Traveling To The Tenement
Visit restored New York City tenements for a glimpse into the past at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.
Welcome to the Tenement Museum
The Lower East Side Tenement Museum is a window into the past, walking us through life as it was for more than 7,000 immigrants in the years between 1863 and 1935. They came from more than 20 nations to find new hope in America. Restored apartments of past residents from different time periods give us a feel for the struggles and challenges immigrants of the past have faced. It also helps us relate their struggles to those faced by immigrants of today.
Who once lived thereYou enter 97 Orchard Street into a dark, narrow hallway with worn, peeling paint untouched since the 1930s. You walk up the stone steps into the urban lives of immigrant families of different nationalities and different eras. Whose lives would you like to step into?
• The Moores (1869) Irish-Catholic family coping with the death of their child
• The Gumperts (1870s) German-Jewish family who lived through the Great Panic of 1873
• The Levines (1897) Polish-Jewish family who ran a garment business in their apartment
• The Rogarshevskys (1918) Lithuanian Jews mourning the loss of their father from TB
• The Confinos (1916) Victoria Confino, a teen-age, Sephardic-Jewish immigrant played by a costumed interpreter tells her family's story
• The Baldizzis (1930) Italian-Catholics from Sicily who were among the building's last residents
Each of the six apartments, now a time capsule, measures approximately 325 square feet and is restored with period furnishings and artifacts reflecting how it might have looked for each immigrant family. We learn how tenants had to put a quarter in a meter for an hour of gas for lights and how all shared a hallway bathroom. We see a small coffin in a cramped room recreating a sad day in a family's life with the death of an infant daughter.
You listen to Josephine Baldizzi's recollections of her past on audiotape while standing in the kitchen where she once stood. Dishes sit on the small table across from the sink. With a little imagination, you can smell the spaghetti sauce bubbling on the stove.
According to Helene Silver, vice president, director of the Visitors Center & Museum Shop, the Tenement Museum uses the stories of people who actually lived there to explain, "How people lived, worked, struggled and survived."
The Tenement Museum doesn't leave us gazing into glass cases at artifacts but, instead, has us gazing out at what immigrant eyes of the past might have seen as they lived their lives. It's really an amazing feeling.
About the Tenement Museum
The Tenement Museum is open seven days a week (except for major holidays) and provides many opportunities for stepping into the past.
More articles on travel:How to plan an educational vacation
Surviving school vacation week
Authentic Italian recipes with an American spin