‘New York on Ice: Skating in the City’ exhibit doesn’t glide over the pastime’s history

Young skaters cling to each other as they move across the ice at Wollman Rink in Central Park. Circa 1955. Photo Credit: Museum of the City of New York

Anywhere ice forms -- ponds, waterways and rinks -- New Yorkers have laced up their skates and gone gliding.

This December, the Museum of the City of New York is putting the city’s love affair with ice skating on view in a new collection of photographs, posters, paintings, lithographs and costumes, from its beginnings with the Dutch through today’s competitions.

“New York on Ice: Skating in the City,” which opens Dec. 20, will feature vintage photos of kids skating at Wollman Rink in Central Park, workers tinkering with water pipes at The Rink at Rockefeller Center, figure skaters showing off on the ice, and a number of illustrated postcards and other images of the city’s once-popular ice skating spots.


“In curating this exhibition, I’ve discovered that ice-skating provides a fascinating window onto a lot of different aspects of city life, including the history of popular culture and nightlife, the development of public parks and the rise of midtown Manhattan as an entertainment district,” said Frances Rosenfeld, the museums curator said. “It’s a seemingly innocuous topic which turns out to have great depths.”

In its 400 years as a city pastime, ice skating has gone from just a pastime to a competitive sport.

At its start in New York City, skating was done by Dutch colonists in the 17th century, which was then picked up by British settlers, who continued the tradition. Frozen ponds and lakes were where it happened, but with the opening of the first section of Central Park in December 1858, where the Lake is located, the sport erupted, according to the museum.

“Skating mania” pervaded the city and rinks became the norm. In fact, a man named Thomas Healy created a skating rink for performances on the highest level of a restaurant he called Golden Glades in 1916, according to a Bronxville Review article from the time. A postcard of the magnificent place, which was located at Broadway and 66th Street, can be seen within the collection.

Drama and Broadway-like shows -- think “Disney on Ice” -- took place during the period, too, the museum said. One image shows the star of a an extravaganza at the New York Hippodrome, “Hip! Hip! Hooray,” posing on ice.

Some of the costumes and clothing worn during the craze and from recent decades, including a coat lined with mink and hockey player Jake Forbe’s New York Americans jersey from 1925-26, will be displayed as well.The exhibit is on through April 15, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Tickets are $18.