A common hobby for most New Yorkers is hustling. And a common hobby specific to Manhattanites is denying that life exists on the other side of any of our bridges. But since we’ve already pointed out most of the worthwhile sights not on your smartphone on the main island, it’s time to call a little attention to our most populous borough: Brooklyn.
Brooklyn doesn’t suffer from the levels of annoying tourists that Manhattan does, which makes it ideal for a little local urban hiking and discovery. And there are tons of hidden secrets (some dating back to the birth of our fair town) lying just below the surface that would make even the most hard core Manhattan snob appreciate this amazing borough anew.
So get your peepers on these fancy things:
370 Metropolitan Ave, Williamsburg
Easily brushed off as another hipster art project that you probably wouldn’t understand, the City Reliquary is actually a fascinating museum and heartfelt ode to New York. A celebration of the minutia of the largest city in America. What grew from just a window display in someone’s apartment is now housed in a three-room store front a few blocks away. Here objects like old subway tokens, fragments of old buildings, dirt samples from all five boroughs and old timey seltzer bottles all take center stage.
Manhattan-bound Q Train, after the Dekalb Stop; only visible on the right side of the tunnel.
Riding the subway - Not all that exciting or noteworthy. But unbeknownst to hundreds of Q Train riders, one of the cities most clever and hypnotic works of public art is sitting in sort-of plain sight, as long as your timing is right. In the tunnel leading from the Dekalb Station to the Manhattan bridge is Masstransiscope, a series of 208 lighted panels that suddenly make the walls come alive. Based on a zoetrope - a pre-animation filming device that produces the illusion of motion by displaying a sequence of drawings showing progressive phases of that motion - a series of colorful geometric images appear to jump to life from the train tunnel's wall thanks to the motion of the fast moving Q.
58 Joralemon St
Joralemon Street. A near-perfect, tree-lined street in Brooklyn Heights. But like any good horror film, this perfect block is harboring a secret. On the south side are three identical brownstones. Numbers 56 and 60 have white trimmed windows, flower boxes and that homey lived-in feel. The middle house is the secret. If you look carefully the basement is covered by a steel shield, the wall of “brick” is actually faux, and — the real tell — the windows are fake. So what lives behind this dark, lifeless facade? Sadly, nothing diabolical, but something kind of clever. It’s a hidden subway evacuation tunnel constructed by the MTA.
108 Wyckoff St., Cobble Hill
In a city that pretty much demands self expression and artistic freedom, it’s not surprising that the Mosaic House exists. It is surprising that there aren’t more houses following in its foot steps. The entire bottom half of this house, from ground to windows, is covered in tiny plastic beads, colored tile, buttons, little toys and small circular mirrors. The owner of the house is a retired plastic arts professor, so the house gives new meaning to the term “taking your work home with you”.
Coney Island Museum, 1208 Surf Ave., Coney Island
Coney Island, aka The Playground to the World, has flashy lights, thrilling rides, a mermaid parade, and …. a memorial to an electrocuted elephant. Showing a little bit of the dark under belly, the Topsy Memorial at the Coney Island Museum has a flip-book style “film” about the life of Topsy, a circus elephant in the 1900s who was electrocuted for “acting up” and attacking her brutish handlers (who reportedly prodded her with pitchforks and fed her lit cigarettes. But that’s another story).
Taksed with carrying out the execution was none other than Thomas Edison himself, who at the time was in a bitter battle with George Westinghouse over the distribution of his direct current (DC) versus Westinghouse’s alternating current (AC). Edison, in an attempted smear campaign to show the public how dangerous AC was, had been electrocuting dogs, cats and livestock, but jumped at the opportunity to take down Topsy, a well known performer, in hopes of larger attention. RIP Topsy.