Did you ever watch those TV shows when you were a kid and the main character (also a kid) stumbles upon a weird antique store or magic shop or bookstore and finds an object that propels him into a marvelous adventure? Yeah. This place is like that.
The City Reliquary is an odd little museum of New York objects— displaying everything from antiquated subway tokens to souvenirs from various World’s Fairs to dirt samples from the five boroughs. Monger reader Anna Kealey stumbled upon the museum’s eccentric storefront when wandering around Williamsburg several weeks ago and offered to guide me there this past Sunday (after having brunch at Ella Cafe, of course).
Thusly fortified, we set out on our journey from the Lorimer L station, walking down Metropolitan Ave and under the BQE overpass. And there it was on the next block! After briefly admiring the menorah display in one of the windows, we entered. The “lobby” is a small room with a counter, promotional materials, a display cabinet serving as a gift shop, and a jumble of objects fixed to the walls and ceiling. We rang the bell on the counter and a spritely volunteer came out of the next room to give us “the spiel.”
It went something like: “Welcome to City Reliquary. Have you been here before? Oh? You haven’t? Well we are a museum of New York ephemera built from private collections of objects—we have a statue of liberty collection, New York rock collection, subway ephemera, and two competing collections on World’s Fairs! Our featured collection right now is called Forgotten City Lights and is a collection of pictures on various lampposts around the city. Suggested donation of $1.”
Relinquishing our dollars to a glass jar, we stepped through the turnstile and into the next room.
It was like walking into a curiosity shop where everything is NYC related and nothing is for sale. There is a wall of miniature Statues of Liberty, a case containing rock and dirt samples with a handwritten key in cursive (!), a collection of New York tap water, old seltzer bottles, a case of tokens and metro cards, a wall display on various bridges with an earpiece to listen to Sonny Rollins playing The Bridge, stone and architectural details culled from the Flatiron Building and elsewhere, a booth on burlesque, and so much more. Everything was closely and almost haphazardly displayed and the labels were often produced by a punch label maker or just written by hand. In other contexts this would annoy me but the amateur displays had an endearing humanizing effect. One learned almost as much about the collector as about the objects they gathered. Everything felt special.
Forgotten City Lights, located in the back room, was strangely fascinating. I was quite surprised by the number of streetlamp variations and dully impressed that someone would take the time to document them all so thoroughly. Anna and I chose our favorites and expressed appreciation that Donald Desky’s design for a modular streetlamp had a display case all its own.
We chatted with the volunteer a bit and learned that they are opening a new exhibit on NYC pizza in March or May. Anna and departed with promises to return. On the way out I managed to control the impulse to steal any magical artifacts that would propel me into a quest through the streets of a topsy-turvy New York. Maybe next time.
The City Reliquary
370 Metropolitan Ave, Booklyn
The Museum is open weekends Saturday and Sunday, 12:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m.
Thursday nights 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Bring friends. Bring whimsey. Don’t steal anything.