Journeys in New York – a museum, a history lesson, and the red carpet


A visit to the Museum of the City of New York was well-worth the walk from the metro station at East 103rd street. I was invited to attend an evening of talks there, but they didn’t begin until 6pm, so I had ample time to look around the exhibits. Housed in a nineteenth-century mansion facing Central Park, the museum is home to an eclectic and ever-changing series of exhibitions. The day I visited there was a fascinating show of psychedelic fashions from the 1960s and 70s by designer Stephen Burrows. Think 1970s dance music, and blocks of primary colour – and you’ve got the idea. They even had the right music playing in the background. From one end of the spectrum, ‘staying alive’, to the other, meeting ‘the dead’ – also on view was an extraordinarily well-designed exhibition titled A Beautiful Way to Go – all about New York’s famous Greenwood Cemetery. In between there was Activist New York – an interactive exhibition that explores the history of social activism in the city. Something for everybody so –

The series of talks that brought me to the Museum of the City of New York were a complete revelation. The theme of the night was the ‘draft’ riots, which took place in and around 5th Avenue and 43rd Street area over a few days in mid-July, 1863, during the American Civil War. Suffice to say that it was a humbling experience to sit in an audience in New York listening to history from a whole new perspective. The picture above illustrates one of the most infamous attacks that took place during those boiling hot days in mid-July 1863 – the attached link gives the story –

The following day, on my way to New York Public Library, I came out of Grand Central to find that a red carpet had been laid along 5th Avenue! I kid you not – the street was closed to traffic, and the road was covered with a red carpet for a parade – photograph of which can been seen on

The entire area was fenced off, there were police everywhere, and hundreds were gathering to see the action. That was at 9am in the morning. By 5.30pm the carpet was gone, 5th Avenue was open, and you’d never believe that anything had happened at all, not least that the street looked something like a film set just a few hours earlier. I found myself deep in thought as I looked around 5th Avenue that evening, and the talks that I’d attended at the Museum of the City of New York came to mind. It was in and around the same area, and in mid-July, that the aforementioned infamous attack took place in 1863. History makes life far more interesting.

About Dr Éimear O'Connor

Art historian, curator, author, lecturer, visual artist, arts consultant. Insomniac. Early morning writer. Late night reader.
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