Every city in the world has invisible landmarks: buildings and artifacts with vibrant history that almost no one knows about.
As people move or pass away, the true stories of these landmarks are forgotten. Sometimes, even the landmarks themselves disappear. What was once a jaw-dropping bank robbery or a heroic rescue become vague notions of “something happened here once.”
This is true in Paris, Sao Paulo, Tokyo and D.C, some of the most visited cities in the world. Even here in NYC, once infamous buildings have become just another tower where people live/work/play.
That’s why we are sharing the story of the Knickerbocker Hotel. It’s a NYC landmark with history tied to America’s rise to power AND the sinking of the Titanic — stories that almost no one knows about.
This Building Had the Freshman 15
In 2015, the leadership team of the Knickerbocker Hotel realized they had a problem…
Their luxury hotel, originally built in the early 1900s, had closed 15 years later because of general financial decline. For nearly a century, the building had either been vacant or corporate, and re-christened with names that increasingly obscured the original: the Knickerbocker Building, the Newsweek Building, 1466 Broadway, and 6 Times Square. It was even designated as a NYC Landmark back in the 80s.
In 2015, the building was converted back to it’s original use as a hotel and even used the original name — the Knickerbocker was born again.
The problem? When the hotel opened, guests would know they were staying in a historical building and would ask questions about it, but the staff didn’t know how to answer. They had both a knowledge and skill gap: What happened here? How could they talk about it in an interesting way?
The leadership team knew about Museum Hack from our tours. They thought we might be able to help train their staff, but they weren’t sure it was a perfect fit — after all, we are museum experts, not Knickerbocker experts.
But they got in touch with us, and when our team proposed a custom solution complete with research about their building’s history, they chose to commit. “Hack the Knickerbocker” was on!
So About That Titanic Story…
Our public tours are the result of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of hours of research. We dive deep into the museum, iPad in hand, chasing down obscure facts about artifacts hiding in a dark corner or at the end of a long corridor. We hunt for the most interesting stories, not necessarily the most famous.
We took a similar approach at the Knickerbocker Hotel.
We always do web research, and often visit the library, but at the Knickerbocker we had another source. During the hotel’s renovation, three of our team members were given access to parts of the building that still aren’t open to the public (and that retain elements of the original hotel).
Our team dug through old documents, studied the original architecture and otherwise became Knickerbocker experts. The incredible stories they uncovered were then shared with the enthusiastic staff of the hotel, from doormen to kitchen staff to concierges, in an hour long private tour of the building. We finished up with a workshop, where we taught the staff how to tell compelling stories, so that they could share the Knickerbocker Hotel’s rich history with their guests.
Here is one of those stories…
Just three years after opening his grand hotel, John Jacob Astor IV created a huge scandal by divorcing his wife (gasp!). He then created another scandal 2 years later (at the age of 47) by marrying an 18 year old (GASP!).
To escape the gossip being chatted about them in NYC, they went on a year-long honeymoon. While traveling in 1912, his new wife became pregnant. They decided to travel home to have the baby. Their choice ride? The Titanic.
When the ship hit the iceberg, JJA allegedly quipped, “I asked for ice in my drink, but this is ridiculous.” What a total badass.
He went down with the ship (he was clearly too much of a baller to bribe the lifeboat crew), but his pregnant wife survived, and his son Jakey would go on to manage The Knickerbocker Hotel when he came of age.
-Kate Downey, Tour Guide for Museum Hack
From “Going To Work” to “Contributing to History”
At the Knickerbocker, we uncovered stories that helped take the building from invisible landmark back to its original status as a showcase of NYC luxury.
But the most important work we did was with the staff, who now have the tools and knowledge they need to share these stories with guests. In their words, “it was fun and accessible for everybody.”
Perhaps even more efficacious was the team building effect. The Knickerbocker group bonded over the experience and now have a shared perspective. They went from “going to work” to “contributing to American history” — an incredibly powerful shift in perspective.
Video From Our Knickerbocker Tour
Want to showcase your company’s incredible history?
The Knickerbocker trusted us to educate their team, and they had a great result. If you want to learn how Museum Hack can work with your team (or share your story with your audience, i.e., marketing), click here to read more about it, or email us at [email protected]