Westbeth Gallery

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  4/5
Time spent 51 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned A set of four large, multipanel works by Karina Cavat, who curated the show, and who resides in a Westbeth apartment.  And with whom I had a really interesting conversation.  

Westbeth Gallery
Karina Cavat, “Cook”

They’re all dense views of burgeoning nature gone haywire.  If I had to choose one, I’d pick “Cook,” an homage to a Weber grill.

On the far, far, western borders of the West Village a huge building complex occupies the entire block from Bank to Bethune and Washington to West Streets.  Today this is Westbeth Artists’ Housing, founded in 1970 as a place for working artists to find affordable housing and studio space.  To this day, artists live and work, show and teach there.  Westbeth also provides a home base to the New School’s drama department and the Martha Graham Dance Studio, among other cultural institutions.

Westbeth Artists Housing

The complex also houses a gallery space, showing work from resident and nonresident artists alike. However, Westbeth’s arts incarnation belies an older and even more intriguing history. Continue reading “Westbeth Gallery”

FDNY Fire Zone


Edification value  2/5
Entertainment value  2/5
Should you go?  *
Time spent 77 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned
FDNY Fire Zone
Keep Back 200 Feet

These toddler-sized fire-engine-red longjohns, with “keep back 200 ft.” on the rear.  Sound advice!

FDNY Fire ZoneTucked into Rockefeller Center, the Fire Department maintains a small kid-oriented presence called the FDNY Fire Zone.  The Fire Zone consists of a modest-sized space with all sorts of fire equipment lining one wall, an old fire truck (at least, the cab of it and a slice of the back part), huge numbers of patches, given or traded from fire departments the world over, and a gift shop about the same size as the exhibit space.

The Fire Zone offers occasional fire safety demos (for a fee), and it is staffed by a guy running the shop and a fire fighter who is happy to answer questions about the items on display.  I got to talking with him about the communications gear in the truck (very outdated according to him) and the pros and cons of GPS, which the Fire Department does not use.

FDNY Fire Zone

Where’s the Fire?

My grown-up reaction to the Fire Zone was disappointment.  I wrote it off, and was ready to move on to other things in five minutes.  But the group of three kids I borrowed for the visit loved it.  Gear to look at.  Heavy fire jackets to try on. A fire truck they can get inside and pretend to drive?  Best. Thing. Ever.  They would’ve stayed there all day, maybe.  We grown-ups talked about museums and joined in the kids’ intense pretending periodically.

FDNY Fire Zone

Therefore I’ve asterisked my “Should You Go?” rating for this place. Any grown-up not in need of any Fire Department-branded gifts can skip this place.  At least one of the visitors while I was there worked as a fire fighter and seemed to enjoy talking shop with the FDNY officer on duty.  So amend that: fire fighters might derive value out of a visit.

FDNY Fire ZoneHowever, if you have kids roughly 4-8 years old, the story differs dramatically.  In that case the Fire Zone merits 4 Met buttons for visitability.  For anyone with young kids interested in firefighters or fire trucks (and what young kid isn’t?), this place will seem ultra-cool, with a whole truck to play in and around.  It’s a rare free, indoor play space. While it is somewhat commercial (there’s that gift shop after all), it’s not nearly as commercial as say the other kid-friendly indoor spots near Rockefeller Center, the Nintendo or Lego stores.

For any grown ups interested in fire departments and fire fighting, I strongly recommend the Fire Museum in SoHo, but you can safely stay out of the Zone.

FDNY Fire Zone

For Reference:

Address 34 West 51st Street, Manhattan
Website fdnysmart.org/firezone
Cost  General Admission:  Free.  Fire Safety Demo $6


Mossman Lock Collection

Edification value  4/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 54 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned These two magnetic locks, made by James Sargent of Rochester, New York, in 1865 and 1866 respectively.

Mossman Lock Collection

Located in Case 7, they epitomize the combination of technical innovation (making combination locks much harder to crack) with aesthetics that characterizes Mr. Mossman’s collection.

For anyone who cares for such queer things, New York offers the gift of numerous institutions devoted to esoteric and hermetic topics. Coins, Tattoos, and Maritime Industry all get their due, as well as obscure people like Antonio Meucci, the would-be inventor of the telephone and Nicholas Roerich, a visionary Russian mystic painter. But I’d argue that New York’s most esoteric and hermetic museum is the Mossman Lock Collection, at the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen.

General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, New York Continue reading “Mossman Lock Collection”

Lewis Latimer House

Edification value  4/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  4/5
Time spent 58 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Latimer’s work on the lightbulb made him (slightly) famous, but he patented many other things. He invented a method of cooling a room by dampening fabric hung in a window.  And a rack that could safely lock your hat, coat, or umbrella, for use at offices or restaurants. And finally, a better train toilet, details of which I’m probably happier not to know.

Lewis Latimer, the son of escaped slaves, helped patent the telephone, refined the design of the light bulb, and ended up a Grand Old Man of the General Electric Company.  He also painted and wrote poetry.

He’s sort of a footnote to history — but a good footnote, and a meaningful one, not one of those ones you just skim over.  It’s therefore fantastic that his home in Flushing today serves as a museum to his memory.

Lewis Latimer House

Continue reading “Lewis Latimer House”

Garibaldi-Meucci Museum

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  2/5
Should you go? 2/5
Time spent 65 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Antonio Meucci built a rustic rocking chair from roots and saplings.  The description says that he would sit in his garden “embittered by the thought that the glory of his invention had been denied him.” The rocking chair of bitterness, I can get behind that.  Rocking Chair, Garibaldi-Meucci Museum, Staten Island

Hope and bitterness, triumph and failure, fame and obscurity, a technological and a political revolution, all in one modest house in Staten Island.  How can one place epitomize such divergent fates?  Such is the story of the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum.

Garibaldi-Meucci Museum, Staten Island


Antonio Meucci comes first.  An inventor who dabbled in new-fangled applications of electricity, Meucci moved from Italy to Cuba before settling in Staten Island in 1850.  As early as 1849, he started working on something he called the teletrofono, which converted sound waves to electricity, transmitted them over a wire, and re-converted them to sound via a speaker at the other end.  Sound familiar?

Garibaldi-Meucci Museum, Staten Island
Remember Meucci!

The house tells the story of a brilliant but naive man, who took his invention (prototypes, models, and all) to a major telegraph company, only to be brushed off.  He lacked resources to file a patent on his own. And was incensed when Alexander Graham Bell patented a suspiciously similar invention a few years later. And Bell had worked for that very same telegraph company!

In addition to a video narrative of his story, one room in the museum collects some Meucci-bilia, including a few surviving teletrofono models, his rocking chair, and his death mask. 

Belatedly, both the New York City and the U.S. House of Representatives have acknowledged Meucci’s unsung role in the telephone’s invention, though of course neither he nor his heirs ever saw one dime of royalties.  The museum houses those proclamations as well.

If Meucci had a better lawyer, more resources, better English language skills, or a less trusting nature, we’d all be talking on celltrofonos today.


Giuseppe Garibaldi was the driving force for Italian independence and unification.  Italy hadn’t been a single political unit since the fall of Rome, and by the 1800s various bits were controlled by the Swiss, Austria-Hungary, the Papal States, and Bourbon Spain.  But as the tide of nationalism was rising across Europe, a few visionaries (or lunatics, depending) like Garibaldi decided Italy should be a single, independent country, too.

Garibaldi-Meucci Museum, Staten Island
Viva Garibaldi!

Garibaldi’s story is one of the merits of persistence. He tried a couple of times to march an army across the Italian peninsula, and failed. He fled to exile first in Uruguay (where he again stirred up revolutionary passions among the locals) and then, for a while, in New York.  When the local Italian community needed a place for the polarizing, heroic man to lie low, Meucci stepped forward.  Garibaldi wanted to be out of the limelight, so the idyllic little house in Staten Island appealed.

Eventually, of course, History called (but not on a teletrofono), and Garibaldi returned to Europe. Where, much to the surprise of nearly everyone, he actually succeeded in creating the Italy we know today.

Garibaldi only lived in the house for a couple of years, but two rooms of the museum cover that time.  One presents a collection of Garibaldi artifacts — weapons, uniforms, an imposing bronze bust, and some charming maps that detail his travels in loops of yarn. The other, upstairs, re-creates Garibaldi’s bedroom.

Should You Visit the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum?

Garibaldi Monument

After Garibaldi’s death in 1882, the house got a plaque recognizing his stay. When Meucci died, New York’s Italian community took over.  In the early 1900s, they erected an ersatz Palladian temple of wood and plaster over and around the house.

Maintaining that proved difficult. They removed the monumental shell in the 1950s to create the modest museum and cultural center that exists to the present day.  Operated by the Sons of Italy, the museum has periodically formulated plans to expand.  

Garibaldi-Meucci Museum, Staten IslandThat might help. Garibaldi was l’eroe dei due mondi, (hero of two worlds–Italy and Uruguay, that is).  However, I’m not sure everyone needs to make a pilgrimage to his brief home on Staten Island. It’s interesting, but haphazard. Like many small museums, the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum’s very limited space and resources hamper its ability to tell its dual stories.

An introductory video covers Meucci, with appropriate levels of bitterness and righteous anger. And my guide through the museum was both knowledgeable and enthusiastic. However, a clutter of folding tables and chairs in the way of the displays detracted. They serve the museum’s other role as classroom for Italian language, culture, and opera.

If you’re a fan of history, Italy, or underdog inventors, you’ll enjoy visiting the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum.  And if you are trekking to the terrific Alice Austen House, this is an easy walk away.

Meucci Monument, the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum, Staten Island
Photo taken with my iTrofono

For Reference:

Address 420 Tompkins Ave, Staten Island
Website garibaldimeuccimuseum.org
Cost  General Admission:  $10
Other Relevant Links


Museum of the Moving Image

Edification value  4/5
Entertainment value  
Should you go?  4/5
Time spent 147 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The Jim Henson exhibit features an immense screen-of-screens which shows, continually, every episode of the Muppet Show.

Muppet Exhibit, Museum of the Moving Image, Queens
Every Muppet Show Ever

Each sub-screen is big enough that you can see what is going on individually and in patterns…it converts nostalgia TV into video art. Look, there’s Carol Channing! Look, it’s a very young Steve Martin! I’m not sure anyone after Gen X will get anything out of it, but it mesmerized me.

Museum of the Moving Image, QueensIn reviewing the Bayside Historical Society I noted the brief historical moment when the eastern reaches of Queens might’ve become Hollywood. In our universe, the film industry eventually centered itself in balmy Los Angeles. However, a chunk of it did remain in Queens. The Kaufman Astoria Studios is our answer to the great factories of movie magic out west. And the studio lot is also home to the Museum of the Moving Image.

Museum of the Moving Image, QueensLocated in a fairly unprepossessing building, the museum’s interior isn’t what I expected — very contemporary with a small back garden behind its cafe, airy, with a great staircase that leads up to an open screening area where you can take a break and watch…well, whatever they happen to be showing. The museum also has a ground-floor auditorium which I didn’t see, and a smaller screening room upstairs, the exterior of which is done up to evoke an old style Egyptian revival movie palace. I imagine this place is great for screenings. Continue reading “Museum of the Moving Image”