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Go Here: The Museum of the City of New York

New York World's Fair
Jackie Mancini

Let me start by saying that I think the name of this museum sounds boring, too. I only found out that it was awesome because I was already in the neighborhood for something called ‘Ice Derby,’ which is a much better name but had unbeknownst to me been rescheduled. Don’t worry, I’m still going to Ice Derby, and will report back, but instead I met a robot who smokes and plays records and I’m going to tell you about it.

Maybe you already think a history museum sounds interesting, because you’re a dude. It’s not that I don’t love history — history is storytelling, and I love stories. It’s just that a history museum has to try really hard to make a story something you want to walk around inside of. Most times they’re really text-heavy, and reading, as we all know, is for suckers and nerds. The Museum of the City of New York (MOCNY) creates a multimedia environment that tells the story of one of the greatest cities in the world; I was not bored!

The museum changes exhibits often, and my favorite current exhibition is called ‘Designing Tomorrow: America’s World’s Fairs of the 1930s, ‘ an exhibit which documents six World’s Fair expos from across the country during the depression. During a time when Americans were waiting on bread lines and living on the edge of ruin, the stark contrast of the World’s Fair’s promise of hope and progress is almost like science fiction; showing a sleek, prosperous future made possible by technology.

New York World's Fair
Jackie Mancini

Many of the ideas predicted at the World’s Fair went on to be realities of the future, such as highway travel, skyscrapers, electric toasters, nylon stockings and televisions in American homes. At the time, though, these expos were a distant Jetsonian future which promised prosperity and gave Americans hope.

New York World's Fair
Jackie Mancini

My favorite part of the exhibit was definitely Elektro the Moto Man, a huge gold robot presented by Westinghouse at the New York World’s fair in 1939. In the 1920s, Americans were scared of robots — they represented the mechanization of America, which threatened to eliminate jobs. In media, this was translated with personification; robots were depicted as villains who could turn against their creators. By the 1930s though, that fear gave way to the promise of technology. Possibly because most people had already lost their jobs.

Elektro, “all kindness and geniality” amazed the expo’s audience by walking back and forth on stage, smoking cigarettes, counting on his fingers and even recognizing smells and colors. Inside of the robot there was a vaccuum tube, photoelectric cells, telephone relays, a record player, and gears and motors to enabled him to walk on his own. Judging by how excited I was to see him in 2012 with an iPhone in my pocket, I’m pretty sure I would have passed out (or whatever ladies did back then — swoon? Catch the vapors?) had I met him in 1939.

There are more exhibits in the museum, including an awesome 22-minute long video of the history of New York that blew my mind into bits. The only boring part was the Staten Island exhibit, but to be fair, I’m not sure how you could make Staten Island interesting; You can tell a place is depressing when there’s a whole section devoted to Tuberculosis. Here’s a disgusting tool called a Bronchioscope that Staten Island torture doctors used to shove into your lungs, along with some gross TB lungs:

New York World's Fair
Jackie Mancini

Thank god we live in the future, eh? Visit MOCNY, it’s awesome!

Next Awesome Place: Weird Chicago Tour

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