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Lost Gem
Mount Vernon Hotel Museum and Garden 1 Gift Shops Museums For Kids Historic Site undefined

Mount Vernon Hotel Museum and Garden

There are many hidden gems to be discovered on the side streets of Manhattan, but the beginning of my walk on 61st might trump any that I have had thus far. For it was here that I was suddenly convinced that I had stepped into a time portal. Nestled between the skyscrapers that perch along the East River is a stone house dating back to the eighteenth century with a glorious garden (even in the middle of winter) tucked behind it. "Eighteenth Century" may be a bit misleading, since the building, which was built as a carriage house to go with a central mansion, was constructed in 1799. Originally named the Abigail Adams Smith Museum, as this is where she and her husband owned the land on which it was built, it was turned into a "day hotel" in 1826. This was a popular kind of institution that possibly resembled a country club more than an inn. With the rise of the middle class, centers for leisure were popping up all over the island. The city proper mainly existed below 14th Street, causing 61st to be considered a vacation getaway. Though the Mount Vernon Hotel is the only day hotel left standing, at one point in time there were numerous similar ones dotting both rivers. In 1833, the building returned to being a private residence. During the following century, it changed hands multiple times, once even being used as a soup kitchen, until it officially opened as a museum in 1939 in the capable hands of the Colonial Dames of America. To this day, their overall mission continues to be to preserve and teach America's history. The Museum also hosts guests and events of many different kinds: One of their largest affairs is Washington's Birthday Ball, but they also host pie-making workshops, school programs (which are often booked solid for three months at a time), and public events in the auditorium next door.

Lost Gem
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New York Historical Society

New York City is chock full of phenomenal museums - cultural centers that appeal to a variety of interests. For my family, however, it is West 77th Street where we find ourselves returning over and over again. Founded in 1804, the New York Historical Society is the oldest American History museum and research library in New York City. Its holdings include paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts as well as three million books and pamphlets. Of particular note among their art holdings is the John James Audubon collection of Birds of America watercolors and their Hudson River School paintings. The Dimenna Children’s History Museum is a treasure not to be missed. It is a wonderful way to engage children in the history of both New York and the rest of the country. During the holiday season, the amazing train exhibit is a must-see for children of all ages. As a biographer/historian of American history for young adults, my mom has been attending their Tuesday evening programs for as long as I can remember. She has had the pleasure of meeting and listening to speakers such as Joseph Ellis, Richard Brookhiser, Stacy Schiff, and Harold Holzer, among others. The Patricia Klingenstein Research Library, in which she has done extensive research on Abigail Adams, is particularly important to her. She has remarked on many occasions that, for those who frequented the old facility, it is remarkable how superior it is to what it was some twenty years ago. With Caffe Storico attached for a spectacular dining experience, The New York Historical Society continues to be a favorite place that we recommend to everyone from individuals to families, New Yorkers to tourists, and historians to art lovers.

Lost Gem
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Lost Gem
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Children's Museum of Manhattan

All parents throughout New York, locals and tourists alike, should know about the educational and transformative experience of the Children's Museum of Manhattan. The 83rd Street institution, although it opened in 1973, has been at its current location since 1989. It is an extraordinary (not to mention really fun! ) resource for both kids and adults. I happened to visit during the week that constitutes winter break for New York schools, and so I witnessed an incredible amount of excitement and enthusiasm on each of the floors. Children as young as a few weeks old were in their mother's arms or being pushed in a stroller while their siblings were running around, checking out the interactive exhibits. Almost every aspect of the museum had something to push, touch, or listen to, giving children a tactile way of learning and remembering. I received an eye-opening tour from David Rios, the Director of Public Programs, who guided me from the fifth floor back to ground level. An exhibit called Playworks, designed for early learning, is located upstairs. For more than ten years, the museum's team worked side by side with child development experts to create a space where little ones can enhance their motor skills and problem-solving abilities. I enjoyed standing on the sidelines and observing children climbing in and out of a large wooden FDNY truck, a NYC bus, and a deli with plastic foods. As David explained, "Some museums have a supermarket, but we're in New York, so we have a deli. "I was amazed by how often the museum catered to varying age levels within the same space. For example, in the Movers and Shakers section, older children could learn math and physics by building mini roller coasters while younger siblings could crawl through tunnels and slide down slides. I was delighted to see parents participating with their children: this is definitely a museum where entire families can enjoy themselves, and children's learning is enhanced by parental guidance. Though there are plenty of buttons that encourage children to learn on their own, there is also signage so that parents can provide a further explanation to their kids. The museum is designed so that parents and older children do not feel intimidated or shy about trying out the different exhibits. As David stated so nicely, "This is a fun, non-judgmental environment for all ages to learn. "Continuing on, I entered The Lab, where children can read stories, sing songs, and learn more about art and science. All of the writing and sound bites are bilingual, since Spanish-speaking families make up such a significant portion of New York City's population. David told me that The Lab sometimes holds special events, such as a visit from members of Alvin Ailey, who danced with the children in an effort to teach them about movement. The next room took Peek-a-Boo to a whole new level with a digital version of the game and in the following room, I had to laugh out loud as I explored the digestive system, complete with a talking toilet. The grand finale of the tour was the America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Near and Far special exhibit that is running from February 2016 - February 2017. The visually compelling exhibit is a multimedia exploration of the diversity of Muslim cultures within the United States and abroad. It is a collaboration between the museum's staff and members of the Muslim community and is an ingenious way of introducing children to topical cultural differences in an age-appropriate way. For example, there is a section where kids can press buttons to smell a variety of fruits and spices, as well as a collection of "Objects and Stories from American Muslim Homes. " Some other highlights included a life-size camel, musical instruments, and a virtual reality room that allows visitors to explore the architectural styles of different mosques. I was pleased to find out Mayor Bill de Blasio supports the exhibit. He has stated, "With America to Zanzibar, children will have the chance to learn about Muslim cultures in an engaging and thoughtful way. We only grow stronger when we embrace and celebrate the multitude of cultural backgrounds that make up New York. "

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Hispanic Society Museum & Library

“There is no other institution that celebrates the cultural richness of the Hispanic world like the Hispanic Society, ” said Public Relations Director Mencia Figueroa. The Society sprung from wealthy New Yorker Archer Huntington’s dream to “condense the soul of Spain into meanings through works of the hand and spirit. ” He meticulously documented his progress in his journals, which are preserved by the Society today. As a child, his family’s travels to the National Gallery in London and the Louvre in Paris convinced Archer that “a museum is the grandest thing in the world. ” His journeys through Spain instilled in him an abiding love for Spanish culture. From then on, he began amassing a collection of books, newspapers, and magazine clippings, which he would display in wooden boxes that he used as makeshift galleries. Later visits to Mexico fueled both his passion for Hispanic art and his determination to share these great works with New York. Though skeptical of his son’s ambitions, Huntington Sr. — a railroad and shipyard tycoon — eventually supported Archer’s endower and gave him the money to buy land on 155th Street. This would allow Archer to open the Hispanic Society as a real museum and library that was accessible to the public. Archer then granted the remaining plots of land on the street to other museums, including the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Museum of the American Indian, the Heye Foundation, and the American Geographical Society.

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Museum of Arts and Design

Directly across from the imposing statue of Christopher Columbus, marking both the epicenter of Columbus Circle and New York City as a whole, stands the Museum of Arts and Design. Founded in 1956 - and in this spectacular building since 2008 - the museum celebrates contemporary artists, designers, and artisans who apply the highest level of ingenuity and skill to their work. Inside the light-filled interior, this accessible museum explores a rotating series of exhibitions profiling makers, who work in a wide range of materials and processes, in an effort to explore the intersection of art, craft and design. When I visited the museum with members of the Manhattan Sideways team, I was thrilled to have them walk around with a dear friend who has been a docent at MAD for several years. We were fascinated by the global reach and depth of the Latin American exhibition, "New Territories, " as Felicia explained in detail what we were seeing. Our team was also intrigued by the museum's show celebrating its founder, Aileen Osborn Webb, entitled "What Would Mrs. Webb Do, " featuring objects from their permanent collection, curated by Jeanine Falino. We then went on our own to explore the technical skill made apparent in the neckpieces and sculptures of Joyce Scott in the exhibit, "From Maryland to Murano. " In addition to the shows on each floor, MAD invites guest artists to work in their studios, allowing visitors the opportunity to engage in conversation, and to observe them as they are sculpting, drawing or creating something unique with a mixture of materials. Having been to the museum many times, I consistently find myself absorbed in the variety of art displayed, and when possible, I make my way to the ninth floor where the innovative Robert restaurant allows guests a bird's eye view of Columbus Circle from its exquisite interior.

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The Museum of Mathematics

I first encountered MoMath as a traveling exhibit at a school on the upper east side, where they were attempting to find funding for a math museum. Honestly, I would never have entered the exhibition on my own volition. My husband, however, winner of his high school's math award, an economics major at Brown and the person responsible for getting me through high school math many years ago, convinced me to accompany him. Jumping ahead three years, the two of us were both surprised and thrilled when we were riding our bikes on 26th and discovered that the museum now has a permanent home. Simply by opening the pi-shaped front door handles and entering the 19, 000 square foot facility, math enthusiasts will stand together in awe. Visitors are able to take full advantage of the exhibits, with explanatory screens offering different levels of complexity, depending on one's interest, and there are live museum guides to answer the many questions of how and why. While the first impression might be that of a children's museum, as one encounters the square-wheeled trike ride or the gravity driven "cars" on the Tracks of Galileo, that notion is quickly dispelled on the lower level. There, we encountered the Enigma Cafe, where twenty-somethings were engrossed (some seemed as if they had been there for days) in puzzle solving a variety of objects, from disentangling intertwined metal to arranging geometric shapes into prescribed patterns. Although he was intrigued by what they were doing, my husband was content to hop onto the Math Square, a huge computer screen built into the floor that marked his every move with a lighted square. A few days later, when we were with our own twenty something crowd, he whipped out a piece of paper and a pen and explained some of what he had witnessed and quizzed those at the table who were also math wizards. Billed as "the coolest thing that ever happened to math, " MoMath holds rotating exhibits and programs to excite adults and children, alike, about this academic discipline. I have encountered many fascinating places in my travels across the Manhattan side streets, but without a doubt, this is the one that captured my husband's heart.

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Merchant's House Museum

Surrounded by high-rise condos, with another on the way, and graffiti tagged buildings, this landmark relic of the past made it to the top of my sidekick Brandhi's must-do lists just in time for her birthday. She knew that a large and very wealthy New York family and their four Irish servants once inhabited the house in the 1800's, and managed to keep it intact over the years, but she was fascinated by the idea that the ghost of Gertrude, the family's youngest daughter who was born and died in the house at the age of 93, might still reside there too. So she eagerly paid the $10 admission, chose the self-guided tour, and wholeheartedly entered the time capsule. For Brandhi, ascending the magnificent wood carved staircases and exploring the great rooms of this 19th century home decked with the Tredwell family's personal possessions was like stepping back into a time when this part of the city was alive with the comings and goings of millionaires and upholding the highest social conventions were the norm. She found a little something that almost every kind of aficionado would appreciate in this historic home. She learned all about the Victorian etiquette of "calling, " admired the white day dresses that still look pristine, and imagined what it must have been like for a servant to lug a bucket full of coal up four long flights of stairs several times a day. If you think history, architecture, interior design, cultural anthropology or the paranormal is fascinating, then a visit to this museum should make it to the top of your must-do list too. Guided tours start everyday at 2: 00. However, if you are like Brandhi and prefer to explore in private, arrive early and you will likely have the entire museum to yourself. The peaceful backyard garden, though surrounded by cookie-cutter condominiums, is the perfect place to reflect on what it must have been like to live in the Manhattan of two centuries ago. Happy Birthday, Brandhi.

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Rubin Museum of Art

The Rubin, a full fledged museum, dedicated to the world of Himalayan Asian art was an unexpected hidden gem that we were delighted to discover. The beautiful space in the museum is organized around a large winding spiral staircase, which visitors follow up to the various floors that are open, relaxed spaces filled with sculptures and intricate paintings mostly from Tibet, India and Nepal. Perhaps the highlight of the museum was a small room in which all four walls, floor to ceiling, were covered with detailed large-scale Tibetan religious murals with a myriad of vibrant colors. Somewhat reminiscent of Bosch’s famous “Garden of Earthly Delights, ” these murals provide countless provocative narratives that could entertain a viewer for hours. The several thousand Himalayan objects that come from the private collection of Shelley and Donald Rubin offer a magnificent opportunity to learn about this rich culture. While much of the collection is ancient, the museum is also quite committed to remaining current - providing contemporary photography, painting and sculpture installations. Set up on each floor are some interactive elements that allow visitors to use computers to look more closely at the art. The museum also hosts many events; on the day we went, we stumbled upon a sitar concert. This museum has it all - interesting exhibits, multiple educational programs (including some for children), a very nice gift shop, and an Indian restaurant, Serai.