March 16, 2012 | Dutch
Field Trip: New-York Historical Society
I visit Dutch stuff at one of my favorite local museums.
On Tuesday I visited the New-York Historical Society to see what I could find there about Dutch New York.
Entrance, New-York Historical Society
I love this museum because of its tenacious focus on one of my favorite subjects: New York City. They have an online collection of Dutch-related artifacts, but I like seeing things in person.
This was my first time in the the DiMenna Children’s History Museum, located in the Historical Society’s basement. It is, I was told, the only children’s history museum in the country!
One of its offerings is the Cornelia van Varick Pavillion, an interactive exhibit where visiting children can learn about Cornelia, a Dutch girl born in 1692 who lived in Brooklyn. In the exhibit she magically appears as a hologrammy-looking thing to explain the details of her life to museum guests.
Personally I found the hologrammy version of Cornelia kind of prissy, but I am not the target market, and children probably like her.
The real Cornelia’s father came from Holland to be a minister at the Dutch Reformed Church at the corner of Flatbush and Church avenues.
Cornelia van Varick Pavillion (Courtesy of NYHS)
Her mother had a shop, filled with fabrics, spices, and other exotic items from an impressive global trade network involving multiple continents.
Currency was complicated. The Dutch used daalders for currency, but goods were priced in English values. Therefore, there was a lot of math.
Cornelia’s pavillion includes two silver beakers that spend 364 days a year at the museum but return one day annually to the Dutch Reformed Church in Brooklyn.
I found that detail kind of moving, as it highlighted the links between past and present, between museums and our living history, between our modern New York City and the New Amsterdam of centuries ago.
The Great Fire of 1835
After reading up about Cornelia and her life, I went upstairs to the floors where grownups hang out. There I encountered a painting of the Great Fire of 1835, which, along with an earlier fire, destroyed any remaining 17th-century structures in lower Manhattan and further separated modern-day New Yorkers from our historical antecedents.
There are glass cases at the Historical Society housing hundreds of New York City artifacts. I went looking for the Dutch things among them. It was not particularly easy to pick them out among the collection, and I had to enlist the help of museum staff roaming the floor.
I will not be able to offer much information about these pieces beyond saying, “Look, old Dutch things! Aren’t they cool?”
Glass Cases Full of Historical Objects at the NYHS
A Dutch Wardrobe (Kast)
Brandywine Bowl Belonging to Dutch Couple, c. 1700
These Are Dutch, But I Can’t Remember What They Are For
Also Dutch…for Religious Rite? Nuts? Not Sure.
But I do in fact feel it is pretty cool to see things that were in the homes of people of Dutch extraction here more than 300 years ago.