It all started in 2002 as an apartment window display on Havemeyer Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Since then, Dave Herman has turned a few local objects into a non-profit museum dedicated to relics of the five boroughs. Focusing on displaying local history through a multitudinous collection, the City Reliquary is best described as a mix of your grandparents’ basement and a natural history museum. Brimming with paraphernalia, dioramas, and geological specimens, City Reliquary is a peculiar stop for submerging oneself in New York’s eclectic history.
Taking a grassroots approach to collecting—a refreshing ideology to counter the larger museums’colonizing tendencies—Herman offers stories that can only be told by a local. Plastering every crevice with artifacts, you will find secret doors, buttons to activate dioramas, and a vintage phone playing jazz. You will be entertained for hours trying to find everything! Even the bathroom has displays of locally made toiletries and pennant flags to admire while using the facility. Make sure to look inside the red booth for an homage dedicated to the first belly dancer, Little Egypt, who wowed audiences during the World’s Columbian Exposition of Chicago in 1893. The history of Little Egypt’s escapades and the inevitable introduction of belly dancing in New York is laid out in a timeline on the door. No history lesson is complete without a show from a hip-shaking automaton of the seductress herself. Just push the button! Behind the movie projector screen is another automated diorama of a traditional barbershop manned by another automaton.
Other displays include Statue of Liberty figurines that show the changing aesthetics of kitsch over the last century and a wall dedicated to legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson.
Geological lovers can examine rock and soil samples from each borough with accompanying text of the historical significance of each sample, including several neighborhoods being named after their bedrock, such as Cobble Hill. Soil samples from all five boroughs are sold in the storefront of the museum, so you can take home a piece of New York. Way before it became de rigueur in Manhattan, the City Reliquary also offers exclusively made-in-Brooklyn goods that can be acquired from the storefront, guaranteeing distinct gifts to take home.
Special events occur regularly throughout the year including block parties, screenings, and backyard concerts in the summer. Their annual Son of Booze and Schmooze benefit can help with spring fever by enjoying local libations and friendly foodsters that are at the forefront of the Brooklyn culinary movement. The museum has developed a regular following since the opening of the new space in 2006, including essential volunteers that help keep the doors open from Thursday to Sunday.
370 Metropolitan Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Map Your Way To the Reliquary
Museum Hours: Thurs – Sun 12-6 PM
Gift Shop Hours: Thurs – Sun 12-6 PM
Other days by appointment. To get the most up to date information, please call (718) 782-4842