The New York Botanical Garden is always a pleasure. With its green and floral pageantry, it is a soothing getaway where one can decompress from the stress of elections, job pressures, blustery frigid winds and grey-shadowed landscapes.
The winter holiday season at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory and environs is especially sparkling and exuberant fun during the Holiday Train Show. For adults it is a time of remembrance; for families and kids it is magic and wonder as they watch the G-scale trains (freight, passenger, trolley, diesel, locomotive, and novelty cars) whistle their entrances, slip into the foliage, dash past mansions, fly over New York City’s Hell Gate, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queensboro bridges, and trundle down the half mile of track laid throughout the various galleries.
This year’s show is nothing short of brilliant in its celebration of the Holiday Train Show’s 25th year. The exhibition received an expansion last year of 3,000 square feet in a separate tent, and a short introductory film about the exhibition’s creative team with a peek at how the installation is put together. The expansion is a permanent part of the show and a spectacle for one’s eyes, ears, and emotions, regardless of how many times one makes return visits.
The exhibition’s more than 150 replicas of New York buildings are landscaped in different places and spaces each year. The team of Botanical Garden staff, ingenious Applied Imagination staff (they’ve created the extraordinary replicas from natural materials), and additional volunteers work for originality so that you may not even remember seeing the same replicas because they have been uniquely staged with plantings in contrast to previous years’ designs.
Of course, there are additions and innovations. Applied Imagination, whose director Leslie Salka closely collaborates with founder Paul Busse and the rest of their team (Bill Clark, Cindy Johnson, Harry Leeds), created an incredible Coney Island display in the Reflecting Pool of the Palms of the World Gallery in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. In previous years the train show featured replicas of buildings from Coney Island, Brooklyn: the Galveston Flood Building, the Luna Park Arch, the Luna Park Central Tower, and the Luna Park Ticket Booth.
This year the Applied Imagination team added the exhibition’s first roller coaster, the Coney Island Cyclone. With the Cyclone are the Coney Island Wonder Wheel (complete with LED sign) and the Elephantine Colossus, a gigantic elephant-shaped hotel from the 1890s that burnt down in a fire. In my brief interview with Leslie Salka, she discussed how she created the structures based upon old photos of Coney Island. When she discovered that an elephant had helped in the construction of buildings at Coney Island and was later electrocuted in an experiment by Thomas Edison to show the “danger” of direct current, Salka (you will be able to hear/read my interview with her in a few days) was determined to create a replica of the Elephantine Colossus in remembrance of the elephant who helped build Coney Island. It is just smashing.
The entrance to the Coney Island display in the Palms of the World Gallery is marked by the 30-foot-long Brooklyn Bridge replica, putting a capstone on the Brooklyn setting honoring the history of Coney Island and its buildings, many of which exist only in old photos and these replicas. Also added to the Holiday Train Show is another famous and well-traveled NYC bridge: the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge (also known as the 59th Street Bridge), debuting this year.
A crown jewel of the Holiday Train Show celebration is the book The Holiday Train Show: A City Within a City. The exquisite book produced by the New York Botanical Garden captures professional-grade close-ups detailing the replicas, trains and scenery. It highlights all areas of the show’s different sections and galleries. And it lists fun facts about the show, including a photo checklist of each replica to look for as you saunter through the galleries.
The book also revisits the history of the show from its humble inception in 1992. Back then, the Holiday Garden Railway Exhibit (the show’s initial name) displayed a few trains with poinsettias and a 30-foot balsam fir rounding out the winter scenes. The following year (1993) birthed the renamed Holiday Train Show which was held outdoors in the Garden.
The book, which would make a neat gift, is a historical record in itself that details the changing times at the Garden and the amazing evolution of the show. It also features how innovations were gradually added so that step by step the Holiday Train Show become the glorious and exhilarating must-do New York City winter season event that it is today.
Programming highlights include:
- Bar Car Nights on select Fridays and Saturdays for adults 21 and older with after-dark viewing of the Holiday Train Show as the centerpiece and pop-up acts of some of NYC’s favorite street performers, ice sculpting demonstrations and more. Spiked beverages and holiday treats are available from cash bars and the Pine Tree Cafe will host a rotating lineup of musicians. (November 19, 26; December 2, 3, 16, 17, 23, 30; January 7, 14).
- The Winter Harmonies Concerts on December 18 presents the Cassatt String Quartet performing with visual artist Rebecca Allen. The general audience concert is at 4 p.m. Families can enjoy a special concert just for children at 2 p.m.
- Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins and Irish poet and former Vassar College Professor Eamon Grennan will be reading/discussing their poems on Saturday, December 10, at 2 p.m.
- Evergreen Express will be in the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden with fun interactive activities for children. Check the Garden website for times and activities.
- Holiday A Cappella offers a mix of holiday music which is familiar and new and other music performed by a cappella musicians on Saturdays and Sundays December 3-31 and daily from December 26-January 1 at 1:00, 2:00, 3:00 pm.
- All Aboard With Thomas & Friends™ is a fun family event where children may join Thomas and Driver Sam on a sing-along, mini-performance adventure. This will run from December 31-January 22. Check the Garden website for the full performance schedule.