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What’s New in Our Making A Museum Exhibit? From the Archives: A Lost Ticket From Katz’s Deli

The Lower East Side landmark and makers of famously large and delicious sandwiches, Katz’s Deli, is undoubtedly well known to readers of this blog. Founded in 1888, family owned and operated, When Harry Met Sally, “Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army,” etc. All old hat to you experienced New Yorkers, who would never order mayonnaise on your pastrami and always tip your cutter.

And veteran Katz’s patrons are naturally familiar with the ticket system used to ensure everyone pays their check: every adult receives a ticket, printed with a grid of numbers, upon entry; each adult must return that ticket when exiting, even if unused. Lose the ticket, and it’s a $50 fee. It’s an archaic system that has induced curiosity, rage, and panic in customers, and has become as integral to the Katz’s experience as pickles, shared tables, and fading celebrity photos on the walls.

While you can display your Katz’s ticket knowledge with a t-shirt or socks, the high price for a lost ticket makes the ticket itself a highly unusual item to find outside the confines of Katz’s. Truly lost tickets are a rare occurrence, according to Jake Dell, Katz’s current owner, and indeed the historical timeline posted in the deli’s window states that the first lost ticket didn’t happen until 1962. We don’t know the story of how this ticket, found on the street, escaped – did it cost the erstwhile owner $50 or an hour or two of dishwashing work, or did the staff take pity and let them go? – but it represents a slice of New York life that can only be found one other place in the city.

The Fantasy Coffin Experience (and other funerary traditions)

Friday, March 22, 2019 – Talk at 7:00 p.m. – Museum open until 9:00 p.m.

RSVP for this event on Facebook

Alert readers of the City Reliquary’s blog and recent Reliquary visitors are no doubt familiar with author Sarah Murray’s Ghanaian fantasy coffin in the shape of the Empire State Building, now on view in our Making A Museum exhibit. If you’d like to learn more about how that coffin came to be – and about more fascinating funerary traditions from around the world – be sure to attend her talk at the Reliquary on Friday, March 22 at 7:00 p.m.!

Ms. Murray will share stories and photos from her book Making An Exit, an exploration of the extraordinary creativity unleashed when we seek to dignify the dead. Her research took her around the world and brought her to create a unique plan for her own eventual send-off.

The event will be free with admission to the City Reliquary Museum! We’ll be open special late-night hours from 6-9 p.m. so there will be plenty of time to check out all our exhibits and new additions before and after Ms. Murray’s talk at 7 p.m. Refreshments will be available by donation.

What’s New in our Making A Museum Exhibit? From the Archives: Helen Hayes Theater Brick

The original Helen Hayes Theater once stood on 46th Street near Broadway. Built in 1911 – one of nearly 80 theaters to be built in the Broadway district between the IRT’s opening in 1904 and the stock market crash of 1929 – it was originally envisioned as an NYC version of the risqué Parisian venue Follies Bergère, with dancers roving among the audience seated at supper tables, but soon switched to a standard seating configuration and changed its name to the Fulton. In 1955, the theater was renamed the Helen Hayes to honor the EGOT winner and “First Lady of the American Theater.”

While in operation, the Helen Hayes/Fulton Theater hosted the initial run of many classic Broadway plays and musicals: The Jazz Singer in 1925, Dracula (starring Bela Lugosi) in 1928, Arsenic and Old Lace in 1941, Gigi (starring Audrey Hepburn) in 1952, Long Day’s Journey Into Night in 1956, and Equus in 1976, among many others. But by the 1970s, Times Square and the theater business had both changed substantially. Many live theaters had long since been converted to movie houses or turned to seedier entertainment. Theatergoers were increasingly uncomfortable attending shows in a notorious part of town.

In 1973, developer John Portman proposed a massive new hotel development on Broadway between 45th and 46th, on property where the Helen Hayes and four other classic-era theaters stood. Mayor Ed Koch strongly supported new development to revitalize the area, and under political pressure the Landmarks and Preservation Commission voted against designating the theaters. Actors, producers, and preservationists rallied with the goal of saving Broadway, staging numerous public protests and temporarily enjoining construction. But these efforts ultimately failed, and on March 22, 1982, destruction of the theaters commenced.

In April of that year, Scott Edelman, friend of the Reliquary and theater fan, reached through the construction fence surrounding the site of the future Marriott Marquis and retrieved a brick from the pile of rubble on the site of the Helen Hayes Theater. In 2015, he generously donated that brick to the Reliquary, and his accompanying letter to us shows his authentic love for this forgotten palace of the stage. You can see both in our exhibit.

Some have persuasively argued that the Broadway Massacre of 1982 was ultimately crucial in saving live theater in New York. The protest organizers redoubled their calls for protection of classic Broadway theaters and succeeded in landmarking 46 theaters and passing zoning to protect the historic Theater District while still allowing new mixed-use development. Continuing new investment, following Portman, and vastly reduced crime rates in Times Square have made it a top tourist attraction that draws significant revenue for the city and hundreds of thousands of visitors each year (sometimes, it seems, all on the same day!), attracting new demand for live theatrical productions.

What’s New in our Making A Museum Exhibit? W.F. Mangels Speed Boat Ride

This tropical-themed boat was part of a children’s ride named Speed Boat constructed by the W.F. Mangels Company of Coney Island in the 1950s. Speed Boat consisted of eight boats that followed a circular undulating track around a central lighthouse pillar. The boat’s rear seat has a ship’s wheel with bells attached, and the front seat has a cast aluminum mock gun.

William F. Mangels emigrated from Germany as a teen, and started his eponymous amusement ride company by the time he was twenty, in 1886. With his mechanic’s training, ingenuity, and complete devotion to figuring out what would be the most fun, Mangels quickly became prominent in his chosen field. His most famous ride, The Whip, was first installed at Luna Park, Coney Island, in 1914 and spread rapidly from there, with more than 500 Whips in amusement parks around the world. Mangels held more than fifty patents for amusements he designed, including wave pools, shooting galleries, carousels, and coasters.

Mangels’ love for the world of amusements led, in 1929, to his directorship of the American Museum of Public Recreation, located on Coney Island close to his own factory on West 8th Street. The Museum, dedicated to play facilities of all kinds, included in its collection carousel animals, patent documents, drawings of jousting matches and ancient festivals, bicycles, sleighs, marionettes, and an extensive library. Sadly, the Museum was not a financially successful venture; however, many of its paper holdings as well as Mangels’ own company papers, blueprints, and drawings are held by Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

William F. Mangels died in 1958 and is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. His creations live on – you can still ride one of his carousels on Coney Island today!

What’s New in our Making A Museum Exhibit? St. Denis Building Directory

The St. Denis Building, at 80 East 11th Street at Broadway in Manhattan, is a case study of the changing city. Built in 1853 by renowned architect James Renwick Jr., it was the first building in New York to feature terracotta sculpted exterior decoration. At that time, the neighborhood was a fashionable shopping district, and the St. Denis was a grand hotel which drew many notable guests: Abraham Lincoln, P.T. Barnum, Mark Twain, and Sarah Bernhardt among them. The gentleman’s parlor on the second floor saw Alexander Graham Bell’s first public demonstration of the telephone in New York.

By 1917, the neighborhood had fallen out of fashion. The building was sold and converted to office space with ground floor retail. The renovations removed Renwick’s terracotta detailing, rendering it ineligible for historic preservation a century later.

St. Denis’ office tenants were just as notable as its hotel guests. From the 1920s to the 1950s, many of its tenants were leftist newspapers and workers’ organizations: The Workers Party of America, the American Negro Labor Congress, and the W.E.B. Du Bois-chaired Peace Information Center were among the many groups headquartered there. The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, the last holdout of this generation of tenants, appears on our Directory board (Room 341). Marcel Duchamp kept a secret, unlisted studio in Room 403, and his deliberately posthumous final work, Étant Donnés, was installed there.

In 2016, the St. Denis was sold to developers with plans to demolish the building. The last tenants left in 2018, but remain listed on the historic Directory on view at the Reliquary. The variety and number of businesses listed are a prime example of Jane Jacobs’ maxim that new ideas need old buildings. The comparatively cheap rents, older fixtures, and smaller office spaces in the St. Denis allowed many solo therapeutic practitioners to see low-income patients and small businesses to get an affordable start.

The current plans for the St. Denis space are for a 12-story glass wall office building with a stacked box design. It is one of a cluster of new commercial developments in the neighborhood seeking to expand Flatiron’s “Silicon Alley” further down Broadway.

The St. Denis directory came to the City Reliquary as the generous donation of Richard Signorelli, a 15-year tenant of the building and one of the last to depart.

We highly recommend this excellent article about the history and vibrant life of the St. Denis by Jeremiah Moss in the New York Review of Books.

What’s New in our Making A Museum Exhibit? The 1939 World’s Fair Collection of Virginia McClellan Moskowitz

A major part of the City Reliquary’s mission is to elevate everyday objects and the stories of everyday New Yorkers. We love and celebrate the passion and curatorial skill of amateur collectors. With this collection of 1939 World’s Fair memorabilia, we showcase the work of an amateur collector who became a professional: Virginia McClellan Moskowitz.

In 1939, Virginia, a nurse from Mount Vernon, NY, attended the World’s Fair in New York City. The experiences and sights she witnessed stayed with her her entire life, and inspired her to collect many different types of souvenirs reflecting her fond memories.

After retiring from the nursing profession, Virginia’s love of collections led her to become Mount Vernon’s town historian. Her enthusiasm, and the local history she passed on, is fondly remembered by those she met, and her legacy is inspiring a new generation of local historians today.

The 12th Annual Panorama Challenge!

Friday, March 1, 2019 — Doors 6 p.m. — Game at 7 p.m.

At Queens Museum – Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

General Admission Tickets: $15 advance / $20 at the door

City Reliquary and Queens Museum Members: $12 advance / $15 at the door

Mark your calendars and break out your Blue Guides: it’s nearly time for the Panorama Challenge! Once again, The City Reliquary, Queens Museum, & The Levys’ Unique New York! have partnered for an exciting evening of trivia with the whole city at your feet. Meet us at the world’s largest architectural scale model – The Panorama of the City of New York at the Queens Museum!

Panorama Challenge quizzes players on all things NYC. MC Gary Dennis reads questions while our judges highlight clues on the Panorama using lasers (well, laser pointers). Players in teams of 10 (or so) use those clues (and musical hints!) to determine the correct answer.

Quizmaster Jonathan Turer returns for his eighth year with another batch of new questions. This year, categories may include: Signs in Woodhaven**, Revolutionary NYC, Rock of Ages (geology), Tunnel Time, and Old Time Religion (notable houses of worship). (Start building your teams accordingly!) The ever-popular Halftime Quiz will also return!

Teams may organize as Panorama Challengers or Panorama Pros. Challengers are first‐timers or those who have not dedicated their lives to the study of NYC. Their questions will be easier!  Pros are returning contestants and die‐hard students of our city’s hidden corners. They answer twice as many questions per round (60 total!) Friendly tour guides from The Levys’ Unique New York! will help match contestants to teams.

The winning Pro team will join the ranks of legendary past winners when its name is etched on the Panorama Challenge Trophy housed at the Queens Museum!

Our judges this year include author, urban explorer, and abandoned observation deck aficionado Moses Gates, and Dean of New York City tour guides Lee Gelber, with others soon to be announced!

Sandwiches, snacks, and beverages will be available for purchase. Beer will be available for purchase by donation, lovingly provided by our friends at Brooklyn Brewery. Proceeds from admission and concessions support The City Reliquary Museum and Queens Museum.

A free shuttle, generously provided by DaVinci Limo & Tours, will travel between the Queens Museum and under the Mets‐Willets Point 7 stop from 5:30-7 pm and 9-10 pm.

**An earlier version of this post listed this category incorrectly (“Signs of Elmhurst”).

What’s New in our Making A Museum Exhibit? Empire State Building Fantasy Coffin

Fantasy coffinsabebuu adekai or “proverb boxes” in the Ga language – are wooden coffins carved and decorated to look like an animal or object with particular significance to the deceased, reflecting aspirations (luxury cars, airplanes), careers (corn for a farmer, pen for a writer), hobbies (sneakers, guitars), or position (lions and eagles for community leaders). They originated with the ceremonial palanquins used by chiefs of the Ga ethnic group.

In the 1950s, a chief who had made a fortune in cocoa processing was buried in his cocoa bean-shaped palanquin. This inspired local furniture maker Seth Kane Kwei to build an airplane-shaped coffin for his grandmother, who loved watching airplanes and dreamed of flying in one. Symbolic coffins were rapidly incorporated into Ga funeral tradition, and became popular throughout Ghana. Kane Kwei’s work became known worldwide, and turned abebuu adekai into a highly sought-after export, when it was featured in a 1989 exhibition at Centre Pompidou in Paris.

This Empire State Building-shaped wooden coffin, constructed and painted by Ghanaian coffin artist Eric Kpakpo Adotey, is on loan to the City Reliquary from its owner, Sarah Murray. Ms. Murray (who is still living; this is an unoccupied coffin) commissioned this coffin to represent her life with a symbol of great meaning to her: her favorite architectural work and an icon of the city she always aspired to, and now does, live in.

Read more about this work at Untapped Cities!

What’s New in our Making A Museum Exhibit? 1964 World’s Fair Souvenir Pins

These two souvenir pins come to us as a generous donation from Lindsay McGuire of Belfast, Maine. On her recent visit to the City Reliquary, she was reminded of her childhood visit to the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens and was inspired to donate these souvenir pins to our collection.

Both of these pins were distributed at the General Cigar Company building. The White Owl was the animal namesake of one of General Cigar’s brands, and a special White Owl New Yorker cigar was sold: “A cigar that’s the very essence of New York, and the great new Fair,” according to the advertisements. The Smoke Ring refers to a mechanism outside the General Cigar building at the Fair that sent a plume of white smoke into the sky every few minutes, thus providing a notable landmark for visitors to meet by. Visitor accounts are divided as to whether the smoke successfully formed visible rings as was intended.

One of Lindsay’s most vivid recollections of the Fair is the typo – a repeated “the” – on the Smoke Ring badge. (Did you notice it?) In addition to the smoke rings (or plumes), the General Cigar building housed a Hall of Magic in which performers showed off many illusions and tricks. One of these illusions is the repeated word “the” on the smoke ring pin, which our eyes very commonly skip over because it is separated by a line break. The General Cigar Hall of Magic urged visitors to try it on their friends!

New Community Collection: Jennifer Rice’s Vintage Confetti

Now On View:
Vintage Confetti
Through Winter 2019

The City Reliquary is proud to present the vintage confetti and confetti-related ephemera collection of Jennifer Rice. She was first inspired to start collecting when she learned that workers renovating NYC’s famed Rainbow Room found confetti from the 1940s beneath the rotating dance floor. Her collection includes packaged confetti from all over the world and items depicting confetti’s history, manufacture, cultural significance, and influence in design and branding.

Modern confetti has its roots in ancient civilizations and the act of throwing plant-based materials (i.e. seeds, nuts, twigs) to celebrate life, death, unions, or sacrificial offerings. The word ‘confetti‘ hails from the Latin conficere meaning “to prepare or to make ready.” This evolved to the French confit or confiture translating as preserved meats and fruits. After the colonization of the Americas these terms came to be more closely associated with preserving in sugar eventually evolving into 18th century Italian confetti (little sweets) or the English confectionary.
In 18th century France and Italy, Carnevale, an indulgent celebration before the start of Lent, confetti in the form of candied fruits and nuts were thrown. As sugar was a luxury item at the time, by the 1830s plaster of Paris replaced candied sweets. Written accounts and illustrations from the time, as pictured on postcards in this collection, show the need for masks also known as par a bonbons to protect the face especially during batailles de confetticonfetti battles.
Wearing masks to avoid the harm of thrown candied sweets and plaster evolved to non-harmful variations of confetti. In 1875 Italy, Enrico Mangili used the refuse of paper holes punched in paper to aid hatching silkworms to introduce the first variation of paper confetti. By 1892, plaster confetti was banned in Paris and in 1894 French poster artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned by London paper manufacturer J. E. Bella to advertise their “injury-free” paper confetti.
Meanwhile, in New York City, confetti in the form of candy and paper was used throughout the late 19th century, but a unique to New York variation of confetti was first used in 1886 during a parade to celebrate the dedication of the Statue of Liberty. Ticker tape, a 1 inch wide piece of paper that recorded stock quotes, came to be known for its dramatic effect when dropped from a height. Ticker tape parades were so prevalent during the first half of the 20th century and so tied to New York’s cultural identity that the Alliance for New York embedded granite markers commemorating each significant parade along the historic stretch of Broadway known as the “Canyon of Heroes.” Another NYC confetti tradition continues today with the Times Square ball drop confetti shower at midnight on New Year’s Eve.