Once again the New York Botanical Garden presents its train extravaganza to usher in New York City’s Holiday season. This year’s 28th Holiday Train Show® promises many unique features exhibited in an immersive indoor winter wonderland adjacent to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, while the palm dome of the conservatory undergoes refurbishment.
The immersive wonderland housed in two, spacious, climate-controlled structures located on the conservatory lawn is a boon that highlights the amazing craft and ingenuity of Applied Imagination’s artisans. This year visitors may more easily walk around and get a close up view of how the natural plant part materials are made into gorgeous architectural structures that replicate buildings found throughout New York City and upstate New York.
Bar Car Nights which occur on select Fridays and Saturdays for adults 21 and over, prove to be a variation on the years I’ve attended before. The after-dark viewing of the Holiday Train Show® is the centerpiece of festive winter activities. The night I was there couples, friends and partners sauntered slowly down the aisles viewing the miniatures and identifying the plant parts that comprised doorways, windows, bricks, lintels, finials, entablatures, moldings and ornaments on facades of the mansions built during the Gilded Age.
One striking example is the The Senator William A. Clark House which was known as Clark’s Folly. Clark’s Folly cost $7 million to build at the time ($188,225,000 in current inflationary dollars) and was demolished twenty years later to make way for a luxury apartment building on 960 Fifth Avenue, one of New York City’s A-plus buildings filled with elites at “the pinnacle of what many consider world society.”
Applied Imagination’s (the creators of the models in Alexandria, Kentucky) attention to detail on these replicas is museum quality artistry. On a profound level, their work with the NYBG is a celebration of the history of New York that most New Yorkers are unfamiliar with and that codifies for all time the buildings that are representative of aspects of New York culture and society. Replicas include the newest iconic structures, like the Oculus in downtown Manhattan, and some of the oldest buildings in the city that date back to the 1700s (Queens). Poe cottage in the Bronx dates back to the early 1900s.
Each building was constructed with painstaking care from the most insignificant of plant parts, a twig, an acorn, a pistachio nut shell (KyKuit) barley and pepper flakes (Macy’s Building) over the twenty-eight years that visionary and founder Paul Busse conceived that it would be more intriguing and forward thinking to create replicas from bio-degradable, plant materials fitting for a garden or park around which trains would chug, zip and race past. Such miniature organic architecture is reminiscent of what Frank Lloyd Wright believed: that buildings should be in harmony with humanity and their environment.
Applied Imagination’s prodigious work on its miniatures manifests Wright’s philosophy on steroids with incredible finesse and joy. The evening I attended, I noted that the couples spent more time at the displays which they could easily approach. I heard exclamations as they recognized iconic landmarks that are featured prominently.
One example was Yankee Stadium whose lights blazed against the outside backdrop of darkness, which peered in from the Garden’s towering conifers section. The Stadium is a favorite with the guys who recognize the Old Yankee Stadium which was torn down. Also, the quips usually follow about Yankee Stadium taking preeminence over The Mets Stadium which has yet to be represented in the show, nor is Ebbets Field which only those from the previous generations who lived in Brooklyn in the 1950s would remember that stadium which has since been torn down.
This year the main feature of the show is Central Park, some of whose structures have been given an uplift. Designed by landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, Central Park is a miraculous wonder of the city that has seen a number of battles to keep it the way it was conceived (google Joseph Papp, Robert Moses). It is visited by more people than any other urban park in the United States and is a historical treasure which sports a wide variety of buildings and architectural elements which complement the natural setting.
Most importantly, Olmsted and Vaux’s “Greensward Plan” inspired cities across the country to set aside large open spaces as public parks with the intention of giving city residents respites from the heat, dust and sun-scorched open spaces absent trees which were cut down haphazardly for developer’s convenience and profits. Since then urban centers have noted the value of trees and cities like NYC under Mayor Michael Bloomberg are assiduous about their care, pruning and planting of trees in the city. To take one down is a major event that requires petitioning the city government.
Whether you visit The Holiday Train Show® in the daytime or the evening (which is actually when its mystery and beauty are®® most remarkable) you will see a number of changes in the Central Park display. The Belevedere Castle has been refurbished for this year’s show. The Castle was built as a Victorian “folly” (not having a utilitarian purpose) on the highest natural elevation in the park and includes Gothic, Romanesque, Chinese, Moorish and Egyptian motifs.
Bethesda Terrace opens on the Lake at the heart of Central Park with the Angel of the Waters sculpture crowning the Terrace’s lovely Bethesda Fountain. An interesting note is that the designer of the sculpture (Emma Stebbins-the first woman to receive a public art Commission in NYC) placed a lily in the angel’s hand to signify purity and recall the importance of Croton Reservoir and the Croton water system which supplies NYC with fresh, clean water since 1842 up until today.
The Dairy has been enlarged and brightened. It is a replica of the Central Park “Dairy” built in 1870 as a place where children could enjoy a glass of fresh milk which was not easy to acquire in NYC at the time. The Naumburg Bandshell is a neo classical structure of cast concrete built in 1923. Performers Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington and the Grateful Dead have played there, though now it features mostly classical musicians and classical concerts. The Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater, the Old Bandstand, the Bow Bridge (the first cast-iron bridge in the Park) and Oak Bridge are in the Holiday Train Show®. The two bridges are new to the collection.
There are more than 25 G-scale model trains and trolleys that jet along nearly a half-mile of track past the history of NYC exemplified in these replicas of magnificent buildings from the 1700s to the 21st century. The five bridges towering over the heads of the visitors are constructed from plant parts and birch twigs then shellacked to maintain the life of the recreation. The bridges usually link into each borough that they grace: Manhattan Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge, Hell’s Gate, George Washington Bridge and the Queensboro Bridge.
Bar Car Nights are a favorite to experience in the Garden in the brisk, festive evenings during the seasonal delights of The Holiday Train Show®. You can purchase a spiked hot chocolate or Holiday specialty cocktail from one of the festive bars throughout the area. If you are interested in snacks, you may get an offering from the Bronx Night Market Holiday Pop-up (they have yummy pulled pork sandwiches and veggie menues). After you’ve eaten you may walk with your drinks to the artisan ice carving whose expertise will astonish you as he carves large figures in ice. There are festive performers, contortionists and acrobats from the American Circus Theatre doing balletic moves or flips; and in past years there have been stilt-walkers. After sauntering by the confers you will reach the Levon Levy Center where you may warm up at the handcrafted fire pits. And if you stop in to the Pine Tree Cafe, you can enjoy a sing along with dueling pianos. There is also dancing to DJ sets curated by Uptown Vinyl Supreme.
The Holiday Train Show® runs until January 26, 2020. The Garden is open Tuesday-Sunday, and Monday, December 16, 23, 30 and January 20, 10:00 am-6 pm. Extended hours are 10:00 s.m.-7:00 p.m. December 26 and 29. The Garden is closed all day December 25 and it closes at 3 p.m. on December 13 and 24.
Bar Car Nights run from 7-10:30 p.m. December 7, 14, 20, 21, 27 & 28, 2019. In January the evening hours are January 3, 4, 11 & 18, 2020. But a word to the wise. Go to Bar Car Nights if you can in December. January books up quickly because everyone piles on and they have to close down ticket sales because the Garden doesn’t want it to be ridiculously crowded with holiday visitors.
There are so many activities at the Garden during the winter season and the presentation of The Holiday Train Show®, noting them all will make your head spin. I’ve mentioned a few here, but rest assured there are other events. The most popular events have add-ons and new events promise more enjoyment for the entire family. Some of these include the Evergreen Express events in the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden, Sounds of the Season Performances, Annual Bird Count (December 14, 2019, at 11:00 a.m.) The Poetry of Trains: Billy Collins and Young Poets (Sunday, December 15 at 2 p.m.) Holiday Favorites Film Festival, Winter Wonderland Tree Tour, Holiday Landmarks Tour, and All Aboard with Thomas & Friends™.
Members Holiday Shopping Weekend will be on December 14 and December 15. And members early morning access will be every weekend and December 26 & 27. If you don’t have a Garden membership, in these trying times, do your soul some good and purchase one. You will have free access to the Garden and depending on the type of membership, you will be able to bring a guest or guests and have access to free parking which can add up. You also receive a 20% on member shopping days, like December 14 & 15.
For additional information on exciting events and additional programming during The Holiday Train Show® CLICK HERE.
Each winter tourists, visitors and New York City children of all ages look forward to the Holiday Train Show®, now in its 28th year. Because the dome on the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory is being refurbished, members wondered whether the NYBG would be having a train show. The Garden’s forward thrust of #plantlove ensures that the seasonal events of the Garden continue with prodigious care and ingenuity. The Holiday Train Show® presented at the Garden with Applied Imagination’s efforts and over 175 creations is one of the Garden’s traditions which would never be cast aside. Too many hearts would be broken.
This year the Holiday Train Show® offers a unique experience with 360 degree views in what looks to be a larger space. The theme showcases Central Park, the most well known and storied park in the nation, featured in films and plays because of its easy access and gorgeous fountains, spacious acreage and unique structures. The show has been characterized as an “immersive indoor winter wonderland” and is adjacent to the Conservatory. The structure created specifically to house The Holiday Train Show® is climate controlled. You will find it on the conservatory lawn and it is superb.
The history of Central Park featured in Ken Burns documentary on New York City replete with Robert Moses’ attempted interventions and fights with Joe Papp and his “upper west side moms” and fans who are credited with saving the sanctity of the Park’s area around Tavern-on-the Green is fascinating. Designed in 1858 by landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the Park is a sanctuary in the middle of Manhattan’s grid design and is truly a wonder. It offers a seasonal respite and refuge from the traffic and hurly burly of car horns, sirens and the humming, gyrating energy of Manhattan. Central Park is home to extensive wildlife species, birds and woodland creatures and even has sheltered foxes and coyotes visiting from the Bronx as they hunt for an easy meal.
One of the most popular favorites of the NYBG, the Holiday Train Show® is a cool place to go to celebrate the festivities of the season with friends, family and partners. Children, plant aficionados and collectors adore the trains. There are more than 25 G-scale model trains and trolleys which careen, chug, buzz and fly along almost 1/2 mile of track. They unceremoniously zip past model structures from all five boroughs of New York City, the Hudson River Valley and other historic locations in New York State, for example Tarrytown. What I always find gobsmacking are the incredible models, the gorgeous designs fashioned by the natural plant materials which are employed as unique architectural features.
For example shelf fungus, acorns, twigs, leaves, pistachio shells, barley seeds and pepper flakes are employed to construct the models. Can you divine how the Applied Imagination team whose workshop is located in Kentucky created the Macy’s Building? What was the wood? What are the windows made of on the elaborate Jewish Museum? I really get off on the ingenuity of the creators and artists to look at a banana gourd and imagine that it would be perfect as an elephant trunk. There is the model of the Elephantine Hotel in the Coney Island exhibit and that is one of the plants that Applied Imagination artists used to configure the smashing model. The hotel burned down, but Applied Imagination celebrated the hotel with this enchanting and detailed model. Don’t forget to look for it!
This year’s Central Park theme segues beautifully with the Garden which is the perfect backdrop as you look at the models and your gaze flows outdoors to the evergreens and rolling landscape of the Garden’s conifer section. As new structures that Applied Imagination included as counterparts to their real Central Park buildings, you will note Belvedere Castle, Bethesda Terrace, the Dairy, the Naumburg Bandshell and more.
These four buildings have an interesting history. Belvedere Castle (Belvedere in Italian means beautiful view) was built as a Victorian “folly.” Located on the then highest natural elevation in the park, it offered a lovely view. That was then. Ironically, the view is different now. Victorian folly refers to a fantasy structure that provides a great backdrop and views, but without a functional purpose. The turreted castle includes Gothic, Romanesque, Chinese, Moorish and Egyptian motifs and the model represents these beautifully.
Bethesda Terrace opens on Central Park Lake in its heart. The Angel of the Waters (1873) sits at the top of Bethesda Fountain. Emma Stebbins, designer of the fountain, was the first woman to receive a public art commission and she referenced the Biblical symbolism of the angel stirring the waters for those who needed healing. After the angel left, the waters had healing properties and all the lame and blind who had the faith the waters would heal them jumped in. Emma Stebbins likened the Croton water system as the healing waters that brought unpolluted water to the city in 1842.
The Dairy an oft overlooked model in the Holiday Train Show® exhibit has been enlarged and given an uplift. Built in 1870 the Dairy was purposed as where children could get a glass of fresh milk, not easily accessible in 19th century Manhattan.
The Naumburg Bandshell is the only neoclassical structure in Central Park. It is made of concrete was finished in 1923. The model in the Holiday Train Show is constructed of plant parts. And it is lovely to imagine that Irving Berlin and Duke Ellington once played there along with Benny Goodman and Victor Herbert.
The Central Park theme this year has been uniquely featured in the train show which is like a large miniature woodland of various shades of greenery and iconic New York models beautifully recast as if one could live in them. The melding of the indoor and the outdoor green of the Garden is refreshing and fitting.
There is so much to see and appreciate with each of the building models painstakingly recreated. I am always awestruck and find myself visiting the show (I am also a member) not only during the days when I can get up close and see how the natural plant materials are employed, but I also go in the evenings during Bar Car Nights. For me in the evenings the show becomes a fantastical mystery with shadows and shades with gentle background music and the murmur of adults sitting, strolling and talking in whispers romantically or just laughing at a shared joke.
You can go with friends or take a date. There is the Bronx Night Market Holiday Pop-up with great bites to eat. There are fire pits and festive performers, acrobats and contortionists and dueling pianos in the Pine Tree Cafe. And there are DJs curated by Uptown Vinyl Supreme to dance your energy into the happiness of the season. It’s the most fun and reasonable theater in New York City This year Bar Car Nights are on select Fridays and Saturdays exclusively for adults 21 and over and take place between 7-10:30 pm. Check it out and put it on your calendar, but don’t wait until the last minute or you will be out of luck. The dates are November 23, 29, & 30; December 7, 14, 20, 21, 27, & 28, 2019; January 3, 4, 11, & 18, 2020.
The Holiday Train Show® hours are from November 23, 2019-January 26, 2020. The Garden is open Tuesday-Sunday, and Monday, December 15, 23, 30, and January 20, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. The extended hours are 10 a.m. -7 p.m., December 26 and 29. The Garden is closed all day on November 28 (Thanksgiving) and December 25 (Christmas); it closes at 3 p.m. on December 13 and 24 (Christmas Eve).
During the Train Show, there are ADULT EDUCATION HOLIDAY WORKSHOPS. These look like fun. A few examples are creating “Winter Wonderland Wreaths,” and workshops where one may create decorations from fresh, fragrant, conifer branches and wreaths from magnolia leaves. A real boon offered is a workshop to create a botanical building, a replica with natural materials in the style of The Holiday Train Show®. There are workshops for “Floral Arrangements” and creating “Tabletop Holiday Topiaries” as well. All of these materials and their creation add to the enjoyment of this season which initiates winter.
Finally, during the Train Show, festivities include the following events: The Evergreen Express, the Sounds of the Season Performances, Holiday Tree & Menorah Lighting Ceremony, The Poetry of Trains with Billy Collins and Young Poets, the Holiday Favorites Film Festival and more. For all the programming and events during The 28th Holiday Train Show® CLICK ON THE NYBG WEBSITE.