New York’s subway stations are adorned with many an odd historical curio, image, mural, or hidden wonder. One of the first ones I ever noticed and thought to wonder about was the beavers diligently gnawing away at branches throughout the Astor Place 6 train station. These furry little devils probably represent the point at which I decided not just to live, work, and play in New York, but also to poke around in its history — the stranger and more obscure, the better — and eventually become one of those weird old guys who wanders around with a pair of binoculars, offering tourism tips and trivia to random passersby who probably just want to get their picture taken with one of those ratty-looking Times Square Elmos. Anyway, despite being a relatively small (and these days, frequently shut down for weekend construction) station, Astor Place packs a lot of people in every day thanks to its East Village location. It also manages to pack a substantial amount of oddball history onto its modest platform, history that includes the richest man in America, an abandoned passage, a deadly riot, and yes — beavers.
As we mentioned in the article about the secret train platform beneath Grand Central Terminal, the venerable New York City landmark turned one hundred this month. The anniversary is being marked by a number of events, sales, displays, and tours that unfortunately were already sold out by the time I learned about them. Still, not one to be deterred, a crew of us dropped in for the birthday celebration and sought out our own Grand Central sights and curiosities. I’ve poked through the station numerous times yet still managed to find some things I’d never seen before.
Happy 100, Grand Central. The clock above the information booth has an opal face and is worth somewhere around $10-15 million, though rumor has it that the one on display is a replica. There is also a tiny cylindrical tube inside the booth. It contains a stairwell that leads to an employees’ only area below the floor of the plaza.
Because it is well documented elsewhere, I won’t go into the history of F.W. Woolworth, the Woolworth Building, or the stores to which the old man lent his name. For that, I urge you to check out the fantastic Woolworth Building episode of the Bowery Boys podcast. With that history thusly filed away, we can pick up our merry frolic through one of the city’s most iconic yet rarely seen first skyscraper. I say rarely seen because although you can marvel at the impressive exterior, the historic neo-Gothic lobby is off-limits to tourists, gawkers, amateur historians, and anyone who doesn’t work at a company housed in the building. It might be possible to get a glimpse if you wander in just after regular business hours and are really kind to the guard at the front desk, but barring that gamble on the mercy of strangers, you will just have to get a job at one of the many businesses that call the impressive building home. Oddly, my employer does have space in the Woolworth Building, but we have no access to the lobby. They don’t want our kind of rabble hanging around in there. But even if you do work in the building, there are still hidden niches and off-limit secrets to which you don’t get access.
In November, I had a chance to visit San Diego for the first time. As befits a man of my tastes, the trip was built entirely around fancy places to eat and drink. San Diego offers a surprising number of options, both in the trendy, touristy downtown “Gaslamp” quarter, as well as in the surrounding suburbs and towns. With only a few days, I was hardly able to map any sort of definitive guide, and there were many stones left unturned. However, your pals at Teleport City — with an assist from accomplice Monster Island Resort — managed to hit enough bars and restaurants to make it worth jotting down on the off chance that you, too, one day find yourself in San Diego and long to follow in our footsteps. I was sans vehicle for most of the time and staying downtown, so most of my choices were driven by proximity as much as they were by recommendation. But either way, it worked out pretty well. As always, Greenie McGee of Greenie Travels fame was our regular partner in crime and is responsible for most of the pictures in this write-up.
Not too long ago, whilst back in my home town of Louisville, we went on a brief late-afternoon sojourn to the city’s historic Cave Hill Cemetery, of which we shall make mention many times in the future. The cemetery is well worth an entire day spent exploring it, but we were running late and looking for a specific grave (that of cult film director William Girdler). As is usually the case with any trip to Cave Hill, mere minutes after entering the vast rolling grounds, we were lost. It was as we tried to find our way back out before the cemetery gates were closed for the evening, presumably locking us in and fating us to a night battling ghosts, we stumbled across this, one of the cemetery’s many interesting monuments and markers. Not one to let something curious pass by without investigating further, we stopped and found out what we could about this Harry Leon Collins, also known as the Frito-Lay Magician.
For years since moving to New York, I’ve been meaning to visit the Museum of Chinese in America. Even back when they were in a seedy looking building down in Chinatown, with their doors constantly blocked by a proliferation of fortune tellers, it’s been on my list. But like many things, it didn’t happened. When they got their new building north of Canal Street, it reminded me that I wanted to drop in for a visit, yet still it didn’t happen. When I happened by an ad not too long ago for an exhibit about the portrayal of Asians in American comic books, and the lives of Chinese-American comic writers and artists in the industry, it finally got me off my butt and into the museum.
New York is full of fantastic museums and attractions, but if you are a little light in the wallet and are looking for something that is basically a museum, New York still has you covered. There are a ton of fantastic flea markets and antique malls displaying a dizzying array of curios, knickknacks, relics, and occasional works of art. For my money, and I do spend it from time to time, it’s hard to beat Manhattan’s Showplace Antique Center located at 40 W 25th Street (between 5th & 6th Ave).
In New York City, you have a lot to watch out for as you walk around. This is unfortunate, as the necessity of keeping your eyes on the ground or around you prevents you from seeing the incredibly wealth of architectural curiosities staring at you from above doorways and beneath windows. I decided to organize a little walking tour one fine, chilly day so that we might get some exercise, get out of our usual stomping grounds, and have a chance to seek out some of this city’s gargoyles, demons, dragons, leaf men, and the other stone and terra-cotta creatures that watch over us without us ever knowing. Along the way, we hoped to also stumble upon a few other curiosity and city sights we didn’t expect.
Toei Movieland Studio hadn’t been on our official itinerary, but I convinced people to give it a try even though I was the only big Japanese movie fan in the bunch. Toei had given some of my absolute favorite sci-fi superhero shows, and the chance to see one of their studios was too good for me to pass up. After shelling out a rather hefty ¥2500 per person to get in (note: this was in 2001; it is probably more now), I quickly began to realize it wasn’t going to be as cool as I’d hoped. The entrance was was a museum of samurai and ninja articles, most of them from then upcoming movie Red Shadow. A large screen television played clips of various Toei samurai movies and histories of the studio. None of it was especially interesting, unfortunately.
It was a fine morning but looked like it might turn to rain by the afternoon. I found myself with the day to myself and no real plans, so even though it was a bit late to start such an excursion, I decided to go hiking. After leaving through a guide on my way to the car, I decided to try a hike called Stairway to Heaven, just south of Harriman State Park and the Hudson Highlands, on the New York-New Jersey border. It looked to be a fairly easy drive to a hike that, the trailhead being out int he middle of nowhere, probably wouldn’t be too terribly crowded.