There is a window on 11th Street in Greenwich Village that you might not notice unless you look down. Once noticed, it is hard to ignore. The window draws you in, filled as it is with an odd collection of random things: glass eyes, marionettes, human teeth, stuffed chickens and ducks. Is it a store? An art gallery? A sign taped to the glass reads, "Items in window just for viewing pleasure (tip of a collected iceberg)."
The man behind the window, as I discovered by venturing down the stairs one day, is an architect named Rick Share. In his studio here, among the jars of drafting pencils and tools, in piles and stacks and wooden boxes, he keeps the rest of the iceberg.
Hanging from a network of dusty water pipes along the ceiling is a collection of marionettes, all hand-made and secured beneath hoods of fabric. There is Greta Garbo, Laurel and Hardy, a turbaned snake charmer complete with snake, and a hobo with a gimp made by the man who made Topo Gigio, the mouse turned famous by Ed Sullivan.
Rick once tried his hand at making his own marionettes, and they're here, too. Heads carved from wood and molded from papier mache. Bodies abandoned with only one leg completed.
Rick told me he has neither rhyme nor reason to his collecting, but there are themes that stand out. He likes things having to do with the human body. And so there are the glass eyes, ancient measuring tools for prostheses, and a stunning collection of tooth mold guides used by long-dead dentists.
He likes amateur architectural sketches, too. Bits of ephemera made by artists who never were discovered by the world. "People sketching their house--some of them had fantastic hands! And you know they died on the farm, never getting past the chickens and hens."
People often peer in the window from the sidewalk above. A few leave notes. Fewer venture down the stairs. Rick has a file on them, collections of notes and photos that people send. One woman sends postcards that say, "I hope we can finally meet." Another note says, "Hello, I would like to work with the duck. Please call me."
For the most part, Rick never sees the faces of passersby. Sitting at his desk, looking up, he sees only their legs from the knees down. And their dogs.
"I know all the dogs in the neighborhood," he says. "When I recognize a dog, I think: I know which legs you belong to."
He overhears people's responses to his window. They don't know he's listening. "They'll say: 'It's a doll hospital.' Or: 'No, it's a puppet maker. Oh, God,' they say, 'It's too scary! I can't look. I gotta get out of here!' Sometimes a group goes by and one person stops and says: 'Come back and look at this.' Then the legs return, they gather awhile, and move on again."
Now and then, someone dares to walk down the steps. Said Rick, "People who come down are the interesting people, the ones with the chutzpah. Nobody's boring that comes down."
I told Rick that I came down to talk with him because his window reminded me of the lost mystery of New York and how that mystery is being bleached out of the city. It's a thrill to stumble upon it in the few places where it yet remains.
"That's why I do the window," he said, "For the fun of not knowing what the hell it is. And just for the wonder of it."
See all my pics of the "Mystery Window" here