Museum specializes in city's oddities and obscurities.
The City Reliquary in Williamsburg, Brooklyn has humble beginnings. In 2002, founder Dave Herman set up a 9 inch window display in his ground floor apartment filled with artifacts from his past, flea markets, and even dumpsters.
“Anything regardless of its value on the surface, to me, had the value to tell a story.”
One of Herman’s first dumpster finds was a fire bucket from the Grand Paradise Ballroom. The building had been vacant for decades and Herman says the bucket was a way to remind people of its forgotten history.
“That fire bucket had witnessed incredible big bands, parties, bar mitzvahs, sweet sixteens, and all kinds of spectacular moments in the history of that neighborhood.”
In 2006, the reliquary moved out of the window display and into a proper museum space, but like its cramped start, it's overflowing with items that tell stories, which range from a couple of local barbershops, a turn of the century burlesque dancer, and a newsstand owner who dabbled in art.
The museum also contains a very old cake, a skeleton of a New York rat, and the last known wooden brick from a sidewalk in Greenpoint. Herman says sometimes the museum will seek out a particular artifact and other times the artifact will find them.
"My favorite way is when somebody from the community comes to us and says 'I've had this object sitting on my mantle for 20 years and I didn't know what to do with it but I knew it was too special to throw away.' And so they’ll donate it."
When the 2nd Avenue Deli closed its original East Village location, Herman was hoping the museum could get a small memento like silverware or even a menu. Instead, they wound up with the full 2nd Avenue Deli sign.
“That came to us by chance. Someone happened to be driving by when they were demolishing and gutting that building and that sign was headed into the dumpster.”
The museum is funded through donations and gift shop sales. They host events throughout the year to raise money and get the community involved with the museum. A few years ago they were struggling to stay open, but Herman is confident that they’ll be around for a while.
Herman says the Internet has played a crucial role in getting the word out about the museum to people from all over the world.