Replacing New York City’s long outmoded pay phones, LinkNYC kiosks have become recognizable beacons on thousands of city blocks, offering free wifi, advertising space, and the occasional illuminating factoid. But where do they get their material? Baruch History Department Adjunct Professor Katie Uva, under contract with the Museum of the City of New York, has recently contributed dozens of “On This Day” New York City history facts to the LinkNYC kiosks. She took some time to answer a few of my questions.
Dan: How did you get involved with The Museum of the City of New York and how were you selected for this project?
Katie: From 2013-2018 I worked as a Museum Educator, giving tours to school groups, college classes, and various adult groups. After leaving that job, I hosted New York City trivia nights at the museum from 2018-2021. And then this summer I was asked to write some new “On This Day” facts for the LinkNYC kiosks. Through my time working as a Museum Educator and then hosting trivia, as well as working for the Gotham Center for New York City History at the CUNY Graduate Center and regularly teaching New York City History at Baruch and Lehman, I’ve acquired some expertise in New York City history but also a good eye for what’s broadly entertaining or sparks curiosity about this city. I’m a historian by training and a lot of my work involves research and substantive interpretation, but it’s also nice to just do something fun and simpler sometimes.
Dan: What are a few of your favorite history facts that you contributed?
Katie: I don’t want to give away the “On This Days”; you’ll have to keep an eye out for them as they turn up on the LinkNYC kiosks! But I will give you one fact for each borough:
Staten Island is home to the highest point on the eastern seaboard; Todt Hill (401 feet tall).
Queens has the most public library branches in the city.
Brooklyn has the most subway stops.
Manhattan is the birthplace of the Oreo cookie.
The city’s largest park and the nation’s oldest golf course are both located in the Bronx.
Dan: How do you feel a resource like “On This Day” affects the collective understanding of history in New York City?
Katie: I think there’s often a slightly pejorative connotation to the idea of trivia or factoids, but I love being able to share bits and pieces of information about New York City. We live in a fractured media landscape, so I really like that the LinkNYC is one common source of information, but that it also has a certain serendipitous quality–it’s generally by chance that you happen to pass one and notice one of these history tidbits.
For some people who have lived here a long time, I think the “On This Days” will provide a glimmer of recognition, a sort of “I remember that!” moment on your commute. For more recent residents, it’s a light, fun way to learn more about where you live and help develop more of a feeling of rootedness. And my favorite factoid/trivia moments are when someone finds out something interesting enough to share with other people and it starts a conversation, so my hope is that some of my “On This Days” will do that.