The New York Botanical Garden is an enjoyable respite and shelter from the storms and stresses of life. Throughout the year their amazing seasonal exhibits which combine spectacular floral shows with art, sculpture, poetry, music, and literary narratives provide a way for one’s soul to rejuvenate and be refreshed to face whatever fate deals next.
I especially enjoy the New York Botanical Garden’s exhibits during the evening hours. It is then the shadows dissolve through the dancing, twinkling lights draped along tree trunks and foliage, and darkness blends in chiaroscuro with a spotlight of brilliance strategically placed here and there. The humidity and moisture are ripe; the whirring fans cool the air which feels luscious and exotic. It is a faerie landscape where the extraordinary is one with the natural and I almost expect to glimpse out of the corners of my eyes a glorious supernatural figure flash up, float mysteriously then evanesce as a vibrant fuschia phalaenopsis (moth orchid), emerges from behind the creature’s vaporous wake.
Bar Car Nights, the over 21 adult evenings offered during
the Holiday Train Show, are particularly whimsical and romantic. As the trains strum exuberantly along the 1/2 mile of track that circles through the three thousand square feet of extended space (added last year), then snakes through the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory coming to rest in the Palms of the World Gallery, the thrill of the Winter season from one’s childhood is recalled. Couples can saunter through the galleries with liquid refreshments for purchase and completely relax. It is an awakening to a simpler, happier time when morose emotions weren’t joggled by news events and chaos was a scientifically theoretical construct, not haphazard human emotions effected by bellicose, maniacal human beings.
The Garden is an otherworldly place of peace and beauty. All of the
volunteers, the staff of Applied Imagination who have created and constructed the beautiful replicas of present and past New York landmarks from natural plant parts, and the permanent Garden staff, receive great delight from knowing how much enjoyment they give to the thousands of visitors who attend the show.
Each year the exhibit manages to be singular. The more than 150 buildings and structures of New York City and upstate New York: Rockefeller Center, Empire State Building, Morris-Jumel Mansion, Poe Cottage, Olana, Kykuit, The Jewish Museum, New York Public Library, Park Avenue Armory, Yankee Stadium, Senator William Andrews Clark House (demolished right before the depression as too expensive to maintain), Tammany Hall, the National Arts Club, Macy’s, etc., are situated uniquely throughout the conservatory’s lush greenery. It is fun to identify the re-creations and compare them with their originals, which if you haven’t seen or toured (Kykuit, Edgar Allan Poe Cottage, Olana, the Morris Jumel), you will be motivated to do so as an examination of New York State and US history.
The likenesses are exceptional considering how the recreations are made with twigs, acorns, rose petals, seeds, gourds, buds, pistachio shells, moss, bark, pine cones, leaves, fruits, etc. In short anything we might throw off on the compost heap, ingenious Applied Imagination botanical artists conceptualize as part of a building edifice or roof and in the case of the cherub sculptures of Kykuit, a prominent body part.
Various years not all of the structures are included; the
World’s Fair buildings didn’t appear this year to make way for new additions which are the unique design of Director of Applied Imagination Leslie Salka in collaboration with Founder Paul Busse. The piece de resistance of the Holiday Train Show is the Brooklyn borough’s Coney Island exhibit that shines in the Palms of the World Gallery.
Several Coney Island structures from previous years (the Galveston Flood Building, the Luna Park Arch, the Luna Park Central Tower, etc.), are included in the exhibit with the new structures and all are situated in the reflecting pool. As you walk under the Brooklyn Bridge, you will see the famous Cyclone, the Coney Island Wonder Wheel and the Elephantine Colossus, the gigantic elephant-shaped hotel from the 1890s that has since burned down.
Director Leslie Salka was determined to include the hotel to
memorialize Topsy, a female Asian elephant, who helped build Coney Island. The innocent Topsy was electrocuted to death by Thomas Edison as a huge draw for the 1903 Luna Park Coney Island exposition. Edison luridly filmed her heinous death, a fact that Michael Daly reveals in his book Topsy.
Daly’s book chronicles the story of the elephant’s travails as a pawn first in the greedy hands of a circus competitor of P.T. Barnum and then in the irate claws of Edison. In an article in the New York Daily News about his book, Daly says, “The electrocution was for Edison a means to vent his fury and frustration over his defeat” (with Westinghouse in the war of the currents), “as well as an opportunity to film the first death of any kind.”
Thus, Leslie Salka’s and Paul Busse’s addition of the Elephantine Colossus hotel replica, has a much greater significance than one would imagine upon first glancing at its beauty and ingenious creation from gourds and other plant parts. And Nikola Tesla fans will appreciate this final triumph of Topsy memorialized in the Holiday Train Show. It is a reminder that Thomas A. Edison’s reputation in mainstream history books belies the reality of what and who he really was.
The Holiday Train Show plantings always vary as does the placement of the variety of trains which are all G-gauge and include passenger trains, freights, trolleys, novelty cars, streetcars, diesels and locomotives. This year all but one of New York’s bridges reside high above strolling visitors. Trains whiz back and forth over trestles and one imagines what it might be like to be a passenger in miniature looking at the view of the panorama of orchids, cyclamen, hedges, ficus, begonias, palms, sage grass, camelias, and more.
For complete New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show programming, check their website HERE. Magical Bar Car Nights run the following dates on Fridays and Saturdays: December 2, 3, 16, 17, 23, 30; January 7, 14 from 7 – 10 pm. For family and children’s events (Winter Harmonies Concerts, poetry readings with NYBG poet Laureate Billy Collins and former Vassar College Professor Eamon Grennan, children’s activities-Evergreen Express and “All aboard with Thomas & Friends”) check out the NYBG website or this Blogcritics article for listings.
The Holiday Train Show Bar Car Nights and the entire exhibition are sure to ignite your seasonal spirit and bring joy and vitality to help you usher in the New Year. The show runs until January 16, 2017.