Thursday, May 26, 2016

Niagra's Wax Museum of History

On our recent trip to Buffalo, we had decided to make a side trip to Niagra Falls. We initially discussed going to the Canadian side, but one of us had an expired passport and I had already found some kitschy things to do on the American side so I was content to stay in the homeland. After we ogled the Twist o' the Mist, we headed to Niagra's Wax Museum of History.

In my research I had read that most of the exhibits in the museum date from 1968—when the museum opened—which some people might call "outdated" but I couldn't have been happier to find that to be a mostly true assessment. We were greeted at the front desk by the same miner who told my fortune at Howe Caverns, and what I'm assuming is a moving picture of the Falls (it wasn't plugged in).

The museum was everything I wanted it to be from the very beginning—weird, old, dusty, creepy, historical, informative and dimly lit. The group of teens that entered right behind us didn't share my enthusiasm, however, and clearly thought they were going to see a wax museum more in the vein of Madame Tussaud's. I heard one of them exclaim loudly "What is this?? I thought there was gonna be, like, Obama and shit," before they rushed ahead of us and we never saw them again.

A lot of the exhibits were a bit of a head scratcher but ultimately made us laugh and made me love the museum so very much. I don't think the group of disgruntled/confused teens ever made it far enough to see that they did actually have "celebrities," including (a very manly) Princess Diana, Julia Roberts and Mother Theresa, chosen for their very tenuous connections to the falls (they either visited or exemplified the beauty and grace of the falls... or more likely they got these particular wax figures on sale).

The other exhibit that we're still chuckling about is the recreation of the barber shop (and the actual chair!) where Abraham Lincoln "received tonsorial work" when he visited the Falls. The museum was full of disconnected exhibits that didn't really make sense or follow any sort of logical thread, which was really wonderful in its own way.

We definitely got more than our money's worth—46 (exciting!) exhibits in more than 10,000 sq feet for only $7/person. I get so much more joy from a dusty, bizarre old wax museum than I ever would from anything utilizing any type of new technology. Give me a handpainted sign, bad puns, exclamation points, creaking gears and creepy dioramas over anything digital any day.

But the museum definitely saves the best for last with what may be the very best photo-op I've ever encountered. I became mildly obsessed with the photo of "Former Mayor Mike O'Laughlin saying: 'See You Later' on a simulated trip over Niagra Falls" in their collection of Falls memorabilia, and I audibly squealed with delight upon finding that exact same barrel-over-the-falls prop set up before the exit. According to Roadside America, the barrel "once stood in an outdoor photo-for-a-buck booth on the Falls overlook. The museum rescued it before the city could sweep it away..." and I couldn't be happier that they did.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

New Orleans: Clover Grill

Last weekend I accompanied six wonderful women to New Orleans to celebrate our friend Francesca's upcoming birthday. For months before we left, we rounded up tons of recommendations and made a Google map that contained far more bars, restaurants, shops, historic homes and cemeteries than we could see in three days. We did, however, manage to make quite a dent, starting with Clover Grill.

After checking in to our hotel (the brand-new and always-lovely Ace) we were ready for lunch and decided upon the Clover Grill. Clover Grill has been open 24 hours on Bourbon Street since 1934. It's tiny, and very pink inside with a row of counter stools and a few tables. I love all of the handpainted signage and the front window, which showcases diner diners in a very Edward Hopper-esque way, especially at night.

The menu is filled with puns and commentary such as "If you are not served in 5 minutes, relax, it may be another 5. This is not New York City." As any respectable diner should, they have 24-hour breakfast, but I ordered one of the "world famous" burgers and was not disappointed. I am generally wary of diner meats (bacon excluded) but I'm not exaggerating when I say this was one of the best burgers I've had, period. The burgers are steamed on the grill under a hubcab and topped with a slice of cheese almost as thick as the burger itself.

Our server was really helpful, nice and funny and I lost track of how many times I commented that "this place is literally perfect," or "I'm so happy right now," during our lunch. Clover Grill was the perfect start to our wonderful weekend and very much like the city itself—delicious, friendly and covered in just the right amount of grime.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Bayside Cemetery

I came across Bayside Cemetery recently in some corner of the Internet, where it was mentioned that the Queens cemetery had fallen into disrepair to the point where people were complaining about exposed human remains. This information was somewhat outdated, and the cemetery has since been cleaned up a bit, but I still thought it was worth visiting so my friend Tag and I went to check it out recently on a partly gloomy Sunday morning.

Abandoned (or abandoned-ish) cemeteries are touchy things—on the one hand, I love anything creepy, crumbling and overgrown, but on the other hand I can understand why family members would be upset to see the final resting places of their loved ones fall into disrepair. I think everyone deserves a dignified end (and eternal resting place, if that's your thing), but I haven't come across many cemeteries that aren't very well tended to, so the minute we stepped into Bayside it felt special.

Bayside—along with neighboring Acacia and Mokom Sholom cemeteries—was founded in Queens in 1865, and is one of the oldest still-active Jewish cemeteries in the city. Cemetery residents include multiple Civil War veterans and one victim from the Titanic. Most of the graves are quite old, but we did eventually find some from the 90s and 2000s.

Some areas of the cemetery were more tended to than others, and I can see how it probably used to be a lot worse. A lot of the mausoleums were boarded, bricked or cemented shut, while some had doors that swung open freely. We didn't come across any graffiti or noticeable vandalism, but a lot of stones had fallen off their pedestals or had been broken by trees and covered with leaves, fallen branches and ivy. The main office was boarded up and obviously hadn't been in use for a while, but we did see two men tending to the grounds as we were leaving, and the gate was open for visitors.

I lost count of how many times I exclaimed how much I loved Bayside during our time walking through the overgrown weeds, and I wouldn't hesitate to declare it one of my very favorite places in the city. I bet it's incredible in the snow or in the fall and I already started dreaming about my return before we had even left.