The Subway Garnet

July 7, 2012

Carl Mehling, paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History, is as far as I know the only person to have discovered fossils in all five NYC boroughs (including Manhattan). I like him for two reasons: one, his museum office is full of toys of awesome creatures, as though a very smart and very wealthy 8-year-old works there; and two, he tipped me off to the Subway Garnet.

The Garnet is a nearly 10-pound jewel that was dug up in 1885 at 35th Street by some guys excavating for a sewer. It grew isometrically—that is, its facets are natural. The AMNH Gem & Mineral department keeps it in a steel cabinet next to other marvels (the memory of an opal carved into the shape of a monkey still makes my kleptomania tingle). Jamie Newman, a senior assistant there, let me cup the melon-sized gem in my hands for a few minutes. It was a rare privilege, and my best 9.625 lbs ever in New York.