Tedium on the Tracks: A Visit to the New York Transit Museum

Stand Clear of NYC’s Most Boring Depository, Please


Published: Febrary 14, 2008

You have not been to the Transit Museum. This assertion, I should note, required little prophetic insight on my part, though my powers are strong. I know you not, you faceless multitude, yet I know that you have never set foot in the Transit Museum. Don’t lie. It doesn’t suit you.

You have doubtless seen the signs—noncommittal, forgettable heraldry emblazoned between “Sex and the City” advertisements and the ubiquitous placards detailing the outcome of Jerry Orbach’s eyes. I doubt they set your heart a-flutter, spurring your feet toward the tangled passages of Brooklyn, filling your head with sugarplum dreams of steel girders, the extraordinary mystique of transit. I do not condemn your reticence. Who wants to go to a transit

Certainly not I. And yet there I found myself, feet dragging heavily across stone floors, eyes cast down beneath the overwhelming weight of spectacular disinterest. Perhaps I am a hero, throwing my free time in front of a speeding bullet, sacrificing my afternoon so that you won’t have to. Perhaps I was just following orders. Regardless, there I stood, and all the glorious secrets of the past were laid bare to me. Or something like that.

Regrettably, I must report that the Transit Museum is much as you suspect: boring, silly and ultimately a tremendous waste of time. There is no deception in its name: it is exactly what it purports to be. It is not, I’m afraid, a magical land of ethereal whimsy, set about with undulating rivers of chocolate and strange men clad in violet seersucker. It is, alas, a museum of transit, and nothing more.

My experience in the New York Transit Museum can be roughly approximated to the sensation of being stung to death by bees. Upon crossing the threshold, I was immediately overcome with such a feeling of extraordinary malaise that I found myself tempted to turn upon my heel and flee screaming into the river. Yet I trekked on into the vaulted depths of the MTA’s catacombs, its hive of secret knowledge. And such things I learned!

There are, um, paintings in the Transit Museum. And some photographs. Oh, well. It’s something, right? Yet I will concede that many of the paintings are pretty, the photographs at least mildly interesting. The paintings are, obviously, all somehow concerned with the New York subway system, a subject I personally don’t find inordinately fascinating. The photographs were, of all the Museum’s vast riches, the most appealing to me; this is, however, no high praise.

Detailing the construction of the New York subway lines, and possessed of that same iconic something shared by most photographs from that period, the pictures on display at the Metropolitan Transit Museum provide a somewhat valuable glimpse back into an earlier time. The effect was, I admit, at least partially amusing.

That said, however, I cannot in good conscience recommend the Transit Museum to anyone. Not anyone I like, at least. It is a fountain of knowledge so esoteric as to be practically useless, and it presents an experience so laden with ennui that you will find yourself drifting off to sleep at various stages of your visit. I can imagine this place generating some level of appeal amongst only the most rabid transit-philes, a breed I am not entirely convinced exists. Surely if such creatures dwelt among us, their abstruse affections would border on a kind of fetishism that one can find only in the darkest corners of cyberspace.

Thus, unless by dint of fate (or birth, perhaps) you find yourself salivating at the prospect of obscure history and subway-themed art, I adjure you to avoid the Transit Museum at all costs, lest you share my dismal fate.