There is only one place to go to really get the full works on New York’s immigrant history. The Tenement Museum portrays the lives of real people who once lived in the block at 97 Orchard Street.
Visitors take guided tours of the building to see the restored apartments and businesses of past residents. I chose the ‘Hard Times’ tour to discover how a German-Jewish family survived the panic of 1873 and how the Italian-Catholic Baldizzi family lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s. Entering the dark and dingy ‘dumbbell’ hallway was an experience I will never forget. Our guide developed each life story using documents and texts whilst we stood experiencing the authentic atmosphere of a tenement apartment. Amazing!
Later I chose one of the ‘Walk the Neighbourhood’ tours called Outside the Home. The tour included the Jarmulowsky Bank, a former Loews Theatre and the Daily Forward Building – all very significant in the social history of the community.
For great interior shots of this once famous Loews theatre on Canal St, visit Uncle Google!
If this has whetted your appetite, here is the web site for the Tenement Museum. The About Us page tells the story of its founding in 1980s – by two inspired women who were way ahead of the curve in discerning the importance of ‘history from below!’ And just to reiterate that point, I was advised by my New Yorker friend, Lisa, to book my tours months ahead as they get sold out!
Ps Have a look at the shop! I could not resist my very own ‘fire escape’ pendant.
Finally after all this urban angst, it is time to reconnect with the Swedish pioneers, navigating their way up the Hudson river…