I’ve wanted to visit the New York Transit Museum ever since I discovered it existed. Housed in the retired Court station in Brooklyn, even the museum venue had “transit geek heaven” written all over it. I figured I’d visit it some day when work brought me to the city, but then I learned about the 15th Annual Holiday Train Show at their Annex and Store at Grand Central going on now. I’d love to see that! I ended up going up to the NYC from Philadelphia with my friend David last Sunday morning and made a day of it. Even better, we parked in New Jersey so had a full on transit experience from there into Manhattan and Brooklyn and back as the day progressed.
Our first stop was Grand Central Station via the 5 subway line. Somehow I’d never been there before. Enjoy the obligatory station selfie.
From there it was straight down to the Annex and Store run by the transit museum. The holiday exhibit had glittering signs hanging from the ceiling of everything from buses to transit cards to subway cars and snowflakes. The big draw though was the massive o-gauge model train setup, as the site explains:
This year’s Holiday Train Show display will feature a 34-foot-long “O gauge” model train layout with Lionel’s model Metro-North, New York Central, and vintage subway trains running on eight separate loops of track, against a backdrop featuring graphics celebrating the Museum’s 40th anniversary by artist Julia Rothman.
It was quite busy there, but folks were very clearly enjoying it. I’m really glad I went, even if the whole thing made me pine for my future home office train set all the more. Some day! It’s also worthy to note that this shop is the one to visit transit-wise. The museum in Brooklyn also had a gift shop but it was smaller and had fewer things, I highly recommend picking things up here, I ended up going back after the transit museum to get something I wanted.
We then hopped on the 4 subway line into Brooklyn to visit the actual transit museum. As advertised, it’s in a retired subway station, so the entrance looks like any other subway entrance and you take stairs underground. You enter and buy your ticket and then are free to explore both levels of the museum. The first had several exhibits that rotate, including one about Coney Island and another providing a history of crises in New York City (including 9/11, hurricane Sandy) and how the transit system and operators responded to them. They also had displays of a variety of turnstiles throughout the years, and exhibits talking about street car (trolley) lines and the introduction of the bus systems.
The exhibits were great, but it was downstairs that things got really fun. They have functioning rails where the subway trains used to run through where they’ve lined up over a dozen cars from throughout transit history in NYC for visitors to explore, inside and out.
The evolution of seat designs and configurations was interesting to witness and feel, as you could sit on the seats to get the full experience. Each car also had an information sign next to it, so you could learn about the era and the place of that car in it. Transitions between wood to metal, paired (and ..tripled?) cars were showcased, along with a bunch that were stand alone interchangables. I also enjoyed seeing a caboose, though I didn’t quite recognize at first (“is this for someone to live in?”).
A late lunch was due following the transit museum. We ended up at Sottocasa Pizzeria right there in Brooklyn. It got great reviews and I enjoyed it a lot, but was definitely on the fancy pizza side. They also had selection of Italian beers, of which I chose the delicious Nora by Birra Baladin. Don’t worry, next time I’m in New York I’ll go to a great, not fancy, pizza place.
It was then back to Manhattan to spend a bit more time at Grand Central and for an evening walk through the city. We started by going up 5th Avenue to see Rockefeller Square at night during the holidays. I hadn’t been to Manhattan since 2013 when I went with my friend Danita and I’d never seen the square all decked out for the holidays. I didn’t quite think it through though, it’s probably the busiest time of the year there so the whole neighborhood for blocks was insanely crowded. After seeing the skating rink and tree, we escaped northwest and made our way through the crowds up to Central Park. It was cold, but all the walking was fun even with the crowds. For dinner we ended up at Jackson Hole for some delicious burgers. I went with the Guacamole Burger.
The trip back to north Jersey took us through the brand new World Trade Center Transportation Hub to take the PATH. It’s a very unusual space. It’s all bright white with tons of marble shaped in a modern look, and has a shopping mall with a surreal amount of open space. The trip back on the PATH that night was as smooth as expected. In all, a very enjoyable day of public transit stuff!
More photos from Grand Central Station and the Transit Museum here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157677457519215
Epilogue: I received incredibly bad news the day after this visit to NYC. It cast a shadow over it for me. I went back and forth about whether I should write about this visit at all and how I should present it if I did. I decided to present it as it was that day. It was a great day of visiting the city and geeking out over trains, enjoyed with a close friend, and detached from whatever happened later. I only wish I could convince my mind to do the same.