New York City is a lot of things to a lot of people, but one thing it will always be is mysterious.
For 14 years, we’ve made it our business, literally, to uncover the odd and unusual about places in the city you might visit every day, or that you might never set foot in. Read on for just the barest few of the many secrets and tidbits you can find on Watson Adventures scavenger hunts.
1. Times Square: The Sound Sculpture
The Crossroads of the World is a noisy, crowded place most New Yorkers avoid at all cost, except on our Midtown Madness Scavenger Hunt. Most locals haven’t discovered that it hides a “sound sculpture.” The late artist Max Neuhaus installed his work—a small machine that emits a low, steady tone—below a subway grate in the triangular pedestrian island surrounded by Broadway, Seventh Avenue, and 46th Street.
First installed in the ’70s and revived and updated in the early 2000s, Neuhaus’ piece is an unmarked secret. Most anyone who knows it exists has stumbled upon it accidentally, mainly by standing in the right spot. Even then, it can be easy to miss the sound, which the artist himself described as a “rich, harmonic sound texture resembling the after-ring of large bells.”
2. Tunnel to Governor’s Island?
Considering it has been home to British barracks, American forts, and a prison, Governor’s Island naturally bears its share of surprises—many of which are featured in the new Secrets of Governor’s Island Scavenger Hunt.
One of the island’s most tantalizing secrets is also one of its most outrageous. Legend has it that an underground tunnel connects the Governor’s House (named for the English colonial governor, not any New York governor) on the east end of the island to nearby Brooklyn. It would have served as an emergency escape route for the British who occupied the island—during, say, the American Revolution. No evidence of this tunnel has ever been discovered.
3. Chinatown’s Bloody Angle
The Gangsters’ New York Scavenger Hunt recounts some of Chinatown’s grisly history, including the ominously named Bloody Angle. Some 200 feet long, Doyers Street was crooked in more than shape. Frequented by Chinese gangs, or tongs, in its early days, it has supposedly seen more deaths than any other street in the world. (That’s probably not true, but dubious tour guides have been known to make the claim.)
How about just one example? In 1909 members of the Hip Sing gang took heckling to a new low when they murdered a comedian for being disrespectful. That comedian happened to be a member of the On Leong gang, and a year-long tong war broke out. That conflict has also been linked to the brutal murder of a young girl named Bow Kim. Either way, the “Bloody Angle” of Doyers Street was a favorite spot for vicious ambushes. Today it’s a great place for dim sum, at the Nom Wah Tea Parlor, which veterans of the Munch Around Chinatown Hunt know.
4. Grand Central’s Dirty Little Secret
Everyone knows Grand Central Terminal is alive with strange secrets and myriad mysteries—hence the always-popular Secrets of Grand Central Scavenger Hunt. The main concourse’s famous ceiling alone hides a surprisingly rich history, if you know where to look.
In this case, if you look at the northwest corner, where one of the crab’s claws points, you can make out a little rectangle of dark grime. That’s the one spot of the ceiling that didn’t receive a deep clean in the 1990s, and it looms as a reminder of what the ceiling looked like after 100 years of smoking. Indeed, according to the MTA, the mess is mainly from tobacco, and the dirt and dust that stuck to it.
5. Bowling Green Riot
When you walk around the Wall Street area, you’re following in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers. On Hamilton: The Scavenger Hunt, you’ll discover much about the $10 superstar, as well as the neighborhood where he lived and worked.
Take Bowling Green. You might know it’s the city’s oldest public park and the site of the original Dutch fort. You might not know that a huge riot once mangled the park. After the Declaration of Independence was read for the first time in New York, a rowdy mob stormed down Broadway to Bowling Green and pulled down a statue of King George there. (The tail from the statue, and a Bowling Green Riot painting can be found in the New-York Historical Society.) The mob also ripped crowns off the green’s fence, a landmark dating back to 1771. That fence still stands today, and you can feel the rough ends of the posts that once bore those crowns.
Find More Fun
You’ll also find countless more secrets at our public scavenger hunts around the country. For full listings, visit the Public Hunt schedule. To ask us about arranging a private scavenger hunt for your group, contact us online or at 877-946-4868, extension 11.