Nelson Molina has taken the adage about treasuring one man’s trash to a whole new level – level two of a secret museum, to be precise. And it’s not so much ‘one man’s trash’ as it is the daily sheddings of 96th to 106th Street, New York City.
Having worked at New York City’s Department of Sanitation for over 30 years, Nelson has been well placed to pick up a great number of his route’s discarded treasures.
Because the department forbade its workers from taking rubbish home, Nelson decided to save special finds another way. Starting in 1981, thousands upon thousands of trophies, toys, photographs, clocks, Christmas decorations, university diplomas and countless other oddments now comprise Nelson’s collection, the Treasures in the Trash Museum. It's truly a sight to behold – if you’re ever lucky enough to behold it.
Officially closed to the public, this cave of wonders recently rolled back its proverbial boulder to welcome a number of fortunate visitors attending the city’s last Open House tour. Robin Nagle, an anthropologist assisting the DSNY, emphasised the social value of Nelson’s collection to attendees: “Everything you see here, he rescued while behind the truck here in East Harlem.”
Now retired, Nelson still tends to the enormous collection, which is organised into themed tables so that visitors who have gained official permission from the city can easily peruse its wares. We just hope that Nelson and his friends at the DSNY can find a way to convince the city to protect this most unique of historical catalogues. In the meantime, here's a short film about the museum from the BBC:
Related: Want to know more about the Department of Sanitation’s full-time anthropologist? We published a profile on Robin Nagle in Smith Journal volume 21. Grab a copy, subscribe or find your local stockist.