Thursday, September 15, 2011

The New York City Police Museum

The evolution of the NYPD motorcycle.
Badges from the Brooklyn Police Department before 1898.
Old-timey mugshots.
Antique radio equipment.
A typical jail cell.
More pics from 9/11.
Policing a Changed City.
A display of objects from the WTC site on 9/11.
A display on NYPD medals.
NYPD uniforms.
The NYPD Medal of Honor.
Badges of the different branches of the NYPD.
A female guards uniform from 1896.
A display of antique handcuffs.
A display of antique guns.
A picture taken from 9/11.
A 1920s slot machine.
19th-century badges and nightstick.
Antique NYPD motorcycles on display.
A description of the NYPD flag.
The former 1st Precinct at 100 Old Slip, now the NYPD museum.

A door from a truck that was near the WTC on 9/11.
Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig at a 1920s NYPD - FDNY game.
An 1860s recruiting poster.
Another display of artifacts from 9/11.
Prominent 1920s gangsters, including Al Capone.
More police uniforms.
The front door of the former 1st Precinct at 100 Old Slip.
This past Sunday marked the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, and I debated whether or not to take a trip down to the World Trade Center site, but ultimately opted to do it.  It was about five o'clock in the evening so all the ceremonies were over.  There wasn't too much to see -- everything was pretty much fenced off.  Even further downtown is the New York City Police Museum in the former 1st Precinct station on Old Slip.  "Old Slip" is so named because it was an inlet for ships coming into the harbor as early as the 1750s, before being filled in and converted to streets over a century later.  As I walked along the hilly, uneven, mismatched streets of the Financial District, I was reminded that this city started down here, and bustling Midtown remained the country for decades.  The Twin Towers stood across the street from the city's oldest building, St. Paul's Chapel, where George Washington attended services, and St. Peter's, the first Catholic Church in the state, is one block north.  Fraunces Tavern, the Bridge Cafe, and the Fulton Ferry Hotel are some of the city's original centers of business. 

My trip to the New York City Police Museum last week took me much further downtown than I normally venture, to Old Slip, the home of the 1st Precinct from 1884 to 1973.  The current landmarked building was built from 1909-1911 on the foundation of the former one by architects Richard and Joseph Howland Hunt, brothers and partners who designed  the Lotus Club on 66th and 5th and the 69th Regiment Armory on 25th and Lexington, among others.  When built, the city's 1st Precinct was considered by many to be the most important police station in the world, and was visited by police chiefs from all around, who considered it a model in modern architecture and looked to copy some of the buildings features for their own new buildings.  It was built in the Italian Renaissance style in tribute to the palazzos of Florence.

The idea for the museum formed in February of 1998, when police commissioner Howard Safir and the Alliance for Downtown New York donated $5 million in return for a new station in the area, but the plan was quickly abandoned by Mayor Giuliani when New Yorkers claimed that a richer area of the city was buying police protection.  A month later, however, a non-profit organization was created to raise money for the project, and the museum was able to open in April 1999 around Bowling Green.  In January 2002, the museum moved into the landmarked building at 100 Old Slip, which had been abandoned since a police corruption scandal in 1977, seeing it as an opportunity to connect with the Department's past.  Renovation of the building was over $4 million, but exhibit space increased by close to 45%.

I came across the narrow building which had carved "POLICE STATION FIRST PRECINCT" in it over the front door and walked inside to find a little old man sitting at the front desk.  He recommended I start on the third floor and work my way down.  Not surprisingly, much of the museum is devoted to 9/11, but it also has an impressive collection of antiques.  A back room on the third floor displayed the badge of every officer killed in the line of duty, since the first in 1853.  A display case had a history of the departments most prestigious medals, including the NYPD Medal of Honor.  On the other side of the floor was a number of discarded pieces from police equipment that was in the area on 9/11 -- a door from a police truck, sirens from a car, guns, hats, belts, etc., and a 60 Minutes special on how Commissioner Ray Kelly is working to turn the NYPD into a military and intelligence force comparable to the CIA and FBI was being shown.  A number of photographs of the damage of that day and people being helped were shown along with a display entitled "Policing a Changed City". 

The second-floor included a replica jail cell and with a female warden's uniform from 1896, when four women were hired due to public demand after a sharp increase in female prisoners.  There was also a display of Brooklyn Police Department badges prior to 1898 when the borough was still an independent city, and a 1920s slot-machine in front of mug shots of prominent gangsters of the time.  The same room also had a large display of nineteenth and early-twentieth century handcuffs and guns.  The first floor showcases examples of the uniform throughout the decades, and has a great collection of old motorcycles.  Naturally, I asked if they were hiring, and naturally they said they weren't.  But at least I got an enriching afternoon of New York City history for only eight bucks!  If you're in town, I highly recommend it!

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