Brooklyn’s Underground Zoetrope

Board a Manhattan-bound Q or B train from DeKalb Avenue in Brooklyn (or on weekends, currently due to constructions, the R train runs on this track as well) and look out the right side just before the train emerges out of the tunnel onto Manhattan Bridge.

You’ll see a unique and playful piece of urban art: an underground zoetrope (“a device that produces an illusion of action from a rapid succession of static pictures”). This is one of my favorite “hidden” treasures of New York City.

Created in the 1970s by Bill Brandt and titled “Masstransiscope,” it fell into disrepair before being restored in November 2008 with no formal announcement.

The first time I noticed Masstransiscope, I thought it was just graffiti, but I was puzzled by why it was so brightly lit. And then when it registered that this “graffiti” was “alive” and moving with a specific intent, my brain exploded. I consider it a real treat that this is a frequent sighting in my regular commute and it never gets old. Vast majority of the people on the train never notice, but occasionally after the train passes this mass-transit zoetrope, I’ll make eye-contact with a stranger whose eyes too were caught by Masstransiscope and we smile as if we just shared a wonderful secret. The reaction of little kids to it is particularly awesome. They respond to it like Christmas. “Mommmmm! Looooook! It’s moving!!!!”

I’m almost hesitant to share a video of Brandt’s underground work because I don’t want to spoil it for you. I highly recommend everyone take this train to see it in person. That said, for my friends and readers who don’t live in New York City, here it is:


5 responses to “Brooklyn’s Underground Zoetrope

  1. Wow, looks trully amazing. Thanks for your post.

  2. yeah there’s a similar thing on the path coming in from hoboken i think too?

  3. Oh, wow! I take the B from 7 Av. to get home from the Brooklyn Public Library all the time and I noticed the lit pieces, but I never pieced them together. I avoided the video and look forward to this.

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