Eskimo Goggles on East 75th

Inside the massive antique eyeglasses collection tucked into Ruth Pollack’s two-bedroom apartment.

Story by Elizabeth D. Herman & Daniel Krieger | October 15, 2012

When I was a kid, my mother used to tell me about her lifelong friend Ruth Pollack, whom she met on the first day of their freshman year at Forest Hills High School, in 1945.

Years ago, my mother and I visited Pollack in her home on the Upper East Side. She gave me a tour of her treasures—over one thousand pairs of antique eyeglasses. Pollack told me about how the first corrective, wearable eyeglasses were likely invented in Italy in the thirteenth century; how the Chinese were the first to figure out how to hang weights on the frames of glasses so that they would stay in place on the wearer’s face. I never forgot the two-thousand-year-old whalebone “Eskimo goggles” she showed me, a very early prototype of sunglasses.

Pollack’s cozy, two-bedroom apartment on East 75th Street—which I visited again this summer with photographer and multimedia journalist Elizabeth Herman—is a temple to her passion. Posters of eyeglasses and eyes line the walls, and all manner of glasses are on display just about everywhere: on plates, in nooks, framed on the walls, filling an assortment of glass cases. Herman and I were two of the last people who got a peek inside this palace of lenses; Pollack is moving to Virginia at the end of the month, after living on East 75th for more than half a century—the same length of time she’s been collecting. As for what will become of her collection? “I’ll keep all the glasses around,” she told me. “I like to look at them.”

But later, when she’s no longer around, Pollack’s daughter will inherit her collection. The Smithsonian Institution only expressed an interest in a few pairs, Pollack said, so she decided that it was more important to keep her decades of work together.

Pollack recalled her daughter’s reaction to her offer: “Her eyes filled with tears and she said, ‘Oh, yes! Can I have them?’”

“Wherever she is, she’s going to find a couple of walls somewhere to hang these, or a box,” Pollack continued. “So that makes me very happy.”

Daniel Krieger

The Grieving Mom Fighting for a Healthcare System That Actually Works

Amy Vilela lost her daughter when she couldn’t afford the medical bills. When her Congressman told her he wouldn’t support universal healthcare, Amy said, “I’m running.”

This Ferguson Activist Wants to be Missouri’s First Black Congresswoman

Cori Bush is a registered nurse, a pastor and a mom. After taking to the streets to protest police killings, she looked in the mirror and said, “why not politician, too?”

The 28-Year-Old Latina Challenging New York’s Most Powerful Congressman

“The Boss of the Queens Machine” hasn’t faced a primary challenger in 14 years. But an underfunded upstart is suddenly giving him a run for his money.

This Coalminer’s Daughter Is Mad as Hell—And Running for the U.S. Senate

Paula Jean Swearengin has seen West Virginia’s land exploited, its people fall ill, and its politicians do nothing. So she decided to do something herself.

These 4 Women Are Taking on a Politician Near You

The coalminer’s daughter. The bartender. The police brutality activist. The grieving mother. Each looked at the man representing her in Congress and said, “I can do better.”

The Collector of Time

As Mark McKinley puts it, “no collector ever says, ‘I’ve gone too far.'” After 27 years and an official Guinness World Record, he stands by that statement.

The Saviors of Saffron

Three young Spaniards are reviving the farming tradition that flourished in their grandparents' generation.

An Aging Mother’s Animated Love Letter to Her Autistic Son

“Who would look after him if I wasn’t here?” and other questions this mom asks herself every day.

Courvosier Cox Knows He’s a Superstar

Meet a teenage actor-singer-comedian with absolutely no doubt that his tumultuous adolescence will soon give way to Hollywood fame.

Get your Narratively Neverending Storytelling Swag Bag. Become a Patron today. ×