The Museum of the City of New York opens “Activist New York”

The Museum of the City of New York examines the history of political activism in NYC.

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  • Activist New York

    Photograph: Courtesy Library of Congress

    Strike Pickets, 1910, Bain News Service photograph

    Activist New York
  • Photograph: Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

    Shackles, 1860s, from "Activist New York" at the Museum of the City of New York

  • Photograph: Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

    Beaker engraved with anti-Jacobite slogans, 1707-08, in "Activist New York" at the Museum of the City of New York

  • Photograph: Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

    Gay Bob doll with box and booklet, 1977, from "Activist New York" at the Museum of the City of New York

  • AIDS was another issue suffering from the mayor’s indifference. The lack of response to the epidemic on both the local and federal levels, however, sparked the creation of such gay-activist organizations as the GMHC and ACT-UP.

Activist New York

Photograph: Courtesy Library of Congress

Strike Pickets, 1910, Bain News Service photograph

OngoingMuseum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Ave between 103rd and 104th Sts (212-534-1672, mcny.org). Daily 10am–6pm. $10, seniors and students $6, children 12 and under free.


In "Activist New York," the Museum of the City of New York looks at 14 different causes that New York City activists have taken up throughout the years. Using historical documents, photos and other artifacts, the museum examines how activism has shaped the city.


RECOMMENDED: Full summer museum exhibit guide


Highlights

Leg irons, 1860s

This exhibit examines 14 causes New Yorkers have taken up throughout history, such as women’s suffrage, labor rights and—as this artifact illustrates—the fight against slavery. Abolitionist Abby Hopper Gibbons brought these shackles to New York from Maryland, where she worked as a nurse during the Civil War. According to her diary, a slave named Sandy Dorsey managed to slip away from his owner and walk to Gibbons’s door with the loose chain tucked into his pant leg. Her servant was able to saw off the anklets, but Dorsey was eventually returned to his master. Gibbons thought that displaying the artifact would stir Northerners to action regarding the brutality of slavery. Not all Gothamites agreed: Malcontents set fire to her house during the 1863 New York City draft riots.

Beaker engraved with anti-Jacobite verses, 1707–08

Religious persecution was rampant during the city’s earliest years. Catholics especially caught a lot of flak, despite being almost nonexistent in the city until the 19th century (the first parish opened in 1786). “November 5th was Pope’s Day, and there would be a big show of anti-Catholic sentiment, with people marching through the streets and burning effigies,” says Sarah Henry, the museum’s deputy director and chief curator.  This decorative silver cup, forged in France and engraved by New Yorker Joseph Leddel in the early 18th century, depicts the devil, Pope Clement XI and “the Old Pretender,” Charles Edward Stewart, who attempted to claim the throne of England, all marching into Hell.

Gay Bob doll with box, 1977

Created by former ad exec Harvey Rosenberg in 1977,  this 12-inch, anatomically correct figurine—purportedly designed to look like a cross between Robert Redford and Paul Newman—came with a mail-order catalog of additional outfits. It’s one document of the city’s increasingly visible gay and lesbian community in the 1970s. And if there was any question about whether to remove him from the package, the box was designed as a closet, urging the owner to help Bob come out.


Also check out

Peep the intricate details in the Stettheimer Dollhouse, which took socialite Carrie Walter Stettheimer 25 years to create and was still unfinished when she died in 1944. Each of the two-foot-high structure’s 12 rooms is filled with minute touches, but take special note of the art gallery, stocked with 15 original works by Stettheimer’s artist friends, including Marcel Duchamp and George Bellows. When you’re done, flip through The Stettheimer Dollhouse ($19.95) in the museum’s gift shop, which contains images of 12 additional pieces created by Duchamp, Gaston Lachaise, Gela Forster and other notable figures.


Go here afterward

Take up one of the museum’s featured causes, bicycle advocacy, by renting a cruiser at the nearby Heavy Metal Bike Shop (2016 Third Ave between 110th and 111th Sts, 212-410-1144; Mon–Sat 10am–7pm, Sun 11am–5pm; rentals $8 per hour, $30 per day)—and don’t forget to add a helmet and a lock ($5). Pedal over to the Sheep Meadow in Central Park (midpark, enter at Fifth Ave and 66th St), where you can meditate on the positive changes New Yorkers have brought about. In the late ’60s, tens of thousands protested the Vietnam War at a series of “be-ins” held in this area of the park.


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