In New York, the history of our sports and the history of well, history, rarely mix, but a little known gem of a museum in Washington Heights, within view of not just Yankee Stadium but another forgotten place, the Polo Grounds, has found a way to knit the two together to become a must visit for baseball and football fans this fall.
The spot is the Morris-Jumel Mansion, which, as New York’s oldest, and maybe least known mansion, has been on the bluff overlooking the Harlem River since the 1700’s and was a stopping place not just for George Washington in centuries past, but was also a place of inspiration for Lin-Manuel Miranda as he wrote the hit musical Hamilton. Now it tells another tale, that of the goings on in baseball, football and even boxing of its neighbors who it predated, the original Yankee Stadium and the former home of the Giants (baseball and football), the Mets, the Jets and even college football in its heyday on Coogan’s Bluff.
The second floor exhibit is curated by Yonkers native and East Side resident Neil Scherer, a passionate self-described historian, memorabilia collector and artist, who pieced together the works at the bequest of the museum. On weekends Scherer brings the stories of the ticket stubs, programs and personalities to life himself, telling the story of each piece with long forgotten trivia (“Joe DiMaggio never hit a World Series home run in Yankee Stadium,” “Fordham’s success in football outdrew the Giants at the Polo Grounds for much of the 1930’s,” “The Jets played the Bills in the last football game at the Polo Grounds, a game that was moved because of the assassination of President Kennedy.”) and a passion and zeal that only a New York fan can do.
The mix of New York civic history and nearby sports memories makes the trip to the Jumel Mansion very unique, as one can stand on the porch of the historic building and literally see the lights of the new Yankee Stadium downhill and across the Harlem River, while turning one’s eyes slightly south and imagining the roar of the crowds where the Polo Grounds, as New York’s first crown jewel of a stadium once stood before it met the wrecking ball in the 1960’s. The collection is only limited by ones thoughts and Scherer’s ability to find material on his own; there was no help from other collectors, the City, the Halls of Fame or even the teams or colleges in loaning some of their pieces to go below the glass in this special place.
Even with its limits, the short subway ride or drive is a great addition to sports fans this fall and something which other museums and gathering places should take note of. If such a gem of a spot as the Jumel Mansion could pull this together because it sees value, why wouldn’t others come and celebrate with a larger exhibit down the road? Despite the on-field shortcomings of many of the local teams, sports history is alive and well in the area (check out another great opportunity at New York Sports Tours as well), and this exhibit blends two worlds, sports and the past of New York, together really well.
The Museum itself is open daily except for Mondays, and the exhibit really comes to life when Scherer is in the building as well. The organizers have also mentioned you never know who might also be coming by, as some of those in the shadows of the pictures, or who attended some of the historic games, have found their way to The Heights from time to time as well. The exhibit will be on display until after the Holidays, so making it a good stop for the sports fans holiday list should work well.
Two amazing pieces of New York, sports and government, in one nice stop, who knew?