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4 Underrated Museums in New York City
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November 5, 2019
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Alexa Baray
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New York City offers a dizzying collection of famous destinations and world-class museums. You could spend an entire day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and not see all the works. If you're looking for a museum a bit off the beaten path, the city has a number of lesser-known ones guaranteed to pique your interest and broaden your horizons.

New York Transit Museum

Old subway train on display in the New York Transit Museum
Credit: Felix Lipov / Shutterstock

The New York public transit system is legendary, with its extensive and intricate network of subways and buses routes, and at the New York Transit Museum, you can travel through the entire history of NYC public transport. Founded in 1976, the museum is housed on the still functional platform of the City Hall subway station in Brooklyn. The museum offers guided historical tours of the original station, which was built in 1906. Admission is limited, so buy your tickets early.

Even without a formal tour of the station, there is plenty to explore at the New York Transit Museum. In addition to the historical setting, you'll find 20 vintage subway and elevated cars dating from 1907, a fleet of old-school city buses, and an entire collection of artifacts relating to the NYC public transit system.

The ongoing "Ticket to Ride" exhibit takes the observer through the Transit Museum's considerable collection of period photographs and contemporary artifacts to demonstrate the development of different modes of fare collection for all of New York's public transportation. The interactive exhibit allows visitors to handle historical equipment and to develop an understanding of the complex processes and people involved in the coordination of fare collection and distribution.

"Steel, Stone & Backbone: Building New York's Subways" highlights the construction methods leveraged to create the city's first subway line at the turn of the 20th century. The display focuses particularly on the construction workers whose dedication made the project a success.

"On the Streets: New York's Trolleys and Buses" follows the history of New York's surface transit from the early 1800s through the present day. The exhibit features a 12-seat city bus, vintage cab, and a variety of signs, signals, and street-related items.

Skyscraper Museum

Main room in the Skyscraper Museum shown from above
Credit: Dara Ghavami/ CC BY-SA 4.0

Located on the southern tip of Manhattan Island, just across the street from Battery Park, the Skyscraper Museum is a must-see for architecture lovers and history buffs alike. The museum offers exhibits, displays, and in-depth historical talks that explore the design, architecture, and history of the famous skyscrapers of the city.

The "History of Height" gallery includes a 36-foot mural that depicts the history of building heights from the prehistoric pyramids to the skyscrapers of today. It delves into the human desire to build taller structures, and examines the technological, engineering, economic, and architectural innovations and advancements that made skyscrapers possible.

The "Twin Towers and the Twentieth Century" exhibit takes the visitor on a journey through the construction of the Twin Towers, which were in and of themselves an engineering and architectural wonder. The exhibit examines the full history of the World Trade Center, and its notable impact on the world stage both before and after 9/11.

For a compelling overview of the history of buildings in NYC, have a look at "Housing Density: From Tenements to Towers." This project features a timeline overview of the history of crowding in NYC from 1900 through the 1970s, with a discussion of the social and economic implications of slum clearing, towers on the park, and neighborhood development in New York. The authors use specific case studies of the Chelsea and East Harlem neighborhoods to explore the past and future challenges of housing the growing NYC population.

Museum of the Moving Image

Entrance to the Museum of the Moving Image
Credit: mizoula/ iStock

Whether you're a film fanatic or a casual TV watcher, the Museum of the Moving Image offers a look at the history and influence of film, television, and digital media. Through a series of exhibits, public discussions, interpretive programs, and film screenings, the museum spurs in visitors an appreciation for all aspects of the moving image. The museum has the largest collection of artifacts pertaining to the art, history, and technology of the moving image in the U.S. The collection contains over 130,000 items, from the advent of motion pictures to modern digital technology. If you don't have time to see it all, the collection can also be accessed via the museum's online database.

"Behind the Screen," the museum's primary ongoing core exhibition, offers visitors a glimpse into the creation of moving images with more than 1,400 artifacts, and a plethora of interactive audiovisual materials. Learn what made the first films possible and watch how the processes evolved into the digital media we use today.

For an amazing family experience, enter the whimsical world of Jim Henson, the beloved puppeteer and creator of The Muppets and Sesame Street. Established in 2017, the "Jim Henson Exhibition" is dedicated to Henson's life's work. With 400 artifacts donated by his family, including original artwork and puppets, the exhibition is a must.

Museum of the City of New York

New York City skyline at sunset
Credit: ventdusud/Shutterstock

Don't miss the Museum of the City of New York for a captivating journey through the myriad histories that have formed the inimitable New York City we know today. Founded in 1932 at Gracie Mansion, and later moved to East Harlem, the Museum itself is an indelible part of NYC history, and guarantees an unparalleled look into New York City's days and ways. Below are some of the museum's most fascinating exhibits.

The "Welcome Home Exhibit" provides a detailed history of the museum itself, from its establishment in 1932 through the modern day. Through a combination of anecdotes, images, and artifacts, the exhibit tells the story of the Museum of the City of New York and its legacy in the city.

"New York at Its Core" is an ongoing exhibit that outlines the story of New York City from its establishment as a Dutch village to global powerhouse. The exhibit offers insight into the lives of famous people and events that shaped the city, with audiovisual and interactive displays that carry visitors from the founding of NYC into the future.

An insightful and inspiring project, the "Urban Indian Exhibition" is a temporary exhibit that focuses on the rich lives of the Native American population of New York City. Through the use of contemporary artworks, performances, and items from the native community, the exhibit explores the experience of being a Native person in New York City, and how the Indigenous American population is helping to shape the city's cultural and political landscape.