model train set on track

The New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show

e*Train Issue: Jan 2005   |   Posted in:

By Paul Olekson, (TTML Moderator)

The entrance to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory is all decked out for Christmas

According to the New York Botanical Garden brochure, the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory is the largest Victorian Glass house in the United States. It is sizeable with its over 42,000 square foot interior.

Originally named The Crystal Palace, it opened in 1902 and is now designated a New York City Historic Landmark. The iron and glass building was inspired by London’s Crystal Palace which existed from 1854 to 1936. London’s Crystal Palace was destroyed by a spectacular fire after years of neglect. New York’s Crystal Palace was renamed the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory in honor of the major benefactor for its 1993-1997 restoration.

The conservatory is famous enough to have its own replica

An Eggliner in a ladybug paint scheme zips along weaving through the scenery

The New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show is held in the conservatory and has become a New York Christmas season tradition. It was begun in 1992 and has attracted thousands of local New Yorkers as well as local and international tourists.

Look under the bridge and above the people’s heads and you will see two more bridges in the distance. This really is a big train show

The show is the creation of Paul G. Busse. The annual display is revised and improved upon yearly by Mr. Busse and his team at Applied Imagination, a company based in Alexandria, Ky.

A tight crowd flows under the Hell Gate Bridge while an RDC rolls overhead

It was one of the first very cold days in New York when my son and I visited this year. Upon entering the conservatory you are confronted with near tropical heat and humidity. If you visit on a cold day like we did and if you wear eye-glasses, expect to take some time to step aside and clean the heavy frost off your lenses!

A Christmas train winds its way around the base of the Brooklyn Bridge. If under the Brooklyn Bridge only looked so good!
A trolley crosses the famous Brooklyn Bridge

The conservatory planners were wise in their arrangement of the building. My son and I had been prepared to dash right up to the trains and watch the action. The floor plan is such that a visitor must walk through several wings and a tunnel before reaching the trains. Of course, I am sure that no one ever had a train show in mind when they built the place. Actually, it’s really nice and after we realized the trains were not to be seen immediately, we calmed down and actually began to learn something about plants. I believe there were other families in the crowd having the same experience.

Along the route to the train display, we even saw plants bearing coffee beans. By the time everyone reached the room that housed the cactus, the air was filled with “oohs” and “aahs.” It is quite interesting really to see cactus in the middle of frigid cold Bronx, New York.

By comparison, the only other “train show” I have ever been to that seemed as crowded, is the Train Collectors Association Eastern Division semi annual event in York, Pennsylvania. Not that there were 14,000 people in the garden at one time, but the conservatory itself was as full with people as any one hall at the York fairgrounds. Beyond the TCA event, the crowd here was a cross section of world culture. I heard accents unfamiliar to even a cosmopolitan New Yorker . The place was packed with children, grandparents, infants in strollers, people in wheelchairs, there were truly children of all ages from just about everywhere, and all were there to see the trains.

The tower and ticket booths at Luna Park in Coney Island

I must confide that once in the wing of the conservatory that housed the train display, I saw not one person interested in any plants or the greater field of botany. The scenery and trains combine to make an animated, unusual, and unexpected interpretation of the sights and landmarks of New York. All the structures are made of plant matter. Mr. Busse does not work from a blue print according to an interview in a local newspaper. The G gauge garden railroad trains loop around water falls, exotic plants, cross high bridges over the publics’ heads, and of course pass the modeled famous landmarks of New York. The display itself occupies an amazing 6000 square feet. There are 140 replicas including the Statue of Liberty, Hell Gate Bridge, Apollo Theater, Saks Fifth Avenue, Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central Terminal, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Guggenheim Museum, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the new center of attraction this year – the 1923 Yankee Stadium. There are also recreations of famous sites from around the metropolitan area such as Van Cortlandt Manor and the Rockefeller estate known as Kykuit.

A Christmas Trolley arriving at the Apollo Theater ca 1913

Each structure is handcrafted from a limitless variety of natural materials such as willow twigs, acorn tops, eucalyptus leaves, juniper berries, poppy pods, maple seeds, honeysuckle, hickory nuts, and bamboo just to name a few.

Each replica takes a work group of eight people several months to complete. They are built in Kentucky and shipped to New York by truck. Busse and his crew arrive at the Botanical Garden ten days prior to the show’s opening. In those ten days they build the display, add the new structures, and also repair and update older ones that are stored at the Botanical Garden all year. There is a decided Victorian and post Victorian flavor to the buildings and structures. Busse relates in an interview that the cinnamon stick makes the best Victorian trim. He called them the “perfect medium.” After each piece is built and finished, it is soaked in urethane in order to preserve it.

Statue of Liberty and N.Y. City Hall

The trains vary in manufacture from Aristo-Craft, LGB, and others. The very first layout as you enter the display area is elevated about three feet off the floor and all who enter are greeted by a sleek New York Central streamlined passenger train. Overhead run various trains including an RDC, an Amtrak Genesis locomotive with a Home Depot logo, and a trolley. Down low at grass and kid level run fast steam freights, a circus train, a streetcar, and several Christmas trains.

Arriving visitors are greated by a pair of New York Central Alcos pulling an Amtrak streamliner on an elevated figure 8 layout

The most impressive of all to me was my son’s delight at the toy train action. He was down on the floor keeping an eye on all the motion. I can assure you he wasn’t alone. The trains riveted the attention of everyone there. I was happy to have brought him to a place that he could connect to. This being a famous location and a New York holiday event that also had trains, made it not just another one of “daddy’s train shows.” This is an important and valuable holiday event. How awesome to see the large amount of visitors, the eager families, and the exposure of excited people to toy trains.

Some famous New York town houses with front door train service


“The Journal News / Life and Style”; Mary Shustack; November 17, 2005

The conservatory is huge. Jonathan hams it up in front of just about 25% of the building