The African Burial Ground in New York City is a national monument operated by the National Park Service in Lower Manhattan. One of the most important black historical sites in New York, the African Burial Ground Museum is also one of the coolest little museums in downtown NYC. The exhibits at the African Burial Ground Monument show not only the African burial ground history itself but also how the Dutch imperialism of the Dutch West India Company contributed to slavery in New Amsterdam. Ultimately when New Amsterdam becomes New York, slavery in New York colony became crucial to the economy in colonial New York.
African Burial Ground History
The African Burial Ground was an accidental discovery in 1991 when the federal government started excavating at 290 Broadway for a new Federal office builidng. When human remains were found many feet below the surface, the long-forgotten African Burial Ground history came to light.
A street sign showing the way to the African Burial Ground NY
This African Burial Ground in New York City was a burial site for both free and enslaved slaves because slaves were not permitted to be buried in churchyards. .This plot of land in a ravine became a de facto burial ground. It was owned by a Dutchwoman who herself owned slaves.
Her family sold the land in 1795 to developers to build houses. The ravine got filled with as much as 25 feet of landfill to level it off and make it suitable for housing. As a bonus, the bodies underneath the landfill were preserved. A new cemetery for blacks was opened further uptown in Manhattan.
The strata of more recent history layered upon the NYC African Burial Ground from the 17th century
The existence of this unofficial African burial ground in New York was lost in the mists of time until the 20th century. It is an important archeological discovery and sheds light on the importance of both free and enslaved Africans in the early development and prosperity of New York City.
Dutch Imperialism in New York
The first known person of African descent in New York was Juan Rodrigues. Rodrigues was a Portuguese/African sailor from Santo Domingo who set up a trading post in New Amsterdam in 1613 for the valuable trade of beaver pelts. (New Amsterdam later became New York after the Dutch lost their colony to the British in 1664).
In fact, Juan Rodrigues set up his trading post before the early Dutch settlers in New York arrived.
The first known African slaves arrived as labor for the Dutch West India Company in 1625 shortly after a boatload of 30 Dutch families sponsored by the Dutch West India Company arrived to colonise the land in 1624.
A diorama of the outdoor part of the African Burial Ground National Monument under the shadow of the sankofa symbol.
Early Dutch settlers in New York needed enslaved Africans for the growth of their colony because there was a severe shortage of labor.
For example enslaved Africans cleared a local Native American trail to create Broadway to allow passage of horse drawn wagons in 1658. This road connected New Amsterdam with Manhattan’s second Dutch village, New Haarlem.
The African enslaved also built the wall at Wall St in 1653 under the orders of Governor Peter Stuyvesant to protect the colony of New Amsterdam. The wall stretched from the Hudson to East River. Under the British, this wall was also torn down by the African enslaved in 1699 to accommodate the growing colony.
In 1711 there was a market on Wall Street to hire out enslaved men as day labourers. For example, in the early 1800’s enslaved labor worked for a $1 a day to build the city’s pipe system. The money went to the enslaved men’s owners.
How’s this for a new slogan? Wall Street: Oppressing since 1653 & Profiting of the labor of others since 1711.
You can see the location of Broadway and Wall Street to the lower left of this map and the New York African Burial Ground on the upper right hand corner
Slavery in New Amsterdam
The West India Company and Stuyvesant worked to promote the production of sugar cane which was a slave-intensive process. New York City became a major center for the North American slave trade.
For example, from 1711-1762 the city’s official slave market was located on a pier at Wall Street and the East River. The official slave market known as the Meal Market had several unofficial competitors as well. Slaves were sold or rented on a daily or weekly basis at these markets.
By the time New Amsterdam becomes New York, 15% of the population n NYC 1664 were Africans.
Slavery in New Amsterdam was regulated by the Dutch West India Company. They could own property, be baptised and marry.
Under the Dutch, enslaved Africans even had hope of getting freedom eventually. For example, slaves often oversaw the work of Dutch absentee farmers which gave them a certain amount of freedom.
The Dutch settlers of New York in 1644 even gave conditional freedom to 11 slaves and gave them 100 acres of farmland in the part of Manhattan now between Canal Street and 34th street. These freed Africans still had to pay the West India Company in crops and livestock. Moreover, although the former slaves and their wives were freed, their children were kept as slaves. The freed slave parents were able to buy back their kids eventually.
And, bonus! The farms of the former enslaved provided a buffer against any Native American attacks on New Amsterdam itself.
Slavery in New York Colony
In NYC 1664 was the year that these limited rights were stripped away when England took over the colony and New Amsterdam becomes New York.
Slavery in NYC (1664 Through the American Revolution)
The English rescinded the tight of free blacks to own land in Manhattan. Africans made up about 20% of the colonial population by the mid 18th century.
Did you know? Manhattan was second only to Charleston, South Carolina for its number of slaves.
There was a supposed slave insurrection in 1741. Historians aren’t entirely sure what happened. The story is that poor whites and slaves joined forces to revolt and to kill all the white men. There were rewards offered for testimony which lead to mass hysteria. So many enslaved men were jailed there was no room in the jails to hold more. Eventually, 31 blacks and four whites were executed (conveniently near the African Burial Ground so you know where the blacks bodies went).
A reward offered for runaway slaves on display at the African Burial Ground New York
During the American Revolution, the British occupied New York as George Washington and his forces fled south. The British were in charge of Manhattan from 1775-1783 and recruited African (and African Americans) to their side by promising them freedom. When the British left in 1783, they took their African soldiers with them.
The Economy in Colonial New York
So slavery was integral to the economy in colonial New York. The enslaved not only worked in the farms, but also built the infrastructure of the city as the first municipal work force. Skilled enslaved labor worked as everything from butchers, bakers and candle stick makers (as the old nursery rhyme goes).
And, it wasn’t just the men. Enslaved women worked in their owners’ homes doing domestic chores and taking care of their owner’s children.
Enslaved children were made to work from the age of 5 or 6. Many enslaved children died in early childhood. Nearly half the people buried at the African Burial Ground New York City were under the age of 16, with the majority of those under the age of 2.
Unlike in the Southern states, slave owners in New York were not interested in breeding Africans. Infants, therefore, were a just a burden on their mothers times. Enslaved mothers were expected to carry out all their duties irrespective of whether they had just had a baby. When you consider how overworked and nutritionally deprived the mothers were, it is not surprising that so many babies died!
Slavery in Post-Colonial New York
The first New York Constitution created in 1777 ignores the issue of slavery and thereby allows it to continue.
In 1785 the New York Manumission Society organises with the aim of having slavery abolished in New York,
Eventually, New York passes a gradual emancipation act stating that children born after July 4, 1799 to enslaved women were no longer born into slavery. Slavery was abolished in New York in 1827 in its totality. After slavery was abolished, Africans in New York still faced discrimination and injustice.
African Burial Ground Facts
The African Burial Ground eventually got so crowded the coffins were piled 4 deep in the site!
It covered approximately 6 acres and held the remains of an estimated of 15-20,000 people dating from 1630s to 1795.
Despite the huge number of people buried at the African Burial Ground, these burials were not a mass grave. Most of the deceased had coffins and some were in clusters indicating families buried together.
Only about 10 percent of the burials happened without coffins and it’s surmised these burials happened during and after the American Revolution.
There were strict rules on what was allowed at African burials. For example, no more than 12 mourners were permitted at a procession or at the graveside. A 1722 rule bans burials at night.
Over 40% of the people buried at the African Burial Ground were children under the age of two.
Research on the human remains found at the New York African Burial Ground showed how short and brutal the lives of the enslaved were. The bodies showed the effects of a limited diet and back breaking manual labor.
African Burial Ground National Monument
There is an outdoor memorial at the African Burial Ground Monument which is in three parts – The Circle of the Diaspora, the Ancestral Libation Chamber, and the Ancestral Reinterment Ground.
The Circle of the Diaspora
The Circle of the Diaspora is an homage to the many areas and cultures in Africa from where the enslaved originated before they were dispersed to captivity in the New World. The slave trade occurred in many parts of Africa including what is now Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, Mozambique and Madagascar. In fact, slave owners preferred women and children straight from Africa because they were thought to be more easily controlled.
African Burial Ground symbols are engraved on the on the perimeter wall of the circle such as the sankofa (a heart shaped symbol which appears throughout the African Burial Ground Monument.
Fun Fact! The sankofa is a West African symbol used to mean that you should learn from the past to prepare for the future.
African Burial Ground symbols carved on the perimeter wall from the areas in Africa where the enslaved originated.
Ancestral Libation Chamber
The Ancestral Libation Chamber is made from green African granite and shaped like a ship’s hold reminiscent of the slave ships that brought the enslaved to the New World. The most popular of the African Burial Ground symbols, the sankofa, is engraved the outside. The chamber is 24 feet high and represents the soaring African spirit of the deceased.
The ancestral chamber at the African Burial Ground NYC
The Ancestral Reinterment Ground
There were 419 bodies removed from the African Burial Ground NYC before the excavation of the site was stopped in 1992 by mass protests at the disturbance of sacred ground. .
In 2003, the human remains found at the NY African Burial Ground were reburied in hand-carved Mahogany coffins made in Ghana and lined in Kente cloth. In the intervening years, the archoeological trove was studied by researchers at Howard University in Washington D.C..
The coffins were placed in 7 crypts under 7 burial mounds and guarded by 7 trees.
African Burial Ground Museum
The African Burial Ground Museum is small but informative (perfect for an introduction to this period in history for children!).
For example, there is a copy of the certificate granting conditional freedom in 1644 by the Dutch West India Company to Pieter San Tome, one of the earliest slaves brought to New Amsterdam. Pieter San Tome was one of the 11 formerly enslaved who were given buffer farms for themselves north of New Amsterdam.
Here you can see the lands given to the 11 freed slaves in relation to the African Burial Ground Manhattan which was itself a far outpost of New Amsterdam
The short, clear exhibits outlines the progression of slavery in New Amsterdam and slavery in the New York Colony. It also discusses the African American experience after slavery abolished in New York, including its place in the Underground Railroad which helped the enslaved in the Southern USA flee for freedom.
The Visitor center has a terrific bookstore on the experience of slavery in the United States as well as the ongoing struggle for Civil Rights for all Americans.
Visiting The African Burial Ground National Monument
There are free tours of the African Burial Ground Monument but it’s just as easy to visit independently. Admission is free to the NYC African Burial Ground.
There are two parts to the African Burial Ground National Monument – the outdoor memorial to African Burial Ground Manhattan and an indoor African Burial Ground Museum.
Remember! The inside tour of the African Burial Ground Monument is in a federal building and so you will need to pass through security checks to enter.
A map showing how the NY African Burial Ground relates to the area where it is now located
The African Burial Ground museum and visitor center is around the corner from the New York African Burial Ground. The visitor center is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10-4. The African Burial Ground museum is closed for Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
Interested in learning more About the African-American experience in New York City? Check out these tour options!
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Why You Need To Visit The African Burial Ground New York City (+ Learn About Slavery’s Importance to the Economy of Colonial New York)
The African Burial Ground National Monument is one of the most important black history sites in New York City, and one you should really visit (also with the kids) to learn the history behind this place. Discovered only in 1991, it was a burial site for both free and enslaved slaves, and visiting will move you. Check out why you need to visit the African Burial Ground, NYC.
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Among the old city Philadelphia restaurants, City Tavern Philadelphia stands out not only for being the oldest tavern in Philly but for Chef Walter Staib’s recipes which pay homage to colonial-era cooking. Established in 1773, when Philadelphia was the pre-eminent city in colonial America, the City Tavern was the haunt of everyone that mattered in that day and age. When you are visiting the historical aspects of old city Philadelphia, such as the Museum of the American Revolution or the Liberty Bell, visiting the City Tavern is a perfect way to round out your introduction to 18th century Philadelphia. Although the food at the City Tavern Philadelphia is inspired by 18th century colonial fare, the City Tavern’s menu is diverse and suited for people with dietary restrictions as well as children.
A City Tavern Philadelphia PA sign is proud to announce that it was around before the American Revolution.
About City Tavern Philadelphia
The city Tavern Philadelphia is the oldest tavern in Philadelphia. Lots of famous names you know from history class ate, drank and stayed here, such as George Washington, John Adams and Paul Revere.
City Tavern History
The City Tavern was built as an elegant establishment by the great and (possibly) good of Philadelphia’s citizens. Meant to convey that Philadelphia was the top city in Colonial America, the City Tavern Philly had a bar, a coffee room, 2 kitchens, two dining rooms, meeting rooms, a ballroom and lodging..
During the years before the American Revolution, the City Tavern became a hub for the most eminent of the colonists where they could discuss the ongoing issues with Britain. For example, during the First Continental Congress, George Washington stayed in lodging at the City Tavern.
City Tavern Philadelphia: Great Food With a Side of Colonial American History
When Philadelphia was occupied by the British during the American Revolution, prisoners of war were housed at the City Tavern.
Fun Fact! The country’s first Fourth of July celebration was held at the City Tavern in 1777 by the Continental Congress.
After the American Revolution, the Founding Fathers congregated at the City Tavern when they met for the Constitutional Convention.
The tankards remind you that you are in one of old city Philadelphia’s restaurants.
After this heyday in the 18th century, the City Tavern lost its allure to newly formed hotels in Philadelphia. It was demolished in 1854.
City Tavern Philadelphia History – A New Beginning
Saved by the National Park Service!
In 1975 the National Park Service rebuilt the City Tavern faithfully copying the original. It was open in time for America’s bicentennial celebrations in 1976.
As one of the historic taverns in Philadelphia, the City Tavern restaurant and bar were on the ground floor with traveller’s accommodation on the floors above.
Enter Chef Walter Staib. Chef Walter wins congressional approval to be the operator of the City Tavern Philadelphia in 1994. An Emmy Award winning TV presenter (for A Taste of History), chef and culinary historian, who better to oversee the oldest tavern in Philadelphia?
Chef Staib has also written 6 cookbooks, including The City Tavern cookbook and A Taste of History cookbook.
A selfie with Chef Walter Staib who was at the restaurant talking to reporters from CNN.
As if he is not busy enough, Chef Staib is at the restaurant often overseeing the kitchen which is how I got to meet him!
The City Tavern Menu
When we went for lunch my kids didn’t know why the City Tavern menu said “Mid-Day Fare”. Although the words on the City Tavern lunch menu, may have been old world English, the food on offer was surprisingly diverse.
There was something for everyone, including vegetarians and gluten-free options. When I first mentioned trying a colonial restaurant in Philadelphia, I was met with skepticism by my family. My husband had nearly convinced the kids to go to JJ Bootlegger’s, another one of the old city Philadelphia restaurants nearby, primarily because he wanted to try moonshine and the kids wanted tacos. I got to enjoy the feeling of smugness when we all decided we like the City Tavern in the end!
Walter Staib Recipes
Chef Staib has created a menu inspired by 18th century colonial cuisine. Yes, it’s farm to table but that would have totally been an authentic colonial experience. The wait staff are also in full colonial gear adding to the time warp feeling of the place.
The old City Tavern Philadelphia serves you free bed at the table that is true to colonial recipes.
His original source material is the writings from Colonial America. For example, the sweet potato and pecan biscuits above were supposedly Thomas Jefferson’s favourite.
Interestingly the Sally Lunn bread (middle) was based on the Sally Lunn bread first found in the spa town of Bath, England in 1780. They were nowhere as decadently sugary as the Sally Lunn biscuits we tried in Bath. Apparently this type of Sally Lunn bread was served with clotted cream sort of like scones are served today for afternoon tea.
The third of the bread trio was called Anadama Bread – cornmeal sweetened with molasses. I have to say I preferred cornbread like we have it now. Overall, colonial bread was not as sweet as today’s bread.
The folklore of Anadama bread seems to indicate an irate husband who said of his wife “Anna damn ‘er”. In one version, it was on a gravestone expressing a husband’s frustration that Anna was no longer around to make his favourite bread. In another version, a fisherman had a wife (Anna obvs) who would make him nothing but cornmeal and molasses.
City Tavern Lunch Menu
I was totally tempted by the West Indies Pepper Pot Soup on the City Tavern lunch menu but it was such a brutally hot day that I decided I couldn’t cope with habanero pepper! The corn chowder I chose instead was excellent – creamy with chunks of potato.
The City Tavern Menu has the most delicious corn chowder I have ever tasted.
Before you think the pepper pot soup couldn’t possibly be Colonial fare, Chef Walter’s The City Tavern Cookbook explains that it is! Sadly it is related to the story of slavery and the triangular trade with the West Indies. Ships from the Caribbean would bring spices and slaves to Philadelphia so colonists were familiar with these flavours.
In fact, during the long brutal winter at Valley Forge, George Washington had his cook make this soup to feed the starving troops. Presumably the numbness of their tongues from the habanero would take their minds of their frozen numb shoeless feet.
You can find the pepper pot soup recipe in the City Tavern cookbook. Can you believe that the pepper pot recipe that is more than 300 years old?!
Chef Staib has released the City Tavern Cookbook with the Walter Staib recipes he uses at the restaurant.
I also scoffed at the fried tofu entree because it couldn’t possibly be colonial era food. According to the City Tavern lunch menu, however, Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter in 1770 on how to make tofu!
My husband was thrilled with the choice of beers (a compensation for not getting his moonshine).. We tried a sampler of the four different choices named after the Founding Father whose recipe was used – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton. He preferred the dark chocolatey taste of George Washington’s Porter while I preferred the lighter taste of Alexander Hamilton’s Ale.
Fun Fact! The recipe for George Washington’s porter is on file with the New York Public Library.
The City Tavern Philadelphia menu offered up a flight of beers that were created to the recipes of four of the Founding Fathers.
You can buy Founding Father beer to take away too. Relive your City Tavern Philly experience in the comfort of your own home!
The City Tavern Philly sells founding father beer!
Kids Menu at City Tavern Philly
There’s a kid’s version of the City Tavern Philadelphia menu, too. The closest you get to colonial food is probably the Turkey Pot Pie. We were told the cheese and meat dish is a lot like lasagna. My unadventurous kids went for chicken strips and fish and chips.
Chef Staib has created a new version of ‘shrub’ a colonial drink made with berries.
My kids were more daring on their drinks choices though and both ordered a raspberry ‘shrub’. Colonial-era shrub was a fruit juice vinegar sweetened with sugar (and occasionally spiked with alcohol like rum). The shrub my kids had was made with club soda and they liked it!
Visiting City Tavern Philadelphia PA
The City Tavern Philadelphia is a popular restaurant and reservations are encouraged especially on the weekends and evenings. You can get City Tavern coupons at the nearby Visitors’ Center in Philadelphia.
The City Tavern is located at 138 S. 2nd Street in Philadelphia. It is open most days for lunch starting at 11:30 and dinner from 3 pm (harkening back to an older time when people ate earlier so that they could get home during daylight).
City Tavern Philadelphia: Great Food With a Side of Colonial American History
It’s right across the street from Welcome Park (which used to be the site of the city home of the Penn family, founders of Pennsylvania). It is also conveniently near other historic attractions in Philadelphia, such as the Museum of the American Revolution and the Liberty Bell.
We aren’t collectibles type of people – there’s so much clutter in our lives that I don’t feel the need actively to add clutter to our belongings. We have , however, created a collection of Swarovski crystal snowflake ornaments for each of our children. The idea was suggested to us by a Polish friend before our children were born. Her family collects the Swarovski annual edition ornament every year for their children so that they will have a set of Swarovski crystal snowflakes for their own Christmas tree when they grow up. Since I grew up with an annual visit to the Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center, the Swarovski annual snowflake ornament is also a way to bring a big of New York Christmas sparkle to our London home.
The Christmas tree Rockefeller center with the Swarovski crystal topper
Not going to be in New York City to visit the Rockefeller Center tree? Swarovski crystal adorns other Christmas trees around the world including major cities such as Paris, Sydney, Buenos Aires and Toronto and international airports like Heathrow Airport.
In Manhattan, here’s been a Rockefeller Center tree since 1931 and Swarovski have provided the crystal star since 2004.
Rockefeller center ice skating in front of the Christmas tree Rockefeller Center
Featuring 25,000 Swarovski crystals, this Rockefeller Christmas tree topper is 9.5 feet in diameter and weighs 600 pounds.
Fun Fact! Despite all this bling, thanks to the use of LED lights the star uses less than the energy of a regular 100 watt bulb.
Sort of like being a millionaires have made for billionaires, there is a new Swarovski crystal tree topper being unveiled for the Christmas tree in Rockefeller center in 2018. Why have mere thousands when you can have millions??
The Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center is getting a new star designed by Polish-American starchitect, Daniel Liebeskind.
The new and improved Rockefeller Christmas tree star will have 3 million Swarovski crystals. It will weigh 90 pounds and reminds me of a medieval torture instrument. There’s a round ball which will be the source of light and 70 spiky light bulbs with the millions of crystals on it.
As per usual, there will be a Swarovski crystal ornaments pop-up store selling the usual Swarovski crystal Christmas ornaments including the .Swarovski annual edition ornament.
Swarovski crystal ornaments come in all shapes and sizes like this crystal poinsettia
Our Swarovski Crystal Christmas
We now have 12 of the Swarovski crystal Christmas ornaments – one Swarovski snowflake for every year of their life and an extra one for when they were in utero.
I have put them on a Scandinavian-inspired wooden Christmas tree so that they can show off their crystal sparkle to full effect.
The Swarovski snowflake ornaments every year are limited edition and comes with the year etched on a silver tag. They sell out every year but you can find them on resale from previous years on sites like Amazon.
One year, I forgot to get the Swarovski annual snowflake ornament until late in December and had quite the hunt trying to find it. I have since learned my lesson and now get the Swarovski annual ornament early in December!
The Swarovski snowflake ornament comes on a white ribbon with a silver tag indicating the year of issue.
If I were to be honest, my daughter adores her Swarovski snowflakes and looks forward to receiving one every year. My son is less enthusiastic about his Swarovski snowflake ornament. He generally mutters “pretty” and then returns to his Lego or whatever.
Our Swarovski crystal snowflakes are always a highlight when we bring out the Christmas ornaments every year.
Maybe he (or his partner) will be more appreciative of them when he is older. The thing about twins though is that he simply would have had to have a similar collection – twins have a finely honed sense of injustice and it would not have done only to have one set of ornaments just for my daughter. The cost of therapy for my son would have been far more than just simply getting him his own set!
Swarovski Christmas Ornaments History
The Swarovski annual edition ornaments have been issued in their current form since 1991. Swarovski in the USA issued Christmas ornaments in the 1980’s, they weren’t available worldwide. Starting in 1991, Swarovski started issuing Christmas star ornaments for a few years. These are highly collectible and can fetch up to $1500 each.
The Swarovski crystal snowflakes came out in 1992. In 1999, the crystal snowflakes were modernised so that it was less clear whether it was a star or a snowflake. By 2011, the Swarovski annual edition ornaments were regularised across the world. Irrespective of where they are sold, they come in a blue triangular box with a certificate of authenticity and are held by a white ribbon.
Is this a Christmas star or a snowflake to you? Swarovski deliberately muddied the waters on that question!
It’s cool to see what the Swarovski annual edition ornament is every year. We felt the Swarovski annual ornament 2017 was relatively plain compared to other years.
In other years, the Swarovski annual edition crystal snowflake ornament has been quite elaborate with crystal cut-outs or three-dimensional features. You can see the full collection since 1991 on the Swarovski website. Every year though our Swarovski crystal snowflakes never fail to please!
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The Swarovski annual edition ornament is a Christmas tradition in our home
The giant Rockefeller Christmas tree and Rockefeller Center ice skating are must-do Christmas cavities in NYC
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So many bad MAD jokes that I don’t even where to start. MAD Museum (also known as the Museum of Arts and Design) in New York City is a small and quirky museum located on the west side of Manhattan. After a morning spent wandering around the area, my children and I stopped by MAD to check out the Judith Leiber exhibit featuring dozens of her bejewelled evening bags and minaudieres.
An exhibit of Judith Leiber bags at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City
Judith Leiber is the name to know in celebrity evening bags. She has a colorful international history herself. Born to a wealthy Jewish Hungarian family, she studied at Kings College London, worked at a prestigious Hungarian handbag company, survived the Nazi occupation of Hungary during World War II and married an American soldier.
After the war, the couple moved to New York. Judith first worked with a New York handbag designer but then started her own company in 1963. Of course, it was only natural that MAD would highlight this hometown immigrant hero of the decorative arts with a special exhibition.
The Museum of Arts and Design
If you are in Columbus Circle, you really can’t miss the 10 story gleaming Museum of Arts and Design. The building shimmers like a vertical lake thanks to a $90 million tile and glass facelift to the modernist building that was previously at the location.
The Museum of Arts and Design at Columbus Circle
Whats On at MAD Museum
Although the museum was founded in 1958, the MAD Museum only got its swanky new digs in 2008. The museum had acquired thousands of pieces of art, craft and design from the 1950’s onwards.
Yet, only 10% of the museum’s permanent collection is on display at any given time. The other floors are devoted to assorted things like artists’ spaces, an auditorium, and an education centre.
Bookending the building, on the bottom floor there is a very cool gift store and on the top floor, Robert the restaurant has great views of Central Park. I couldn’t visit Robert the Restaurant without thinking of Robert The Doll.
One of the many beautiful craft and design items available for purchase at the gift store.
Special Exhibits at MAD Museum
So whether you enjoy this museum really is dependent on what the special exhibitions on display happen to be at the time of your visit.
For example, the Judith Leiber exhibit showcasing her crystal-encrusted evening bags was beautiful and interesting to both my daughter and myself. My son’s eyes glassed over like he was contemplating throwing himself into Columbus Circle traffic as a more appealing alternative. Each of the floors though are small and so we were able to finish ogling over the gorgeous Leiber handbags before he got too desperate.
The MAD Museum in New York City put on an exhibit of Judith Leiber handbags.
Previous temporary exhibits have been Crochet Coral Reef (a crochet project with yarn and garbage that highlights marine life issues); Richard Estes: Painting New York City (photorealism); and fashion After Fashion (an exhibit on the end of times for the fashion industry). So, as you can tell, it’s a mixed bag catering to many different interests.
The Judith Leiber Exhibition
We went to the Judith Leiber exhibition on her evening bags which was fantastic!!! Well, for my daughter and me. My son’s reaction was less enthusiastic. He does not appreciate the beauty of jewel-like evening bags.
Judith Leiber Bags
Judith Leiber is a firm celebrity favourite for evening bags. These little bags can run into thousands of dollars and have achieved collector-status similar to Faberge eggs. There’s a lady in New Orleans who has almost 300 Lieber bags.
A Mondrian inspired Judith Leiber handbag
Leiber became a household name when she designed the handbag carried by First Lady Mamie Eisenhower at President Eisenhower’s inauguration ball. Leiber has since made evening bags for several first ladies, including a minaudière of Socks the White House Cat for Hilary Clinton.
Judith Leiber has designed thousands of bags for her celebrity clients.
If you want to read more about Judith Leiber, Jeffrey Susan has written her biography, No Mere Bagatelles.
I loved that MAD gave an introduction that explained the rise of handbags as a fashion accessory to my accessory-and-sparkle-mad daughter.
Until the 18th century, women had pockets in their outfits that they could carry stuff. Imagine all the stuff that you could stick inside one of those Elizabethan skirts. With the rise of a more streamlined silhouette for women’s clothes, women started carrying a reticule (a pouch on a cord).
Women, of course, had to carry a lot of stuff for themselves (lipstick, money etc) as well as stuff in their role as caretakers. As a mother, I often felt like a packhorse with my ginormous diaper bag with essentials for two babies.
Even now, I am the one who carries the water bottles, the band-aids, hand sanitiser and everything else the kids need. Their pockets are reserved for important junk they pick up along the way, like interesting sticks and stones.
Judith Leiber’s Creations As Decorative Art
Judith Leiber’s creations are truly a cross between art and accessory – similar to many of the items we saw at the Swarovski museum in Austria. You can see why many Leiber pieces have become collector’s items.
The designer is most famous for her minaudieres (metal evening bags encrusted with jewels and precious metals) which she started making in 1967. The minaudière started off as a way for her to repair a damaged handbag but then came into a life of their own.
Judith Leiber like to use animal motifs in her work.
Judith Leiber has designed more than 3500 bags, all of them handcrafted and unique over her 35+ years designing under her own name. Judith designed her last bag, The Peacock, in 2004.
The Peacock was Judith Leiber’s last design.
Visiting MAD Museum
The Museum of Arts and Design is a small but cool museum. You’d be MAD to miss it. Sorry, couldn’t resist. It’s right near Columbus Circle, the shops at Coumbus Circle and the 57th west entrance to Central Park.
Definitely check out future exhibits at MAD before you visit to make sure that you want to see what’s on. The entrance price of $16 for adults is pretty steep if you don’t like the rotating exhibits. Luckily, children 18 years and under are free. MAD is also free for everyone on Thursday nights.
MAD is located at 2 Columbus Circle. Like many museums in New York City, MAD is closed on Mondays.
Where To Stay
We have stayed near the Mad Museum at The Hudson Hotel, a charming boutique hotel just behind Columbus Circle. The subway at Columbus Circle is a major hub so there are many transportation options available.
Nearby we have stayed at Row NYC which is closer to Times Square. It’s small but great location. The Westin New York is also closer to Times Square and has larger rooms. If you are looking for suite apartments, we can recommend the newly renovated The Benjamin which is a short walk across to the East Side.
If you chose not to eat at Robert, we recommend eating at Landmarc, a French and Italian bistro by Chef Marc Murphy at the Time Warner Center next door. My kids were thrilled that there was cotton candy as a dessert option at Landmarc. Alternatively we have also gotten freshly-made deli sandwiches at eaten in Central Park nearby.
Jean-Georges Vongrichten’s flagship restaurant Jean-Georges is across the street at 1 Central Park West. They do have a reasonable lunch menu if you would like to try a 3 star Michelin restaurant in New York. For my kids, though the decision was a no-brainer when cotton candy was involved.
Although the Flatiron Building has always been a famous landmark in New York City, the area now known as NoMad has really only been a trendy area in the last few years. With the clean up of Madison Square Park and the Flatiron district going residential, the area has become very family-friendly. Although all these things below are fun, my children absolutely adored the National Mathematics Museum, aka MoMath (much to my surprise). Younger and trendier than other more touristy areas of Manhattan, the neighbourhood is still good with kids (thanks to its gentrification over the last few years).
Things to do with kids in the NoMad neighbourhood and the Flatiron District in Manhattan
The NoMad Neighbourhood and the Flatiron District NYC
The NoMad neighbourhood and the Flatiron district are basically two neighbourhoods divided by Madison Square Park. NoMad is to the north of the park, and Flatiron to the south.
With the arrival of the trendy Ace Hotel and NoMad Hotel, real estate professionals dubbed the area north of Madison Square Park “NoMad” since 1999. In New York city, as my friend Andrew said about NoLiTa (North of Little Italy), you know a neighbourhood has arrived when property people give it a nickname. A trendy neighbourhood emerged from the gritty urban landscape of pawn shops and bodegas.
Madison Square Park
Named after the fourth US President, James Madison, Madison Square Park was established in 1847. The park is most famous though for giving its name to a sporting and concert arena, Madison Square Garden.
In the late 19th century, many wealthy New York families had mansions in the area, including the Roosevelt family and the Jerome family (a Jerome daughter was the mother of Winston Churchill).
In the 20th century, Madison Square Park had a fairly grim phase before the whole area got cleaned up at the turn of 21st century.
Flatiron District NYC
The Flatiron district is named after the Flatiron building, a triangular shaped building which was an architectural marvel built in 1902. It’s one of the most photographed buildings in the world and also appeared in numerous movies, like Spider-Man and Godzilla.
The Flatiron building is one of the most photographed buildings in the world. So, of course, I took a photo.
The Flatiron district itself was a pretty commercial area with lots of clothes and toy manufacturers alongside artists attracted by cheap rents. Now it’s known as Silicon Alley because of the number of technology companies in the area. It’s also become very residential with young professionals and families.
Places To Visit
Museum of Mathematics (11 E 26th Street) is a fabulous little museum for children. My kids are not fans of math at school but I could not get them out of this museum. Ironically, I met with some resistance when I announced we were going to a Maths Museum. A museum and math combination seemed a bridge too far as far as my kids were concerned. They were pleasantly surprised at how much fun it was though!
The MoMath museum fronts onto Madison Square Park
There are two floors which introduces maths concepts that many kids don’t even know are mathematics. For example, kids think they are playing but they are really learning about patterns, symmetry, cryptography and the like. Computer generated exhibits like the pattern paints or the dynamic wall show kids in a fun way wave phenomena or symmetry.
Although the top floor is for younger children, my children enjoyed both floors. The bottom floor has a lot of logic games which kept them captivated. In addition to the games, you also have a small cafe and even more activities such as the Tessellation Station where kids use magnets to make patterns.
Madison Square Park is a small green space located between Fifth Avenue and 6th Avenue from 23rd to 26th streets. It’s got a playground and public art spread out amongst the landscaping. My kids also like to watch the dogs in the dog run.
Little Miss-Butter-Wouldn’t-Melt gently shoving her brother off the hammock installation at Madison Square Park. Totally caught in the act on film.
Books of Wonder (18 W 18th Street (between 5th and 6th)) is the largest American children’s book store. Nora Ephron, director and writer, used the store as the inspiration for the children’s book store in the 1998 movie You’ve Got Mail.
The NYC mural in the story time space at Books of Wonder
The store is always running events for kids of all ages. Frankly, it’s also a great place to hang out in air conditioned comfort in the dog days of summer or escape the bitter chill of winter. I have never been able to leave this bookstore without buying something!
Kid-Friendly Restaurants in Flatiron District NYC:
Eataly (200 Fifth Avenue) has delicious paninis and gelato either to eat in or to go.
Big Daddy’s (239 Park Ave S (btwn E 19th & 20th St.)) is a retro-style diner where you can get the usual comfort foods such as burgers, mac & cheese and milkshakes.
Shake Shack (11 Madison Ave (at E 23rd St)) is a safe bet if your kids are craving a burger.
We ate at this branch of Rosa Mexicano ((9 E 18th St (btwn 5th Ave. & Broadway)) the night before the twins were born. Not that I’m saying that this place brings on childbirth or anything but maybe that explains our kids fascination with Mexican food??
I prefer Burger & Lobster (39 W 19th St (btwn 5th & 6th Ave)) to Shake Shack. Burgers for the kids and lobster for me!
Maybe your family really can’t agree on where or what to eat (it’s been known to happen to us!). In that case, just go to Whole Foods on 4 Union Square so everyone can just pick something for themselves from the deli counters. Sushi for one person, a sandwich for another person, and life can continue without further drama.
Family-friendly things to do, where to eat and where to stay in the NoMad neighbourhood and the Flatiron District of New York City
Accommodation near NoMad
You have several good choices for staying in the area if you are looking for cool and contemporary hotels. The stuffy more traditional type hotels tend to be further uptown.
We love the Ace Hoteland hang out with the hipsters in its lobby even when we are not staying at the hotel. The downstairs Ace Hotel lobby has large tables, sofas and great WiFi. Throw in the hipper than hip coffee shop and you’ve got a perfect place to unwind after a hard day of sightseeing.
By the way, there’s an old-fashioned photo booth which throws out the coolest vintage-style photo strips. My daughter is a big fan of the photo booth!
Colorful flowers outside the Ace Hotel cafe
The NoMad Hotel attracts a slightly slicker but still young and attractive crowd. My favourite part of the NoMad Hotel is it’s library cafe where you can order a light meal in a beautiful setting. The restaurant itself was a bit too grand for my children.
I have not stayed atThe New York Edition but my occasional contributor, Dianna, has stayed at the hotel this year. It’s the usual trendiness with compact rooms. The bar is full of beautiful people and difficult to get into (even if you stay at the hotel). It reminded me of the way original Whiskey Blue bar used to be at the midtown W hotel way back in the day. I won’t even give a year because it just makes me feel old but it was definitely pre-children.
Alternatively, you can go to the original trendy hotel which rocked the neighbourhood when it opened in what seems another era (2006). The Gramercy Park Hotel is within easy walking distance of this area. My daughter loves its full on dashing red glamour as well as the fact that you can get access to Gramercy Park (the gated residents-only park). The Bar downstairs has great comfy seats and even better people-watching.
If you are wondering why I am on about the public spaces are in these hotels, its because the rooms are fairly similar for what you get — cool and quirky and small. Definitely small square footage for the amount of money you pay. You can get a double double room with children (that accommodates four) or a suite that has a separate sofa bed.
The biggest differences are in their public spaces. And, I’m a fan of their bars for meeting up with old friends. When you are travelling with kids in tow, you can set them up with an iPad on a comfy couch while you have a drink with friends nearby. If I have been hanging out in the Lego Store all afternoon, it ain’t no surprise that mama needs a stiff drink and adult conversation!
I always wondered how the Easter egg hunt became an American tradition and what the Easter Bunny has to do with eggs. Was he just a confused rabbit with a secret chocolate addiction? Once again, this American ritual turns out to be a hodge podge of immigrant customs.
According to tradition, the Easter Egg hunt started with the German immigrants to Pennsylvania in the 18th century. These immigrants had a tradition of an egg-laying hare for which children would make nests as an act of kindness. With the passage of time, the hare became the Easter Bunny, the eggs became chocolate and the nests became baskets. Proving once again, Americans firmly believe there is no Old World tradition that can not become commercialised.
How the Easter Egg Hunt Become An American Tradition
In addition, to Easter Egg hunts you also had Easter Egg Rolls. The U.S. White House still has its annual Easter Egg Roll which was started by President Rutherford B. Hayes in the mid-19th Century.
The White House Egg Roll event is so popular there is a lottery to award entry tickets. Egg rolling, however, has faded from popularity in the rest of the country.
We were in Pennsylvania this weekend for one of the traditional Easter Egg Hunts. Last year, a neighbouring town had to cancel its Easter Egg Hunt because parents were getting too vicious trying to hog chocolate eggs for their own kids. The Easter egg hunt we attended had a firm 6 egg policy for children. This prevented older kids from running down toddlers in the search for candy as well as parental competitiveness.
If you are in the USA around Easter, definitely try an Easter Egg Hunt with your family. They are locally run by organisations in every town. The Easter Egg Hunt we attended was at a local farm. It’s a charming tradition for kids (so long as the adults behave!).
A cherry orchard filled with Easter Eggs for the kids to find.
It was a beautiful day for an Easter Egg Hunt.
My kids joined in the Easter Egg Hunt with their younger cousins.
When Easter chocolate isn’t enough – Deep fried Oreos!