Did you know that ‘Manhattan’ comes from the native American term, ‘Manna-hata’? That The Bronx was initially called ‘Bronck’s Land’ after a wealthy emigrant, Jonas Bronck, who acquired it from tribes? And that ‘Brooklyn’ was first called Breuckelen, named after the town in the Netherlands by Dutch settlers?
Well, I didn’t – until I went to the Museum of the City of New York.
I headed to the museum, which is at Fifth Avenue and 104th Street, on Saturday afternoon with Ryan and his parents, who were visiting for the day.
Once inside, we dusted off the snow and headed straight to a 20-minute movie about the history of the city – which turned out to be the highlight of the museum.
It whizzed through the centuries, showing maps of the city’s expanding sprawl and explaining how it became the nation’s hub, thanks to new canals reaching to the Midwest, the vision of city planners and the talent of ship builders and workers from across the world. It charted the city’s growth and brought the audience up to the modern day, and me naively thinking – what could New York possibly do next?
Ryan and I both agreed that the film left us feeling really proud – him as a New Yorker, and me as an immigrant who, like millions before me, has been welcomed to the city.
Much of the rest of the museum was under construction, but there were a couple of other interesting exhibitions. First up, Gilded New York – a glimpse at the riches of the city’s wealthy.
In a similar vein – a huge doll’s house known as the Stettheimer Dollhouse, which was built by one artist over 25 years. The level of detail was amazing.
Next up – an exhibition of photographs of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Although I don’t think they showed me images I’d not really seen before, they were no less shocking. Looking at the photos, I honestly could feel the chill of my blackened apartment way back in October 2012 – and it was so moving to remember that’s still some people’s reality right now.
Other areas of the museum – namely an exhibit about activists, which very bizarrely left out Occupy Wall Street – didn’t keep my interest so much. While there seemed very few rooms at the museum – and not a great narrative linking them – we agreed we were satisfied and headed back to the snow.
But this well worth the trip – especially for the movie. It definitely gave me some tidbits I can pull out on other occasions. I mean – ‘Bronck’s Land’! Who knew eh.