Shelves of unwanted Furbies, their eyes seemingly wide with terror. Row after row of discarded Superman figures, still proud despite their straitened circumstances. A wall of forgotten Pez dispensers, including characters from Looney Tunes and The Muppet Show. These are among the exhibits housed in the Treasures In The Trash collection, a hidden museum of garbage in East Harlem, nestled within the confines of a vast warehouse owned by the New York City Sanitation Department. Apart from “occasional organized tours,” this strange Smithsonian of refuse is not open to the general public, but Atlas Obscura’s Dylan Thuras provides a haunting guided tour of the place, collected and curated by a retired sanitation worker named Nelson Molina. Though most people will never be able to see Molina’s magnificent collection in person, Thuras’ evocative photographs give readers a sense of what three decades of accumulated New York trash look like.
From female bodybuilding trophies to Christmas decorations to family photographs, they’re all here, painstakingly organized by theme and color by Molina himself. There’s even a family of electric guitars encircling a shrine to Michael Jackson. The museum has its own art collection, too. “Nelson Molina grabbed any piece that caught his eye,” Thuras writes. And pewterware? Forget it. There’s enough of that in the collection for several large households, all of it seemingly in usable condition. In fact, what might be the most interesting aspect of this obscure museum is the idea that, behind every one of its exhibits, is a story. Why were these items thrown away? What was going on in the lives of their former owners? And how can we visit this museum immediately?