New York City—as we are reminded every time there is a heavy rain event—uses a combined sewer system. This means sewage and storm-water runoff share a collection pipe and are both treated at a wastewater treatment facility before being discharged to the ocean. During heavy rainfall however, the system cannot cope, and excess storm-water, with household sewage, is rerouted directly into the ocean without treatment, in what is known as a combined sewer overflow, or CSO. During a CSO, beaches are closed, algae blooms, and the city’s waterways exude a distinct—some would say repellent—scent.  (more…)

Look behind, in between and beyond the monumental marble walls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Musuem of Natural History for some of New York City’s more eccentric museums. This week we explores those more unusual museums and libraries dedicated to iconic toys, wizardry, and the legacy of the mob.


Our favorite quirky library dedicated to the arcane, the bizarre and the morbid is outgrowing its space in Gowanus and hoping to expand. The Morbid Anatomy Library may be known for its collection of antique medical models and pickled baby animals in jars, but it has the potential to be much more.

The library’s organizers want to expand it into a full-fledged museum, complete with a café, gift shop, rotating exhibition space and residencies for artists and scholars from all over the world who will come here to study obscure topics. The library’s blog explains, “The Morbid Anatomy Museum will be full-fledged non-profit institutions dedicated to the arcane, the uncanny, and that which falls between the cracks of discussion and display. It will take as its inspiration 19th century anatomical museums, eccentric private collections, dime museums and the studies of gentleman collectors.”  (more…)

Main Display Cabinet

Main Display Cabinet at the Morbid Anatomy Library

After visiting the Morbid Anatomy Library, part of Brooklyn’s interdisciplinary Proteus Gowanus Gallery, you are likely to feel haunted. I personally woke with my brow damp and my heart hammering, the memory of a black-and-white photograph depicting a dead baby clinging to my waking moments like residue. However, I promise you terror is far from the only emotional response the experience will elicit. After all, the Morbid Anatomy Library’s raison d’être is to showcase the curious intersection between beauty and death. Amidst the collection, there is much to be had of both. (more…)

Tucked away in the recesses of Gowanus, Brooklyn, lies a fascinating compendium of interdisciplinary collaboration in what is known as the Proteus Gowanus. Within this multifaceted art space, eight “projects-in-residence” simultaneously occupy sections of the building, thereby appealing to a wide range of visitors looking for hidden treasures and rare oddities.

Just outside the Proteus  Gowanus

One such “project-in-residence” is the Observatory; a room just off the main gallery, hosting lecture series’, exhibitions, screenings and classes with the idea of promoting the 18th  century notion of “rational amusement.” Here, it is likely to witness something obscure in today’s modern times, but nonetheless sparking curiosity and even wonder.

This past Friday evening, I had the privilege of attending one such screening; Tom Stathes Cartoon Carnival #10 featuring cartoons rendered between 1910s to the 1940s. As I sat down, it felt as if I had immediately stepped back in time, with the clicking of the 16mm film reel faintly in the background as the room focused in on the black and white characters bouncing across the screen. Familiar characters such as Felix the Cat once again had the ability to capture the room’s attention, just as if we were children, but with much greater understanding of the plot line of each short picture. After every clip, the audience applauded, which felt reminiscent of vintage film screenings of years past. Tom Stathes had compiled this selection as a cartoon cryptozoologist, and you could sense the care that went into selecting each cartoon as an example of its age.

Poster of Tom Stathes Cartoon Carnival

Tom Stathes, Cryptozoologist

This particular screening is one of many put forth by Atlas Obscura, an online guidebook dedicated to finding “the world’s most wonderful places.” Atlas Obscura documents stumbled upon entities, encouraging travelers’ exploration of something new and exciting. At the Observatory, Atlas Obscura’s real world arm, the Obscura Society, hosts an “Atlas Obscura Speakers” series featuring many unique topics including “Finding History in Sewers” and “Speakeasy Dollhouse: Solving Murders with Diorama Crime Scenes.”

The Observatory also features other collaborations with other “projects-in-residence” such as the Morbid Anatomy Library, and Phantasmaphile. The room itself also hosts a rotating exhibition space. Currently, the room is host to the Sigils and Signs art show, which showcases art as a medium of spells and magic. The current exhibition is set to remain in the Observatory until June 17tjh, 2012.

Sigils and Signs Exhibition

The Proteus Gowanus space is a hidden gem within the Brooklyn landscape, offering a glimpse of unusual artifacts, genuinely thought provoking displays of artwork, and a chance to experience something from another time. Because of the compilation of many different focuses in one building, there is something novel to encounter time and time again.