Fantastic New York City Sites and Where to Find Them

Dear Plex,

Thank you for having Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It means I can watch it over and over again and make lists of places to visit on my next jaunt across the Hudson. The movie holds a special place in my heart, not only because I grew up on trips to New York City, but the time—1926—was when my grandparents lived in Manhattan. My mom and her sisters were born right before the Great Depression. This was the New York they knew, and the New York of which they told countless stories. So seeing it on the big screen brought these memories to life. You can see some of them in the official trailer:

 

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Of course, there are tour companies that will do the job for you (On Location Tours will take you around the city via bus to sites that inspired sites in the film). But if you look closely, there are other places you can see—they don’t necessarily play the starring roles, but they’re there in the film, and they carry their own special brand of magic…

Overhead Trains

Overhead trains are thing of the past in Manhattan. But as the camera pans over Newt Scamander’s head you’ll catch a glimpse of them. Most likely, these are the tracks that are now part of the High Line. The tracks were recycled into a park that runs from Midtown down to Greenwich Village, a lovely walk with wonderful views of the city. Map Some More Magic: Go underground to the Lowline Park where sunlight filters down into the former Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal, and fantastic plants flourish in abundance—magic!

On the High Line: photo from New York City Department of Parks and Recreation

The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

Right before we get to see Newt for the first time, we see the boat that brought him to America, and of course, it passes right by the Statue of Liberty, and then Ellis Island. There’s only one way to get to the island, the same as tens of millions have—by water. And when you arrive, chances are that the Great Hall of Ellis Island will be filled with people, just as it was when immigrants started arriving in 1892—and like my Nonni did in 1921. About 40% of the people in the United States can trace their heritage back to folks who passed through Ellis Island. If you have relatives that came in through New York City, visit the research room to see ship manifests and even pictures of the boats. It doesn’t seem that Newt was processed at Ellis Island, but rather, over at the Piers. He travels on the Royal Star Line… perhaps a nod to White Star, the shipping line of which the Titanic was a part (Titanic was supposed to dock at Pier 59, near 18th Street–you can still see it today!).

Ellis Island in the 1920s, photo from the archives at the Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Foundation

Central Park

Newt and Jacob spend some time in Central Park—specifically, in the zoo, but Central Park was designed to be a spiritual, a magical experience. Tunnels and stairways where you can’t see your destination until you pass through or reach the top, take you from world to world. Hundreds of gates, arches, sculptures, fountains and natural areas fill the park’s 843 acres: In the walkway overlooking the Bethesda Fountain, witches watch in the intricately carved stone.

A piece of Central Park’s hidden magic—photo from Forgotten New York’s Southern Central Park Tour

Macy’s

Everyone’s favorite department store has starred in a few films—and Newt and his buddies manage to trash the Christmas displays (of course they fix it all up later). Did you know you can time travel in Macy’s on 34th Street? All you have to do… is go up! But you MUST take the escalators. As you move from floor to floor, you’ll see that the steps are made of wood. Yep, these are the originals from the 1920’s.

Macy’s wooden escalator, photo from the New York Times

Orchard Street

The site of Jacob Kowalski’s bakery was a vibrant Jewish community. My mom said that Orchard Street was where Nonni would take them to buy their clothes—some of the older stores are still around. Close by, and a part of the On Location Tour, is the Tenement Museum. I was happy to see that several buildings in my mom’s old neighborhood (not too far away on Mulberry Street in Little Italy) still stand, and St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral is still open. Sadly, Jacob’s bakery is make believe, but Erin McKenna’s (Babycakes!) isn’t—thank Merlin!

Fantastic Creature Cookies (and photo) from Erin McKenna’s Bakery

Magical journeys await! ♥

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Natalie Zaman is the author of Magical Destinations of the Northeast and co-author of the Graven Images Oracle deck (Galde Press). She is also the co-author (with Charlotte Bennardo) of three young adult novels, Sirenz and Sirenz Back In Fashion (Flux) and Blonde Ops (Thomas Dunne Books). A regular contributor to various Llewellyn annual publications, she also writes the recurring feature “Wandering Witch” for Witches & Pagans Magazine. When not on the road, she’s busy chasing a flock of free range hens around her magical back-garden. Visit Natalie online at http://nataliezaman.blogspot.com.