”

9/11 Tribute Museum

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  2/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 80 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned A tiny origami crane folded in 1955 by a girl named Sadako Sasaki, who was fighting leukemia due to the bombing of Hiroshima.  

9/11 Tribute Center, New York

Sadako’s brother gave the crane to the families of 9/11 victims in 2007. And the museum points out that several 9/11 charitable foundations helped in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami of 2011.  Ripples of compassion.

9/11 Tribute Center, New YorkThe 9/11 Tribute Museum occupies the second floor of a nondescript office building just a few blocks south of the World Trade Center complex.  While its role is now overshadowed by the massive memorial and museum to the north, it manages to differentiate itself, offering a distinct voice in commemorating the worst day in New York’s history (so far).

A project of the families of victims of September 11, this museum opened in 2006 as the effort to create the official memorial dragged on. What could easily be a place of mourning and despair instead chose to focus on kindess, compassion, and resilience. Continue reading “9/11 Tribute Museum”

Lefferts Historic House


Edification value  2/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  2/5
Time spent 29 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned
Lefferts Historic House

Leffert’s House has a scraggly little wormwood plant growing in its garden.  Artisanal Brooklyn absinthe, anyone?


Lefferts Historic HouseLeffert Pieterson, a Dutch farmer, obtained a tract of land in the village of Flatbush in 1687, and built himself a house there.  That original Lefferts homestead was burned by the Americans just before the Battle of Brooklyn, to prevent the British from seizing and using it.  However, Pieter Lefferts, in the fourth generation of a family that as some point reversed names, rebuilt a fine farmhouse for himself and his family in 1783. Continue reading “Lefferts Historic House”

Historic Richmond Town


Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  4/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 130 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The giant “Azel F. Merrell” oyster sloop flag hanging in the museum. The city’s oystering history is one of my favorite parts of the New York story.

Historic Richmond Town, Staten Island

Most historic buildings in New York are a scattershot, here-and-there thing, involving much travel through the contemporary city to get from one to the next.  In terms of quantity in proximity it is impossible to beat Staten Island’s Historic Richmond Town, which boasts over 23 buildings from the 1600s to the 1800s, mostly within walking distance and periodically open to the public. Continue reading “Historic Richmond Town”

Wyckoff House Museum


Edification value 3/5
Entertainment value 3/5
Should you go?  
Time spent 61 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Wyckoff family members lived in the Wyckoff House right through the start of the 1900s.  250 years of family history in a single domicile boggles my mind.

Before starting my project, I never realized how many historic houses exist in modern New York.  Some surprisingly old. Manhattan’s oldest, the Morris-Jumel Mansion, dates from the 1760s. The Van Cortlandt House in the Bronx was built in 1748.  Bowne House in Queens dates to the 1660s.  But in any city, there can be only one oldest house. In New York that is the Wyckoff House, located in the prosaically named Flatlands, a nondescript part of Brooklyn far from any subway line.

Wyckoff House, Canarsie, Brooklyn

And so, on the first snowy day of the year, I made my trek, over the river and through the woods, half-metaphorically and half-literally, to the Wyckoffs’ ancestral home. Continue reading “Wyckoff House Museum”

Lower East Side Tenement Museum


Edification value 4/5
Entertainment value
Should you go?  4/5
Time spent 109 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned My favorite fun fact from the tour is that the Lower East Side got the moniker “Klein Deutschland” before there even was a unified “Deutschland.”

There are certain combinations of places and architecture that just go together.  Paris+garret; Newport+mansion; San Francisco+Victorian ; Brooklyn+brownstone.  And “Lower East Side+tenement.”  It’s almost redundant to call a place the “Lower East Side Tenement Museum.”  But New York has one of those, and redundant or not, it is a fantastic, unforgettable recreation of a slice of life in this city.

Tenement Museum

How the Other Half Lived

The word “tenement” originally referred to any multiple dwelling building, what we’d call an “apartment” today.  Very quickly, however, “tenement” came to mean a very particular type of multiple dwelling building.  One aimed at the working class and recent immigrants, crammed with people and with very limited light, ventilation, and amenities.

Like how non-New Yorkers imagine New Yorkers live today, only even worse. Continue reading “Lower East Side Tenement Museum”

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”

Museum of American Finance

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  4/5
Should you go?  2/5
Time spent 93 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned During World War II, Disney created character-driven U.S. war bonds to encourage the kiddies to contribute to the effort to “make life free and forever peaceful for all men.” 

Museum of American Finance

UPDATE APRIL 2021: The Museum of American Finance is closed as it seeks new space for its collection. It may reopen, but it won’t look much like it did in the pictures from this review. 

Museum of American FinanceI give the curators of the Museum of American Finance credit for chutzpah, anyway.  In this day and age,  a museum that lionizes financiers and the financial system seems tantamount to, I don’t know, a museum of baby harp seal clubbers.

That said, if you’re going to have a museum (or, as they style it, a MU$EUM) of American finance, there can be no better place for it than Wall Street.  And no better place on Wall Street than in the Bank of New York’s former Grand Mezzanine.

The 1927 Bank of New York Building, at Wall and William Streets, is the third on the site.  The original Bank of New York in that spot dates to 1796, about a decade after Alexander Hamilton and a coterie of America’s other financial founding fathers started it.  

Museum of American Finance
Museum of American Finance

The Museum of American Finance was founded by a banker named John Herzog in the wake of the 1987 stock market crash.  Herzog started his “museum project” (touché!) to create an institution to explain how the financial system worked. He reckoned that although Wall Street is synonymous with finance, most folks don’t really know what goes on there outside of movies. Continue reading “Museum of American Finance”