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  • Writer's pictureBecky Fifield

Museum Monday: Lunch Hour at the New York Public Library

New York Public Library Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. Photo: Wikipedia.

My mother’s favorite meal of the day is lunch. Usually those with a bent towards a particular meal time choose breakfast, but for Mom, it’s lunch. So when my parents came up to visit for the day, we went to see Lunch Hour, a new exhibition at the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street.

Automat. Edward Hopper, 1927. Des Moines Art Center.

The exhibition explores the evolution of lunch in New York City. When the 19th century opened, most midday meals were still called dinner and were eaten at home (as an aside: my grandparents, both farm kids in the 1920s, ate dinner at 2pm as retirees, and my family still continues to have mid-day dinner on Sundays). By the end of the nineteenth century, lunch was in full swing in Manhattan, and would later evolve into quick lunch luncheonettes, automats, and power lunches during the twentieth century.

I’m a little wistful for the automat – not the dingy gasping establishment of the 1970s, but the shiny new mechanical fascination of the 1910s. My mother remarked in the exhibition that when visiting NYC for the 1964 World’s Fair, she took the ill-fated elevated (which I assumed was the Sixth Avenue line, the last to be torn down in 1965) to the automat with Uncle F.

It was a great day, filled with menus from the NYPL collections (check out the What’s On the Menu? project), 1980s lunch boxes, dairy luncheonettes, Sardi’s memorabilia, and lots of exclamations “look at this.” Lunch Hour runs until February 17, 2013.

Childs’ [sic] Lunch, 1900. What’s on the Menu? project, New York Public Library.

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