12 Fascinating Facts About the Metropolitan Museum of Art

A crowd on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
A crowd on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
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With 17 curatorial departments, 2.2 million square feet, and more than 2 million works in its permanent collections, the Metropolitan Museum of Art—colloquially known as the Met—contains more treasures than most visitors will ever be able to see in a lifetime. It’s impossible to summarize the New York City museum’s history, contents, and legacy in just one list, but here are 12 facts that might make you view the storied institution in a new light.

1. The Met wasn't always enormous.

The Met was founded in 1870 by a group of businessmen, financiers, artists, and cultural enthusiasts. Today, it’s known for its swanky digs on Museum Mile, a swath of Fifth Avenue that borders Central Park, but the institution was originally located in a much smaller building at 681 Fifth Avenue, which housed a Roman stone sarcophagus and 174 European paintings. The Met’s collection quickly grew too large for the space, and in 1873, the museum was moved to an estate on West 14th Street known as the Douglas Mansion, where it remained until builders completed its permanent location in 1879.

As the Met's contents swelled over the years, various additions were attached to the building. Today, the original structure is completely surrounded by more modern wings. However, you can catch a glimpse of its original west facade in the museum’s Robert Lehman Wing, which houses 2600 works that once belonged to the notable banker.

2. The museum retired its iconic metal buttons in 2013.

If you visited the Met before 2013, you likely received a metal button emblazoned with the museum’s logo (and accidentally left it attached to your jacket lapel long after you had exited the premises). The iconic proof of admission was introduced in 1971, but soaring metal prices in recent years made the trinket too costly for museum officials to continue—so in 2013, the Met retired the button in favor of a sticker. The new offering will likely never be as nostalgic as its predecessor, which for years has been incorporated into artworks, featured on museum souvenirs, and collected by zealous patrons.

3. The Met has a residential floral artist.

A tropical flower arrangement at the MetiStock.com/Terraxplorer

Each week, Remco van Vliet—a Dutch florist whose father’s flower shop once supplied blooms for the country’s royal family—produces five towering bouquets for the Met’s Great Hall. Van Vliet’s arrangements stretch up to 10 to 12 feet high. Meanwhile, floral works he creates for events held in the museum’s sky-high Egyptian wing can reach up to 20 feet.

4. It's full of familiar paintings and sculptures.

Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s 1851 painting 'Washington Crossing the Delaware' during a press preview at the Metropolitan Museum of ArtTIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

Among the institution’s many paintings and sculptures, highlights for art lovers include Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware, The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer by Edgar Degas, Jackson Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), and Van Gogh's Wheat Field with Cypresses.

5. It's home to the world's oldest surviving piano.

If you’re more of a music person than an art lover, there’s no need to skip a trip to the Met. The museum’s collections include about 5000 instruments, and one of them is the world’s oldest surviving piano. The antique instrument dates back to 1720, and was created by Bartolomeo Cristofori—the Italian man who is credited with inventing the piano.

6. There's plenty of armor and weaponry within its walls.

Even if you're not that interested in music or art, you can still check out Henry VIII’s armor—which was likely worn by the king during his last military campaign in 1544—and other impressive examples of battle gear in the Met’s Arms and Armor Department.

7. It's a mecca for fashionistas.

Meanwhile, fashion-lovers can get their fill at the museum’s Costume Institute, which boasts more than 33,000 historic, contemporary, and culturally significant articles of clothing and accessories from five continents and seven centuries.

8. You can travel the world ...

By visiting the Met, you can temporarily leave New York City—if only in spirit. Visitors can stand in an ancient Egyptian temple, relax in a Chinese Garden Court, stroll around a 16th-century Spanish castle’s patio, visit a villa bedroom that was swallowed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE, and admire a room like the ones found in the late Ottoman period in Damascus, Syria.

9. ... Or visit the Middle Ages.

A section of the CloistersiStock.com/jgorzynik

You can travel back in time if you head up to northern Manhattan. The borough’s Washington Heights neighborhood is home to The Cloisters, a branch of the Met that houses medieval art, architecture, and artifacts. Built as an ensemble that incorporates architectural elements from medieval cloisters and other European sites, the Cloisters loom over the Hudson River and are surrounded by lush Fort Tryon Park. Its idyllic location makes it a popular day-trip destination for city dwellers.

10. The Met has been featured in children's books ...

One of history’s most beloved works of children’s literature, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg, chronicles the misadventures of two children who run away from home and take up residence inside the Met.

11. ... And also in movies.

The Met has appeared in so many movies that it’s a cinematic star in its own right. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan stroll through the museum’s Egyptian temple area in When Harry Met Sally (1989). In 1999’s The Thomas Crown Affair (a modern-day remake of the 1968 original), Rene Russo stars as an investigator who tries to prove that an elusive—and charming—financier played by Pierce Brosnan stole one of the institution’s Monet paintings. And the Cloisters' scenic grounds have appeared in movies like Coogan's Bluff (1968), Keeping the Faith (2000), The Front (1976), and The Devil’s Own (1997).

12. The museum receives millions of visitors each year.

iStock.com/diegograndi

The Met is the largest art museum in the United States, and one of the most-visited museums in the world. In 2019, officials announced that 7.3 million people had swung through the museum during the previous year.

This list was first published in 2016 and republished in 2019.

Mental Floss's Three-Day Sale Includes Deals on Apple AirPods, Sony Wireless Headphones, and More

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14 Facts About International Talk Like A Pirate Day

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iStock

Ahoy, me hearties! As many of you know, September 19 is International Talk Like A Pirate Day, an annual phenomenon that’s taken the world by storm, having been observed by every continent, the International Space Station, and even the Oval Office since it first made headlines back in 2002. So let’s hoist the Jolly Roger, break out the rum, and take a look back at the holiday’s timber-shivering history.

1. Talk Like a Pirate Day was originally conceived of on D-Day.

Talk Like a Pirate Day creators John Baur and Mark Summer (who’ve since acquired the nicknames “Ol’ Chumbucket” and “Cap’n Slappy,” respectively) created the holiday while playing racquetball on June 6, 1995—the 51st anniversary of the invasion of Normandy. Out of respect to the battle’s veterans, a new observance date was quickly sought.

2. September 19th also happens to be the birthday of the ex-wife of the holiday's co-creator.

“[September 19th was] the only date we could readily recall that wasn’t already taken up with Christmas or the Super Bowl or something,” the pair later claimed. Summers claims to harbor no ill will toward his former spouse, who has since stated, “I’ve never been prouder to be his ex-wife!

3. Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry is largely responsible for popularizing the holiday.

Dave Barry was so smitten with the holiday after having been introduced to it via email in early 2002 that he dedicated an entire column to its publicity that September, turning an inside joke into a global sensation. He later went on to make a cameo appearance in one of Baur and Summers’s buccaneer-themed music videos in 2011 (look for him in the video above at the 3:25 mark).

4. Real pirates spoke in a wide variety of dialects.

Despite some extensive “English-to-Pirate” dictionaries that have cropped up all over the Internet the idea that all pirates shared a common accent regardless of national origin is historically absurd, as National Geographic pointed out in 2011.

5. Actor Robert Newton is hailed as the "patron saint" of Talk Like a Pirate Day.

So where did the modern “pirate dialect” come from? Summers and Baur credit actor Robert Newton's performance in Treasure Island (1950) and have accordingly dubbed him the “patron saint” of their holiday. Tasked with breathing life into the scheming buccaneer, Newton simply exaggerated his native West Country accent and the rest is history.

6. John Baur's family was featured on a pirate-themed episode of Wife Swap.

The reality show’s highly-anticipated 2006 season premiere pitted the Baurs (in full pillaging regalia) against a family which, according to John’s wife Tori (a.k.a. “Mad Sally”), “behaved as though ‘fun’ was something that had to be pre-packaged for their protection.”

7. John Baur was also on Jeopardy!

Baur was described to the audience as “a writer and pirate from Oregon” in his 2008 appearance. “I didn’t win,” Baur said, “but the introduction made Alex blink.”

8. International Talk Like a Pirate Day has become a cornerstone of the Pastafarian movement.

Bobby Henderson, founder of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, cited Earth’s dwindling pirate population as the clear source of global warming in his 2005 open letter to the Kansas school board which established the religion. Since then, Talk Like A Pirate Day has been observed by devout Pastafarians worldwide. 

9. A Florida mayor once ignited a local controversy for making an official Talk Like a Pirate Day proclamation.

In 2012, Lake Worth, Florida Mayor Pam Triolo lightheartedly urged her constituents to embrace the holiday last year, writing, “The City … is known to possess a spirit of independence, high spirits, and swashbuckling, all traits of a good pirate.” Her actions were criticized by the city’s former commissioner, Jo-Ann Golden, who took offense to the association with murderous seamen.

10. Day of the Ninja was created in response to Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Not to be outdone by their hated rivals, the pro-ninja community was quick to execute the first annual Day of the Ninja on December 5, 2002. For Summers and Baur’s take on the warring factions, see the clip above.

11. Astronauts once celebrated Talk Like a Pirate Day aboard the International Space Station.

In a 2012 interview, Summers recalled being “informed that the astronauts on the International Space Station were awakened to ‘A Pirate’s Life For Me' and joined in the pirate talk from space.”

12. President Obama once celebrated with a costumed buccaneer in the Oval Office.

In 2012, Barack Obama tweeted this image on Talk Like a Pirate Day with the caption “Arr you in?”

13. A congressman later used the holiday to slam President Obama's tax plan.

In 2011, Florida’s 12th congressional district representative Dennis Ross used the festivity as a political punchline after Obama made a speech detailing his tax plan, tweeting, “It is TALK like a pirate day … not ACT like one. Watch ye purses and bury yr loot, the taxman cometh.”

14. It's an official holiday in the state of Michigan.

On June 4, 2013, state senator Roger Kahn’s proposal to grant International Talk Like A Pirate Day official acknowledgement from the Michigan government was formally adopted, to the chagrin of some dissenting landlubbers. 

This story originally ran in 2013.