Culture + Style

Unlock the Weird, Unexpected Secrets of Midtown, Manhattan’s Alternative Side

While most travelers assume that the Big Apple’s eccentric side resides in the East Village or Williamsburg, Midtown boasts a few surprises of its own under that high rise–laden facade. For a walk on the wilder side, check out these haunts.

Visit a Museum Dedicated to the Greatest Escape Artist That Ever Lived

It may be smaller than most apartments, but the Houdini Museum of New York possesses a treasure-trove of more than 1,500 items from the great illusionist’s life.

things to do in midtown manhattan
Could you escape from here? (Photo: Getty Images)

Curators are constantly rotating the curios on display, meaning you never know if you’ll stumble across a set of handcuffs, a giant robot, a publicity poster or a custom-designed escape coffin dating back to 1907.

Visitors to the museum can even watch an animatronic Houdini wriggle free of a straight jacket, or they can sign up for a magic class to learn a few tricks of the trade.

Explore the Carnegie Hall Archives

Though most people only visit this vaunted cultural temple for performances, a visit to the Carnegie Hall Archives can be just as captivating as a virtuoso’s solo. Housed within these halls are more than 300,000 original artifacts that tell the story of this institution and the 45,000-plus events it has hosted since May 5, 1891.

Items include more than 800 tickets, 200-plus magazine and newspaper clippings, and more than 200 pieces of correspondence and autographs by the likes of Leonard Bernstein and Mark Twain. Since none of the collection travels, this is the only place the public can view these rare mementos.

Check Out the John M. Mossman Lock Collection

Situated in the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York, this collection of more than 370 antique locks and keys is surprisingly beautiful.

Items at the John M. Mossman Lock Collection range from custom-crafted bank locks that have guarded millions in cash to ancient devices dating back to 4,000 B.C.

Peer through the glass panels at these meticulously displayed devices, many of which are one of a kind, or pick up a copy of “The Lure of the Lock” to learn more about each one.

Pay a Visit to New York’s Oldest Magic Store

Don’t let its mundane appearance deceive you. On the sixth floor of an otherwise ordinary-looking office building lies one of Midtown’s greatest — and weirdest — gems.

things to do in midtown manhattan
Every magician needs their tools of the trade. (Photo: Alamy)

If you happen to possess sleight of hand and have a knack for bamboozlement, Tannen’s Magic Store is the top place in town to stock up on all the equipment you need to astound and amaze.

Founded by Louis Tannen, this Wunderkammer has been catering to both amateur and professional magicians since 1925. Best of all, the nimble-fingered staff members are more than happy to provide free demonstrations of their wondrous wares.

See the World’s Largest Chess Board

When you pass 767 Third Avenue, be sure to look up because the three-story chess board on the exterior wall is a sight to behold. The apartment building, which resides on the corner of East 48th Street, has several quirky attractions, including a 1929 Ford truck and an antique stagecoach. Swing by on Wednesdays at noon when an enormous cherry picker shifts a single chess piece for the next move in a very, very long game.