Step Back in Time at the NY Tenement Museum
My obsession with ancestry.com has been renewed during our recent visit to the New York Tenement Museum. This salvaged treasure offers a glimpse into the lives of a sampling of early immigrant families, German, Irish, Russian/Jewish and Italian. From 1863 through the Great Depression, this small Lower East Side building housed thousands of residents passing through its 22 apartments.
Originally, there were gas lights, no plumbing, few windows and shared outhouses. Innovations and local laws would eventually result in windows between rooms (to help prevent TB), running water, electricity and a shared toilet on each floor!
Our informative, charming guide did a fantastic job bringing history to life, as we toured two floors and visited apartments of two Jewish immigrant families. Known as the “Sweatshop Workers” tour, these families worked in the garment industry, turning their tiny 3-room (just over 400’) homes into workshops to piece together clothing sold in department stores and catalogues.
You see the state of disrepair in which the building was found, the stages of décor throughout the decades and, finally, the re-creation of how the apartments looked during the timeframe of the tour.
Make no mistake, these are real families that are profiled, and some of their artifacts and photos are also displayed.
There are lots of tour options at the Tenement Museum, including stories about German, Italian and Irish families, as well as the shops and neighborhood itself. On certain days they feature actors, lectures and special programs about restoration, etc.
If you had relatives pass through New York when they came to the US, this museum is extra-special. But whether your family arrived on the Mayflower, or on a 777 last month, this museum offers a must-see slice of American history.
As for me, I’ve now successfully located address for all family that immigrated through New York and have a few new stories of my own.
Tips: You do need to be able to walk up stairs and you do stand during the tour, but folding chairs are available for anyone needing to sit. Be forewarned, since there is no A/C, it would be best to visit on cooler days. Adult Tickets are $25, $20 for Seniors & Students. Not all tours are appropriate for young children, so check out the website for special children’s programming. 103 Orchard Street http://www.tenement.org