City Reliquary

This place. My NFT Brooklyn guide calls Williamsburg's City Reliquary "a clever little museum," and it is not wrong. Chock full of fascinating artifacts that are in truth displayed more or less like reliquaries a la multifarious hole-in-the-wall locales in Italy, this museum is self-consciously witty and endearingly homespun. Primarily featuring typewritten or handwritten labels, and objects grouped en masse by subject, the contents beg to be perused closely lest you miss the treasures tucked in corners (like the pipe cleaner statue of liberty my friend pointed out to me, which I overlooked amidst the many replications of her on display). The breadth of New York World's Fairs souvenirs is a fine testament to the array of consumer goods the event inspired/adorned—don't miss the drawers that pull out beneath one of the display cases—and there are inspired choices in presentation. A label for water gathered from the NYC aqueduct is situated such that it appears submerged in said water. The section concerning the Williamsburg Bridge is wonderfully well-rounded, mentioning the influence of the Eiffel Tower on its construction, and describing how Sonny Rollins often practiced there to avoid upsetting his neighbors. Beneath his photograph you'll find a telephone receiver (shown below) through which you can hear a recording of his playing—a delightful context for taking in the surrounding materials.

All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

There isn't all that much text, and what there is is worth reading, so I urge you to take a little extra time to do so. In addition to having "neat stuff," these displays can teach you some things. I had no idea cockroaches were once referred to as "Crotonbugs," and that they arrived in the city through the reservoir pipes. And while I'm down on pigeons right now—they keep perching on my window ledge and waking me up at inappropriately early hours—I was intrigued to learn that they favor NYC because the architecture so closely resembles their native cliff-dwelling habitat.

This is a fun museum well worth stepping off the beaten track. There was even—for those of you familiar with wunderkammer/cabinets of curiosities—what I think must be an intentional shout-out to the requisite ceiling-hung alligator.

…along with a bevy of pencil sharpeners, naturally.

Engraving from Ferrante Imperato, Dell'Historia Naturale, Naples, Italy, 1599 (c/o Wikimedia Commons)


The City Reliquary nestles unobtrusively at 370 Metropolitan Avenue, easily accessible via the G (Metropolitan Ave.) or the L (Lorimer St. or Bedford Ave.). Both museum and store are open Thu.-Sun. 12:00pm - 6:00pm (other days by appointment), and the suggested donation is $5. At the moment, by the way, it also features an exhibit of contemporary photography by Jahi Sabater entitled The Bronx River Project. I have no idea how long it's there—the rotating exhibits listed on the website are long out of date—but it seems their Twitter account is a little more reliably up to speed.

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