Ten must-sees at the New York Transit Museum

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  • Photograph: courtesy the New York Transit Museum

    Transit Museum subway station

  • Photograph: courtesy the New York Transit Museum

    Worlds Fair Turnstile

  • Photograph: courtesy the New York Transit Museum

    137th Street Plaque

  • Photograph: courtesy the New York Transit Museum

    Token Booth

Photograph: courtesy the New York Transit Museum

Transit Museum subway station

Transit Museum subway station
The subway stairs that you descend at the museum's entrance aren't a gimmick—the institution itself is housed in a former IND station that was built in 1936. "It was going to be part of the first attempt to build the Second Avenue subway," explains Gabrielle Shubert, the museum's director. "But [the MTA] ran out of money." The museum didn't open until 1976, 30 years after the hub was decommissioned. (It acted as a shuttle from Court Street to the Hoyt--Schermerhorn subway station until 1946.) A small exhibit on the subway's history (featuring vintage subway cars) was displayed during the U.S. bicentennial, and was popular enough to remain on permanent view.

1939 Perey Turnstile Coinpassor
Fare collection has evolved over the years as technology, and fares themselves, have changed. Occasionally, a big event can prompt new portals: During the 1939 World's Fair, special entryways such as this piece were installed because visitors had to pay a fee to enter and exit the fair. "On one side it says five cents, and the other side says ten cents," notes Shubert. (Leaving was cheaper.) The last big overhaul of subway turnstiles occurred in the 1990s with the advent of the MetroCard. "A whole different kind of turnstile was needed, which meant upgrading the electricity," says Shubert. "The stations didn't have adequate energy to run them."
Where to find it:
"Fare Collection," main level, ongoing

137th Street plaque
This piece was part of the IRT, the first subway system built in the city. Its ornate construction—the center is painted celadon green, while the outer edges feature cornucopias filled with fruit, as well as flowers and leaves—was typical of the early 20th century. "The first round of subway stations was influenced by the Beaux Arts style," says Shubert. "It's opulent."
Where to find it: Platform level, ongoing

Light fixture on the admission booth
After you've paid your entrance fee, look up. Above the token booth, you'll find a brass light fixture, which was an original element of this subway station. "It was probably produced in the '30s in this industrial, modern-looking style," says Shubert, who notes that this ornamentation is no longer typically found. But there's a practical reason for that: "With energy-efficiency, all the lightbulbs are incandescent now," she explains.
Where to find it: Museum admissions booth, main level, ongoing.

Sewing machine
This enormous contraption was used from 1985 to 2003 to create money bags, which shuttled cash and tokens from subway stations to the MTA's money operations center. The show offers a glimpse into the MTA's system of collecting, moving and depositing cash. (Those hulking yellow trains that occasionally pass through subway stations? They were once used to transport money instead of trash.) "So many of our transactions now are done with credit cards," notes Shubert. "There's still a lot of cash, most of it in small denominations, but not as much is being used." Where to find it: "Show Me the Money," main level, ongoing.

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