New York City is home to some of the world’s greatest and well-known museums. There’s the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, and the American Museum of Natural History, just to name a few. But the Museum Mile is not the only place teeming with these beauties. But what if we told you that New York City is actually host to 115 museums? That there is a museum just for Orthodox Jewish taxidermy, or a museum that involves cultural artifacts like vintage condoms? Now you’re hooked, right?
Well, so were we. As we explored Manhattan and its boroughs, we turned up some little and not-so-little museums that, even if you’re a New Yorker, you might not have heard about. So here are the ten weirdest and quirkiest of them in the city.
Boerum Pl & Schermerhorn Street, Brooklyn, NY
The New York Transit Museum, one of the city’s leading cultural institutions, is the largest museum in the United States devoted to urban public transportation history. Housed in a 1936 IND subway station in downtown Brooklyn, the museum features exhibits, tours, workshops, and educational programs dedicated to the history of the NYC subway, bus, and bridge and tunnel systems and in general, the cultural and social history of public transportation. You can step inside a train from 1906, or—our favorite—see some of the oldest ads run on the subway.
1603 41st St, Brooklyn, NY
The Torah Animal World is a “spiritual taxidermy center,” as its site explains. It’s located in the Orthodox Jewish area of Borough Park, Brooklyn. The museum was built by Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch in his sprawling and spacious brownstone apartment. a three-building-wide, 11-floor-high natural history center.
Torah Animal World is the only Hassid-run taxidermy museum in America, featuring a mix of stuffed animals from the Bible, like rams and goats. The museum also includes 350 stuffed fish, mammals, birds, and reptiles, and you will no doubt pass some very strange things at this museum. With branches in the Catskills and Lakewood, New Jersey, the museum brings the Torah to life using dioramas. And you even get to touch everything, too. When giving tours, Rabbi Deutsch urges guests to touch religious and cultural artifacts because that’s a great way for people, especially children, to learn about ancient history.
424-A 3rd Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11215
Joanna Ebenstein loved the macabre when she was young. She grew up, but never quite lost her madness for macabre, and opened up a shrine in her Gowanus studio for a death-centric museum showcasing artifacts and art from all over the world. The museum includes a lot of taxidermy and, of course, creepy stuff, like embryological models and a giant hairy fist clutching a small, wooden doll, which actually belonged to a gorilla. The MAM is primarily a research library and collection with thousands of books, photos, and pieces relating primarily to the history of medicine, death, and society. One past exhibition was entitled “Exquisite Bodies: The Curious and Grotesque World of Anatomical Models.”
38-27 30th Street, Long Island City, Queens
The Fisher Landau Center for Art in Long Island City is a private foundation that offers exhibitions of contemporary art that’s open to the public four days in a week. The museum is considered to be a quirky space because it’s located in a former parachute harness factory. Every single artwork—a whopping 1,200 pieces—has been provided by the private collection belonging to one person only, Ms. Fischer Landau. Landau is a tireless patron of the arts who bought artwork from artists who were still starting their careers. These included Ellsworth Kelly, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, Susan Rothenberg, Barbara Kruger, Annette Lemieux, and Matthew Barney. This 25,000 square-foot, three-story museum has a mission to exhibit and study the collection that started in the ’60s, featuring some of the weirdest and most interesting pieces you’ll ever see.
Cortlandt Alley, between White St & Franklin St, Chinatown
Located on Cortlandt Alley in Lower Manhattan, Mmuseumm (and Mmuseumm 2) is a natural history museum that exhibits and curates contemporary artifacts that are overlooked, dismissed, or ignored. The city’s tiniest museum is housed in what used to be a freight elevator shaft, and has a right to advertise itself as the quirkiest or strangest museum due to what’s inside. Displays include fake vomits from around the globe, the shoe that was thrown at George W. Bush in 2008, Mars rocks, and Disney bullet proof backpacks for children. Despite its size, the museum also has a wall-mounted gift shop and a very tiny espresso café. More of a tongue-in-cheek museum, this place recently held an exhibit called “Toothpaste Tubes from Around the World.”
The Museum of Sex is made up of art and artifacts with the mission of presenting human sexuality in all its forms, from its history to its cultural significance. It also has both research and extensive media libraries that includes films from the mid-1800s to ones from more current times, such as mainstream studio movies exploring sex t0 actual pornography. The collection at The Museum of Sex is impressive, and consists of over 15,000 works of art, clothing, photography, costumes and objects, to name a few. And what, pray tell, are the objects? Well, there’s vintage condoms, vibrators and men’s magazines to start, which can make the place resemble a sex shop more than an educational spot. But, expect to learn a fair amount, too.
370 Metropolitan Ave, Williamsburg Brooklyn, NY
The City Reliquary is a modest non-profit community museum with grand ambitions—it tries to connect visitors to both the past and present of New York by trafficking in every day artifacts and relics about NYC. The permanent collection is like a timepiece of forgotten New York, but that’s exactly what the museum would want, as it offers the opportunity for New Yorkers to relate to the genealogy of their beloved city. You might have forgotten that before the MetroCard, there were tokens for use in subways and buses, for example, but this museum proudly displays them as artifacts to be remembered. Count those among other relics like Terracotta pieces of landmark buildings, Statue of Liberty postcards, paint chips from the L-train platform, a cabinet display with memorabilia from the 1939 World’s Fair, and a whole lot more items that tell the unique stories of NYC.
11 W 30th St, New York
Whether you’re still a sucker for Harry Potter or you wish to find some card tricks, the Conjuring Arts Research Center is a not-for-profit organization that will fit you well, as it works to preserve and interpret magic and magic-allied arts like ventriloquism, mentalism, theatrical séances, and puppetry, among other things. The Conjuring Arts has over 12,000 volumes of books, journals and rare documents related to magic and magic-allied arts, such as the sleight of hand. Known as a safe haven for a dying breed of magic scholars, as well as for those newer magic scholars who are struggling to stay afloat, the rare books collection at the Conjuring Arts’ research center is astonishing in scope and resembles the library of an ancient monastery. Peter Lamont, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Edinburgh, believes that “those experienced and knowledgeable about magic think the history is important…the more history and theory we have in magic, the more we can be creative and produce richer and more satisfying performances.” So who’s next for a magical Vegas act by way of NYC?
290 Conover St., Red Hook, Brooklyn
This waterfront museum is located on a boat, or the covered deck-house of Lehigh Valley Railroad Barge #79. This wood-covered vessel was saved after museum president David Sharp moved it to the dilapidated docks of Red Hook in 1994. The original watercraft was created in 1914, a reminder for guests that the harbor was once full of cargo ships, luxury liners, and everything else, it seems, that floated. Such history is now found in the details of the walls and rafters, where you’ll find signage from old tugs, tools for lugging cargo, a wooden dingy, places where the ship’s crew worked, and locations where the captain lived on board, including a display of the captain’s straw mattress. The floating museum also hosts live music, circus shows, dance acts, and rotating art exhibits that may have nothing to do with the nautical theme.