Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Tenement Museum, Lower East Side, NY

The Tenement Museum is located at 97 Orchard Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City. This museum, founded in 1988, is dedicated to all the immigrants who came to New York City during the 1800s, but in particular to the occupants of this one-time tenement on Orchard Street.
An estimated 7000 people from more than 20 nations--from Turkish and German Jews to Sicilian and Irish Catholics--over the course of 72 years, lived at this one address of 97 Orchard Street between 1863 and 1935.

The museum can be seen by guided tour only. Tours run every 40 minutes on weekdays and every half-hour on weekends. There are many different types of guided tours depending upon the time --check the schedule here.

Tenement tours visit different restored apartments. No tour encompasses the entire building. Rather, each tour focuses on a particular floor and theme. Each tour will show you the rooms that actual families lived in and will describe their immigrant experiences of making a new life in a new country, working hard for a better future, and starting a family with limited means, often under harsh circumstances.

While no photos are allowed to be taken inside the museum there are many that can be seen on the museum Flickr site.

Here are a few of those photos:

The Levine Family's kitchen, from 1890. They immigrated from Poland and had five children. They converted their little 325 square feet apartment into a garment shop where they worked 10 - 15 hours a day, six days a week, to earn their living.

The Moore's family's kitchen --an Irish immigrant family that came there during the Civil War years in the 1860's. Only four of their eight children lived to adulthood. One of their baby girls died from malnutrition, thought to be brought on by inferior milk called "swill, " which was sold to the poor by street vendors, ladled out of dirty vats and sometimes adulterated with chalk or ammonia.
The Baldizzi apartment. They arrived from Italy in 1923 and struggled to find work through the Great Depression. The father of the family made the white cabinet you see in the photo.
In 1935, the building’s owners sealed off most of the 20 units rather than make changes to meet new housing codes, and the Baldizzi's were evicted and moved to Brooklyn.

It is fascinating to walk through these apartments and hear the curators recite the stories about the actual people who lived, worked,and died in these tenements. It is easy to imagine those families hopes and dreams of giving their children a better life, much as the new immigrants to America do today.

A virtual tour of the museum can be taken online at this link and the museum also has an interesting blog that discusses history, facts, recipes and other interesting discoveries about the lives and times of immigrants from the Tenement Museum timeline.

I hope you will consider visiting the Tenement Museum if you visit New York. It is a doorway into the past, and also a reminder that we are a country made great through immigration.

24 comments:

Barb said...

nice history lesson, I enjoyed reading this....Barb

Lucy said...

Oh my gosh....I want to see that so bad I can hardly sit still. I had no idea something like that existed. Those people! That history! I'll be in DC in April. Hmmmm....that's closer than Arizona. Hmmmmm...............

black eyed susans kitchen said...

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the lower east side. My father used to drive us through that area when we were kids and tell us tales of the neighborhood, although he was born and raised in Brooklyn. Funny enough, we just watched Gangs of New York this weekend (first time) which revived my interest in its history. Thanks for this post.
♥, Susan

Nola @ the Alamo said...

That should make us all very thankful for the excess we enjoy today! My family immigrated from Czechoslovakia at the turn of the last century. They settled in Chicago, but I imagine their living accomodations were very similar.

The Quintessential Magpie said...

Such harsh circumstances. I love history, Pat, and this is fascinating! I love house museums like this.

When you think about it, even the earliest immigrants faced some pretty grim dangers, too. During the earliest years of the Virginia Colony's settlement, the famine in Jamestown was so bad that people were boiling their shoes (and Bibles) and other things to get salt. The boats bringing supplies didn't arrive, and when they finally did, they were greeted by people who were basically stick figures. Many had already perished. The famine was caused by a draught that killed everything. Some historians basically felt that the colonists had nearly died out of starvation because of their lack of skill, but a lot of it had to do with the draught.

Many centuries later, they cut some trees that were ancient, and they found out that there was severe water deprivation based on a tree ring study.

History... it's the stuff of which life is truly made! :-)

XO,

Sheila... who loves your NYC history lessons!

aliceinparis said...

Fascinating! I would love to take a tour through that building. Quite heart wrenching and eye opening. We live like queens and kings.

CurtissAnn said...

Oh, thanks for a peek into another world! I adore old buildings, especially interested in the first half of the 1900s and people at that time.

Love your site!

Vee said...

How awful about that vile milk! I'd never heard of that. The size of these apartments surprise me...they look pretty large.

supplies overflowing! said...

Oh Pat,
something else now to put on my "places to go, and things to do" list! (I really have one!)
I just read a blurb today in my "the Artist's Magazine", about the Pierre Bonnard exhibit at The Met. It is there until April 19. That is also on my list as of today. Is the deli anywhere near the Tenement museum? I guess I will have to look at your previous post. Thanks for everything!
I can't believe that there are so many places I don't know about in NY, and I grew up in Bergen County, and started going into the city with a girlfriend on Saturdays, starting in the 6th grade, AND I even WORKED in NY!

ARLENE said...

325 square feet!! Can you even imagine that? What an interesting site. Thanks so much, Pat, for making me aware of it. I hope to visit the museum some day.

Tara said...

Pat

Two weeks ago when we stayed in Manhattan for a few days to visit my son at FIT we took this tour! I did not post about it since you were unable to take pics. You found great shots! We did the Moore tour of the Irish family. That tenement house was so run down I felt incredibly claustrophobic in it and I do not think you can visual how many families were in such a small space! The "backyard"--almost 10x10 was a place to play, defecate and do the wash...yikes! They told us 7,000 people went through the Moore apt. alone in a short period of time. They had it tough!! What a great post, so much to learn about how our forebears got here and all they had to put up with ( and I complain when my dishwasher isn't working!! Sorry Grandma O'Rourke!)

:0)
Tara

Jojo said...

This is on my list of places to visit on my next trip to NY. If I am not mistaken, it was the tenements that inspired a group called the Ethical Society to form the visiting nurses program and eventually legal aid societies.

Thank you for sharing this interesting, though sometimes sad and unimaginable part of American history.

supplies overflowing! said...

Hi Pat- just a quick comment-
I've just seen your comments to me, and I have to tell you that I've made note about Grant St. Thanks!
Also, my oldest daughter was a freshman at American Un. in D.C. on 9/11. I went bananas of course (internally)as soon as a girlfriend asked how she was- I hadn't even known at that point that anything had happened down there. Thank goodness for the computer- I was online, and all of a sudden her screen name popped up. It was the first time we were ever on at the same time- and able to im each other.
'til tomorrow! Have a good night!

Ken Mac said...

excellent pics! WSP is only half finished. Not sure why they are waiting to open the newly renovated half...thanks for visiting my blog

Picket said...

Pat, I loved this history post! It is amazing at what those families went thru to give their children a better future...great post my friend....thanks for coming by and I hope you are having a beautiful week in your history pack town!

Willow said...

I wonder if one of my ancestors ever lived or stayed there...

Gracie said...

Thanks again for another nice story. More to store away till my visit to the Big Apple!

Tracy said...

What a time capsule! I would love to see this place! Thanks for the trip in the meantime, Pat! You take us to the best place--always learn so much :o) Happy Day ((HUGS))

Rita Kent at TesoroFino.Com said...

Sad to say that I am from Long Island and have never been there yet. My parents are immigrants & came over from Italy and started their life here in Brooklyn. Today, Papa is 90 and Mamma is 84 and there's is nothing more pleasurable to me than to visit them, make a tremendous lunch spread, get the wine, put on some great Italian music and listen to their stories from the past. They're incredible stories from the war, the depression, to fox holes and from surviving concentration camps right to the day the Americans came to save them. They described the American soldiers flying above them and throwing candy throughout the village because of the war victory and war completion, leaving them to repair and begin their lives over again. It perplexes me that I did not even know this museum existed and now because of you, I have been exposed to some wonderful little treasure just an hour away from my home. I cannot wait for school Spring break so that I can take the children to this wonderful exhibit. Thanks for sharing part of my families heritage and experience. Ciao, Rita

A Thousand Clapping Hands said...

This is absolutely fascinating and a must see when I visit NYC again! I lived there for 10 years and am a native of New Jersey. Thank you so much for your visit and kind words. How lucky you are to be in the great city of New York!
All the best,
Catherine

Melanie said...

What a fascinating place full of social history as well as artifacts. Thanks for sharing it.

steviewren said...

The Tenement Museum is now on my list of places I want to visit. I would love seeing all that history.

Lisa B. said...

OMG! I would love to visit that museum. I wish everyone could.

When I hear people complain about immigrants and migrant workers...I wish they could understand the kind of people that immigrants are. Like the Levine family...they will do what they have to and work so hard to make a better life. People who come to the US like that are made of strong stock. I really think that is a very big part of what has made the US such a strong country. We are descendants of people who would risk it all and work their hearts out for a better life. I think we all need to remember that! Kudos to museums like this one who preserve this important part of our history!
Thanks for sharing it Pat!

Laura @ the shorehouse. said...

My friend just bought me a shirt there for my birthday -- "LES" in big letters (Lower East Side, and my initials, LOL!! :-)

It's amazing how hard our immigrant relatives worked and how quick we (many of us, at least) are to dismiss modern day immigrants chasing after that same "American Dream." And...I don't mean to make light of how difficult the living was -- BELIEVE me -- but the museum should have a look-see at my first apartment out of college: Fourth floor walk-up with only one space heater in the bedroom I shared with my roommate. And whatever other random "house guests" (I'm talking vermin here.). Hoo boy howdy, that place was awful!! And much like the railroad apartment that the museum is!