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.