Old School Beer Keg, Graffiti and Other Objects That Define NYC On Display At New-York Historical Society

August 29, 2014 | Sophie Weiner

A new exhibition at the New-York Historical Society will feature artifacts from the city yesteryears, celebrating New York Times writer Sam Roberts’ new book A History Of New York In 101 Objects. The selection of items is diverse, covering hundreds of years and many different cultures.

Among them are the water keg with which Governor DeWitt Clinton marked the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825; the draft wheel used during the 1863 draft riots, the largest civil uprising in American history; the sterling silver throttle that powered the inaugural trip of the New York City subway in 1904; and a jar of dust collected by N-YHS curators at Ground Zero following the 9/11 attacks. Less well-known selections include a seventeenth-century English–Low Dutch dictionary revealing linguistic traditions that persist to the present; a section of the transatlantic cable that first facilitated the intercontinental exchange of telegraphs in 1858; or a pair of shoes belonging to a young victim of the 1904 General Slocum steamboat tragedy, which until 9/11 was the city’s worst disaster.

Some of the less serious objects on display include “bubblegum pink Spaldeen ball, a staple of urban street games. The bagel, an unquestionably New York City food. Graffiti. The (now-extinct) subway token. The black-and-white cookie, which Roberts believes “democratically says New York,” because of its popularity at subway bakeries and elite establishments alike.” The show is on view now and will be open through November 30th. “A Brief History of New York: Selections from A History of New York in 101 Objects,” Sam Roberts, Aug 22 – Nov 30, New York Historical Society, Manhattan