Not grand artifacts, but items that everyday New Yorkers would have been familiar with and used: a section from a City Hall window chain or old subway tokens, even a set of dentures that washed up on a beach on Sheepshead Bay.
And if they dared to push a doorbell on the wall – a wall painted with directions and distances to nearby points of interest – they would hear Herman’s voice give a guided tour of the display.
On Sunday, the City Reliquary celebrated its 10th anniversary in the more formal space it has occupied since 2006 at 370 Metropolitan Avenue, just one block away from the original Reliquary.
“I had no idea back then it was going to blossom into this,” Herman said at Sunday’s celebration. “I think my expectations were to put something into the public realm that promoted an exchange amongst the people in the neighborhood, and hopefully provide some of the newcomers with some historical background to the neighborhood they were coming to.
“And hopefully to give some of the old-timers something to be proud of and show off, because all New Yorkers love to show off their knowledge of the city,” he added. “And this gave people the venue to do that.”
Today, visitors to the City Reliquary will see paint chips from the L train, Statute of Liberty postcards, old signs, an entire case devoted to the USS Monitor - in a sense not much has changed at the City Reliquary as far as its mission is concerned.
What has changed is the size and scope. The Reliquary now has an outdoor space to hold events and, like other bona fide museums, even a gift shop. Herman said the museum is planning a number of events to celebrate the anniversary.
“This is just the launch event,” said Herman. “It will give us a reason to keep having more people over and encouraging them not to come not once every ten years, but to come back and see the new developments.
The City Reliquary has also hired a managing director, to assist its largely volunteer staff, which includes president Bill Scanga.
“Today is a gift shop, changes to the museum, and taking another leap,” Scanga said on Sunday. “We’re ready for this new stage of the City Reliquary.”
For the nostalgic, the original City Reliquary still exists. Herman said the people who moved into the apartment were fine with keeping it, and the museum plans to use it for its community exhibits featuring the ephemera of New Yorkers, which in the past have included collections of Pez dispensers, giant pencils, and flashlights.
“It became kind of like a time capsule,” Herman said of the old Reliquary locale. “I said for a while it was turning into what inspired it, which is these forgotten corners of the city that are inspirational but locked in time.”
In 2002, the exhibits at the old Reliquary rotated often, and to promote them, Herman hosted street corner cookouts and block parties where newcomers mingled with longtime residents, brought together by a window display and a little food and drink.
“We would simply have a lemonade stand setup, but we sold Tang because the collection was about NASA at the time,” Herman recalls. “We went from that to this, it’s just crazy.”