If you live in New York City, there is most likely some kind of subway-related infrastructure under the ground beneath you at any given spot in the city. For true transit buffs, there is a museum devoted to the city’s transit system – and it’s actually got enough there to appeal to the more casual visitor. It’s a fairly small museum, housed in a decommissioned subway station in Brooklyn’s municipal district.
The first part of it is devoted to a history of the subway’s construction – displays on the various tunnelling methods used, the planning, and – encouragingly – some attention paid to the workers themselves, talking about the wages they were paid. There was even a mention of a strike the transit workers held in the early 1900’s.
Right after this, there’s a section devoted to rotating exhibits. I’ve been a couple times, and the rotating exhibits have covered everything from powering the transit infrastructure to an examination of the tilework in the stations. Today, I saw they had an exhibit devoted to MTA responses to various natural disasters and other emergency crisis situation; some of which were rather fresh in some people’s minds.
I actually appreciated this warning, even though I wasn’t thrown by any of the September 11th things they had. But in reviewing the pictures I took, I notice I didn’t take any pictures in that section. I found myself lingering more in the sections on the 2003 blackout and Hurricane Sandy, both of which affected me personally more on a transit level. The museum dealt mostly with the rescuing-of-passengers elements of the blackout – there were lots of people stranded underground when the power went out, and they had footage of transit workers with lanterns leading people through the subway tunnels to escape hatches on the sidewalk between stations. The Hurricane Sandy section, meanwhile, had a display with a collection of corroded subway parts – signal switches, alarm bells – and a display devoted to techniques the city was using to prevent future flooding, including a grate-style bench that the display said was designed to let air inside the station but keep water out. They also invited people to sit on it, and I did – it was surprisingly comfortable.
These displays are on the turnstile level of the former station. On the subway track level, though, there’s even more – a series of subway cars from throughout the transit system’s history, restored and parked along the platform. The oldest one is from sometime in 1907, and featured lots of windows and wicker seats.
The cars also feature period ads, which are a fun read in and of themselves.
I’ve gotten very used to the types of ads that regularly show up on the subways, and it was striking to see how the 1940’s car had ads from two genres that I’ve gotten used to seeing – the “Need Cash Fast” ad and the “If You See Something, Say Something” ad.
At the very end of the platform, they had a sample of the kind of car that they use today. And as I was getting on, I had a sudden moment of bizarre cognitive dissonance to be looking at something that I see twice a day on the work week, under a very different context.
However, there are usually way more people and way more ads on the modern subways.