Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Immigration Now - Facing Deportation

Since Kat Long, author of Forbidden Apple: A Century of Sex and Sin in New York City, will be speaking at the museum tomorrow night, we figured we'd mention how sex and immigration policy have become entwined today. The Mercury News reports that newcomers to the States involved in same-sex partnerships with U.S. citizens are facing deportation, since immigration rights don't apply to civil unions.

Shirley Tan's calm and happy life — San Mateo County housewife, mother of twin 12-year-old boys, singing in the church choir — blew up at 6:30 a.m. on Jan. 28, with a knock on the front door.
Within minutes, the immigration agent standing there had the 43-year-old Tan in handcuffs. She is scheduled to be deported to her native Philippines on Friday.
If Jay Mercado, Tan's partner of 23 years and the mother of her sons, were a different gender, it's highly unlikely that knock ever would have come. As a U.S. citizen, Mercado could have sponsored a wedded spouse for legal permanent residency. But although Mercado and Tan married in San Francisco in 2004, federal law limits the definition of marriage to a man and a woman, and same-sex partners of U.S. citizens don't have a route to legal permanent residence extended to straight married couples. Read more.

This weekend at the Tenement Museum - ASL and Walking Tour

Two great programs at the Museum this weekend:

Join us Sunday, April 5 for an American Sign Language interpreted tour. The 1:15 PM The Moores: An Irish Family in America tour will be accompanied by an ASL interpreter and is open to all. If you'd like to make reservations for this special tour, which we offer the first Sunday of every month, contact Sarah at 212-431-0233 ext. 232.

This weekend we're also launching Immigrant Soles, a new neighborhood walking tour. The 90 minute tours focuses on the daily experiences and challenges of the neighborhood’s immigrant residents, visiting places where they ate, studied, worshipped, and lived. It’s a wonderful overview of the social history of the district. You can read a review on the Moving Sidewalk blog.

One of the coolest things about the tour is learning where Mr. Confino had his apron factory (Allen Street), where Mr. Rogarshevsky's funeral parlor was located (just down Orchard), and where Josephine Baldizzi went to elementary school (PS 42 on Hester Street). It's fun to see our historical tenants out of 97 Orchard and out in the streets and factories where they spent much of their time.

Immigrant Soles is offered Saturday and Sunday at 1 PM. (Look for it twice daily by summertime.) The walking tour is a great companion to a building tour, expanding upon the stories and policies we talk about at 97 Orchard Street.

For tickets, see the online calendar, or call 866-811-4111. For more information, please feel free to call the Museum at 212-431-0233.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Tenement Talks - Disappearing Storefronts

Kimberly is a Museum Shop and Tenement Talks associate. She writes about her experience at a recent Talk:

Barbers, bodegas, appetizer shops, locksmiths, and fabric suppliers all represent the entrepreneurial spirit of New York. These stores also provide a visual record of city life: their facades are recognizable in an instant to those who’ve lived here long enough. Some of their signs are missing letters or the neon has burned out, but they are too beloved to ever be changed. When Russ & Daughters had their neon sign repaired, the phone wouldn’t stop ringing as a flurry of customers feared they had gone out of business.

“Mom & Pop” stores become family. I’ve certainly grown up with a few. I’ve had one place cater a going-away party, another press a key for my first car, and another knows my absolute dependence on half and half for my coffee. Corporations tend to large masses of customers. You can go into a chain store and be ignored and some people like that. I don’t. If I go into my corner bodega someone will always say hello to me and want to talk some more.

Photographers James and Karla Murray joined us for a recent Tenement Talk. Their mission is to visually preserve the Mom & Pop, which they do in Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York. The Murrays’ prints are gorgeous, the film full of grain and naturally highlighting the worn patina of old metal signs and rusty hardware. Some of the featured stores have since closed, their signs removed and sold as scrap. While what comes next can also be a vital part of the community, there are those who will ache for the absence of a lost candy store. These photos at the very least preserve the memory of a closed business’s existence.

If you missed our Talk and would like to see the prints, you can check out the book at the Museum Shop or visit the Murrays’ website, http://www.jamesandkarlamurray.com/.

Friday, March 27, 2009

More on Women's History

As an addendum to this week's posts on women and labor, check out the Library of Congress's Flickr stream, Women Striving Forward, 1910-1940. Striking photographs, no pun intended.

Votes for Women Pilgrimage from New York City to Washington DC
Library of Congress, LC-B2- 2648-14

There are other great photographs of old New York in the main photostream as well. I like this one.

In Their Own Words – New York Women's Lives

Museum Shop Manager Katherine Broadway guest-blogs about some of her favorite Shop books.

The film that plays in our Visitor’s Center talks about immigrant life on the Lower East Side. One such story is that of Rahel Gollup (known as Rose Cohen after a name change and marriage), who emigrated from Western Russia in 1892 at the age of 12. Rahel was part of the wave of Eastern-European Jewish immigrants fleeing the pogroms following the murder of Tsar Alexander II. Her memoir Out of the Shadow chronicles her journey to New York and her life as a garment worker.

My other favorite memoir of women and labor in the New York is The Diary of a Shirtwaist Striker. In November 1909 a massive strike of garment workers, mostly female immigrants from Eastern Europe and Italy, brought the shirtwaist industry to a standstill that lasted into February of 1910. Diary is Theresa S. Malkiel’s 1910 account of this “Uprising of the 20,000,” accompanied by Francoise Basch’s historical analysis.

The Tenement Museum Shop has a great collection of memoirs written by immigrants and children of immigrants, many of them by women. Here are some others that we carry at the shop:

Streets: A Memoir of the Lower East Side, by Bella Spewack
The Red Leather Diary, by Lily Koppel
Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family, by Patricia Volk
Tender at the Bone, by Ruth Reichl

PHOTO: Shirtwaist workers elect to strike. Source: International Ladies Garment Workers Union Archives, Labor-Management Documentation Center, Cornell University.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tenement Talks - Triangle

Thanks to everyone who came to last night's talk with David von Drehle and Kevin Baker. All of you were an engaged and attentive audience - we couldn't ask for better.

In the next few weeks we'll have a podcast of the talk on our website for those who missed it. Check at http://www.tenement.org/vizcenter_events.php.

David von Drehle and Kevin Baker

Ladies of Labor

Museum Shop Manager Katherine Broadway guest-blogs about some of her favorite Shop books.

Speaking of women and labor, one of my favorite books we carry in the Museum Shop is Ladies of Labor, Girls of Adventure by Nan Enstad. This book tracks women’s experiences through popular culture and fashion. Enstad explores how women negotiated the tension between being “workers” and “ladies” and how this affected the trends in fashion and literature at the turn of the twentieth century. Enstad spends considerable time discussing the Shirtwaist Strike of 1909 and women’s emerging roles as labor unionizers.

Further Reading:

From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend, by Priscilla Murolo,
A.B. Chitty, and Joe Sacco
A Coat of Many Colors, Daniel Soyer
Lost Sisterhood: Prostitution in America, 1900-1918 by Ruth Rosen
Holding Up More Than Half the Sky: Chinese Women Garment Workers in New York City,
, by Xiaolan Bao

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Triangle Factory Fire

Museum Shop Manager Katherine Broadway guest-blogs about some of her favorite Shop books.

On March 25, 1911 the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, located in the Brown Building at the corner of Washington and Greene Streets (still standing at the edge of NYU’s campus), caught fire when an employee tossed a cigarette into a bin of scrap fabric. Within 15 minutes, 146 garment workers were killed, most of them women. This was the worst workplace disaster in New York until September 11, 2001.

The Tenement Museum’s Piecing It Together Tour introduces visitors to two families tied to the garment industry on the Lower East Side. The Triangle fire affected garment workers on the Lower East Side by galvanizing support among the general public for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). The tragedy eventually led to regulations for worker and fire safety that are still in place today.

The Museum Shop has many books on the Triangle fire. My favorites are Triangle: The Fire That Changed America by David Von Drehle and Triangle: A Novel by Katharine Weber. Von Drehle’s Triangle gives not only a detailed account of the fire and its aftermath but also provides a history of the many waves of immigration to New York, which adds perspective and depth to the tragic story. Weber’s novel connects a contemporary woman researching the fire with an aging survivor of the tragedy, linking the past with the present in a way that shows how women’s labor remains a troubled issue, and ways in which it has changed.

We are proud to invite you to listen to David Von Drehle discuss the history of the Triangle Fire on the 98th anniversary of the fire. He will be speaking in the Museum Shop at 6:30 p.m. TONIGHT. Please join us!

Further Reading:

The Triangle Fire,
by Leon Stein
The Triangle Fire, The Protocols of Peace, and Industrial Democracy in Progressive Era New York, by Richard Greenwald
Dreamland, by Kevin Baker

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Housewives of the Lower East Side

Museum Shop Manager Katherine Broadway guest-blogs about some of her favorite Shop books.

I am often asked to suggest a book about immigrant women in New York City. There are many to choose from, but the book I point to most often is Immigrant Women in the Land of Dollars: Life and Culture on the Lower East Side, 1890-1925. Elizabeth Ewen focuses on the women who came to the United States as part of the largest wave of immigration, from Eastern Europe and later from Italy. Ewen uses personal stories of Jewish and Italian women and their families to make the larger history of immigration more immediate and accessible.

Immigrant women were responsible for taking care of the house, finding and cooking food, educating children and helping to assimilate the family into the new world. Daughters born in the U.S. were often sent to work to help support the family. Ewen shows the generational difference between mothers born in the old country and their daughters, raised in a new world.

For an earlier picture of women’s experiences in Lower Manhattan I recommend Erin’s Daughters in America: Irish Immigrant Women in the Nineteenth Century. Professor Hasia R. Diner has written extensively about the historical immigrant experience to the United States. The Irish were among the earliest immigrants to settle in New York, and Irish women faced discrimination, poor sanitation, and extremely high infant mortality rates.

Above: A photo of an immigrant homemaker from the National Archives - collection of the Woman's Bureau

Monday, March 23, 2009

Immigrants, Pioneers, and Revolutionaries

Museum Shop Manager Katherine Broadway guest-blogs about some of her favorite Shop books.

America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines reads like a primer on women’s history, from the first woman born on American soil (the mysterious Virginia Dare) through the outspoken women at the forefront of the feminist movement. Along the way, author Gail Collins introduces us to immigrant women, pioneer women, and revolutionary women. In pithy, straightforward prose, Collins presents a familiar history through a different lens.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s global history of feminism, Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History, is another fast-paced overview of the role women have played through history. Ulrich illuminates the rich and complex lives of women from biblical times through the present, offering a different spin on traditional stories.

Guest Blogger Katherine Broadway

This week Katherine Broadway, manager of the Tenement Museum Shop, guest blogs about some of her favorite books on New York history and immigration.

In honor of Women’s History Month, she'll be focusing on the experiences of female immigrants and laborers. The Museum Shop has a bunch of great books on the history of women in New York, from general overviews to in-depth stories on the role of women in a changing urban environment and workplace.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Immigration Now - Family Stories

For a course on immigration at Hunter College, students were asked to interview close relatives about their family histories. The NY Times describes six of these fascinating stories (every immigrant family in the country has one) as well as the students' new-found appreciation for their parents' struggles. Aleksandr Akulov's mom, for instance, left her job in Russia as a mechanical engineer to move to New York, where she was paid less than minimum wage at a laundromat.

Ilirjan Gjonbalaj (top right) learned that his parents were smuggled into the US from Albania. When his father died in a traffic accident, Gjobalaj's mother defied Albanian norms discouraging women from working and took a string of odd jobs including coat checker for the Metropolitan Opera. The Times article includes audio excerpts of the students' presentations, as well as a multimedia feature.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Questions for Curatorial - Brooklyn Bridge

Curitorial Director Dave answers your questions.

When did the Brooklyn Bridge open? Did it affect the people living on the Lower East Side?

The Brooklyn Bridge opened on May 24, 1883, instantly becoming the longest bridge in the world. As the first bridge connecting the cities of Brooklyn and New York (Manhattan), it offered a cheap alternative to the ferries that daily carried men back and forth between their homes and workplaces. It was also built largely by immigrant workers, many of whom lived on the Lower East Side. When the Brooklyn Elevated to Fulton Ferry was completed in 1885, providing easy access to the interior of Brooklyn, traffic on the Bridge more than doubled, so that by 1885 it was handling some 20 million passengers a year. For this reason, it undoubtedly aided the exodus of those immigrants and children of immigrants able to afford homes in Brooklyn and the daily commute by street car into the city. While the dispersal of the Lower East Side’s German and Irish immigrant communities was already well underway, the opening the Brooklyn bridge likely hastened their exodus. But 25 years after it opened, the Lower East Side reached its peak population density.

Above: the Brooklyn Bridge under construction.

Built in 1903, the Williamsburg Bridge had a greater effect on the ability of immigrants to leave the Lower East Side. In the early 20th century, the bridge was seen as a passageway to a new life in Williamsburg, Brooklyn by thousands of Jewish immigrants fleeing the overcrowded neighborhood.

Even more important was the inauguration of the subway in 1904, whose extension over the next several decades allowed for the further decentralization of the city by making rapid transportation accessible to the working-class New Yorker. Once subway lines had been extended to places like Brownsville and East New York in Brooklyn, these areas became second Lower East Sides—immigrant neighborhoods that provided homes, workplaces, and communities to thousands of new Americans.

See the The Brooklyn Daily Eagle for further history of the borough's bridges.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Photos of a Tenement Museum

Have you visited us on Flickr?

Visitors are often disappointed to know they can't take photographs inside the Museum. So for the past two years we've been posting images of our museum and its exhibits for you to download.

Last year, when we launched The Moores: An Irish Family in America, we posted a many-months-long series on the restoration process on the 4th and 5th floors of 97 Orchard Street. These images give you a sense of how we turn a dilapidated space into something haunting, powerful, and hopefully educational.

As we renovate 103 Orchard Street, home of the Museum's future visitor center, we will upload our progress. You can follow along as we transform the storefont and second floors of the building.

We are also posting photos from Tenement Talks - writers, storytellers, and filmmakers from across the city. See if anyone you know has visited. We may also have a signed book or two lying around - call our Museum Shop for info on any specific event (212-982-8420).

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tenement on Today

Happy St. Patrick's Day to our readers! The Today Show did two episodes yesterday and today all about Ireland and Irish-Americans. One segment, an interview with writer Peter Quinn, was filmed at the Tenement Museum. Although we suggested the restored Moore family apartment, which depicts the living spaces of an Irish family in 1869, the crew chose the Baldizzi apartment (a Sicilian-Catholic family's living spaces from 1935). The average viewer can't tell the difference, and the crew only had to lug their equipment up to the second floor instead of the fourth. Such is the magic of television.

Check out the segment here. You can catch the other segments, including one on our President's Irish ancestry, on The Today Show website.

Monday, March 16, 2009

TM - SXSW Interactive Awards

The Museum's online game From Ellis Island to Orchard Street was a finalist in the Education category at this year's South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin. The winners were announced yesterday and, sadly, we weren't among them. But that doesn't mean you can't still enjoy the game!

Victoria ConfinoStep back in time to 1916 and let Turkish-Sephardic immigrant Victoria Confino be your guide to life in America. You'll go through inspection at Ellis Island, find an apartment on the Lower East Side, figure out how to get a job, and decide whether you'd like a knish or a new-fangled America hot dog for lunch.

You can also visit Victoria and her apartment in person on the Museum's Confino Family Tour, offered on weekends.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Delicious Lower East Side Landmark

Tastes have changed over the years, but Russ & Daughters' Niki Russ Federman and Joshua Russ Tupper, both fourth-generation owners of this Houston Street appetizing shop, stock some of the same things Polish immigrant Joel Russ sold in 1907, when the store was a pushcart on the corner of Orchard Street. Customers still line up for pickled lox, strings of Polish mushrooms (they now go for $200 a lb), and belly lox - salt-cured salmon that Russ & Daughters staff are quick to point out is the only cured fish that can properly be called lox (if it's smoked, it's not lox).

Mr. Russ opened the brick-and-mortar store seven years after he emigrated from southern Poland. In 1933 he added "& Daughters" to the shop's name and began to turn over the business to his three children. Niki's father worked as a lawyer before becoming the third-generation to join the family business, and Niki and Josh were both employed in other professional fields before becoming the fourth-generation.

Strong family ties brought Joel Russ's grandchildren and great-grandchildren back to the Lower East Side, and it's no surprise that they're passionate about food and community. For a more comprehensive history, see this great timeline.

In the old days they sold products like kapchunkas, whole unprocessed fish hung up to dry. This had to be done just right or the fish would spoil. Russ & Daughters no longer sells kapchunkas but the sign remains. Second-generation Russ Anne Russ Federman remembers a few other items no longer available at the store: "oval cans of tomato herring (they were delicious), butterfish, shad, shemykas, tarankas." Do you remember eating any of these?

Dried Polish mushrooms are used in dishes like barley and mushroom soup. They're so rich and flavorful that just a few can season a whole pot.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Schapiro's Kosher Wines

Schapiro's Kosher Wines

Nothing captures the shift in the Lower East Side's demographics better than this photo of a Mexican restaurant next to the recently closed Schapiro's Kosher Wines on Rivington Street - except, perhaps, this 2002 New York Times article which discusses the Lower East Side's transition from living, breathing Eastern European Jewish neighborhood with kosher butcher shops and Ratner's Deli to "museum piece" (the Tenement Museum is mentioned, of course.) The article touches on the special role food plays in people's relationship to a neighborhood.

Butchers and Bodegas

Last year the NY Times listed some immigrant-run shops in the city, including Foods of India on Lexington Avenue and West African Grocery (run by Koreans, in a testemant to NYC's melting pot nature) near the Port Authority bus terminal. Queens and Brooklyn may be home to ethnic grocery emporiums, like those in Flushing, but Manhattan still boasts the small shop and corner bodega. Of course, things are changing: "In southern Manhattan, the bodegas that are left cater more and more to the second generation and gentrifying masses, even in Latino hold-out swaths of Alphabet City and the Lower East Side."

Pueblo Deli Grocery, a traditional Dominican shop on Ridge Street and Stanton in the LES.

The Korean-run West African Grocery sells yucas, plantains, and a number of ingredients that may be unfamiliar to people without knowledge of West African cooking, like karaw, cooka, and efirin.

Browse the City Cook to find more local stores that cater to immigrants, like Alleva Dairy in Little Italy and the Asian Market Corp near Canal Street.

The Lower East Side has long been home to food shops that cater to the communities living here. In the 19th century, numerous butcher shops, for instance, lined the block of Orchard Street between Delancey and Broome. Austrian-Jewish immigrant Israel Lustgarden operated one such shop at 97 Orchard Street during the 1890s.

Below is an ad for Chas. Schubert's butcher shop, which operated at 92 Orchard Street in the 1880s/1890s. Mr. Schubert sold beef, pork, mutton, veal, sausages, and ham.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

97 Orchard Recipe Cards

We found 20 recipe cards in 97 Orchard's apartment #9, which likely belonged to an immigrant housewife interested in learning how to prepare dishes with unfamiliar (yet economical) ingredients, like Spry Vegetable Shortening. The cards were produced by the Brooklyn Edison Company in the 1930s in an effort to promote new gadgets, like the electric mixer, and advertised in papers like the New York Times. Whether or not women could afford the new machines, they were still able to send for the cards by mail.

For cooking tips 97 Orchard's housewives also turned to the Board of Education Homemaking Book, which had everything from instructions on how to prepare simple tea and toast to recipes for souffles, ice cream, casseroles, macaroni, butterscotch, and so on.

Facts & Findings - Today's NY Times

Two items of note in today's New York Times:

Beginning today, join the discussion on contemporary immigration on the Times' Room for Debate blog. Today's post focuses on education. Also check out their interactive map, which charts where new immigrants have settled from 1880 to today.

Also starting today, and for the next 12 weeks, photographer Richard Perry will explore the City's remaining manufacturing industry. Like many American cities, New York's economy once rested on the backs of laborers in factories and workshops. The Lower East Side was the center of the garment industry: by 1880 New York produced more garments than its four closest urban competitors combined, and by 1900 the value and output of the clothing trade was three times that of sugar refining, the city’s second largest industry. By 1910, 70% of the nation’s women’s clothing and 40% of men’s was produced here. Even today, the needle trade accounts for up to a third of the City's remaining manufacturing jobs. According to the Asian American Federation, 246 garment factories employed an estimated 13,308 workers in Chinatown prior to the September 11 attack.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ellis Island Dining Room

Many immigrants ate their first meal in New York at the Ellis Island dining room, which had the capacity to seat 1,000 people. According to a book on Ellis Island by the Museum of the City of New York, men and women sat separately, with young children accompanying their mothers. In 1911, a Kosher kitchen was built to accomodate Jewish families.

Here's what was served Thursday, December 28, 1922 (click on the photo to read the menu):

Ellis Island Immigrant Cookbook

Tom Bernardin, a former tour guide at Ellis Island, compiled hundreds of recipes from the children and grandchildren of immigrants who settled in New York. The cuisines featured in The Ellis Island Immigrant Cookbook span the globe, from Norway to Lebanon to Jamaica. The recipes are organized by country of origin and come with family stories. Bernardin considers the recipes "historical documents," so he tweaked them as little as possible. Here are some samples (you can buy the book at the museum shop):


Mrs. Semder's Very Own German String Bean Soup (A Complete Meal)

1/2 lb bones
2 3/4 cups water
1 lb beef (neck, shin, tail)
2 lbs stringbeans
4 medium potatoes
salt, to taste
1 onion
1 leek
2 small carrots 1 piece celery
oregano, hearty pinch

Wash the bones, cover with cold water and bring quickly to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 1 hours. Put in the meat and a little salt, bring to a boil again, turn down the heat and simmer for 1 1/2 - 2 hours. Clean carrot, celery, leek and onion (leave whole). Add to stock last hour of cooking. When broth is done, strain through a fine sieve.

Cut meat into bit-size pieces. Add to broth. Add stringbeans that have been cleaned and cut into 1" pieces. Add potatoes that have been peeled and cut into quarters. Add a pinch of oregano. Simmer till potatoes and string beans are tender. Salt to taste.


Grandma's Chocolate Cookies

1/2 lb semi-sweet chocolate, grated
1/2 lb walnuts, ground
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
a little bread crumbs or wheat germ
red cinnamon candy (hearts or dots)

Combine first five ingredients. Add enough bread crumbs or wheat germ to make mixture firm enough to handle. Roll into small balls. Flatten them on a greased cookie sheet. Press red cinnamon candy in center. Bake in slow oven (about 300 degrees) for 20 minutes or until tops look baked. Let cool before removing.


Yam and Cornmeal Pone

2 large yams
1 cup turbinado sugar
2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground alspice
3 tsp vanilla
3/4 tsp salt
2 eggs, beatn
2 cups medium coarse cornmeal
4 cups coconut milk
2 cups milk
1 cup raisins

Peel and grate the yams on the medium side of a grater (or use a food processor). The texture should be fine. When using the blender add the concount milk as you process the yams.

Place yam mixture in a large mixing bowl, add any cocunut milk you haven't used, mix with wooden spoon. Add sugar, mix and add spices, vanilla and salt to mixture and stir again.

Mix cornmeal with two cups of milk in a separate bowl, make sure there are no lumps. Add this to the yam mixture. Add beaten eggs and mix. Add raisins and mix thoroughly.

Pour mixture into a baking pan, about 9" x 15 "which has a bit of canola oil applied on the inside. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for one hour or until an inserted knife blade comes out clean. Cool. Cut into 3" by 3" squares.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Seeds in the Ceiling

In the process of cleaning loose plaster from 97 Orchard's ceilings (a safety hazard for visitors), we've discovered remnants of food eaten by tenants: seeds, nuts, and chicken and beef bones, which we think were carried off by mice and stored in nests in the ceilings' wooden slats.

One of the chicken bones found in 97 Orchard. Gnaw marks on both ends support our mice theory.

Artifacts like those in the bucket above will join a number of food-related items in our permanent collection. Besides the remains of meat and produce, we've found a bunch of cans, bottles, and wrappers - some with brand names still popular today, like Domino's Sugar, Heinz Ketchup, and Wrigley Chewing Gum. This might indicate that immigrant families on the LES were quick to accept "American" food products, perhaps in an effort to assimilate, or maybe because these brands were cheap and easy to obtain. However, some foods, like Wycoff Macaroni and other macaroni brands, were marketed specifically to immigrants. We found several coupons for the product - which would have been very familiar to Italian families - written in both Italian and English.

Wrigley's spearmint gum wrapper

A can of Durkee's Curry Powder. Curry powder became popular in New York around the turn of the century, and 97 Orchard's residents clearly jumped on the bandwagon. Cans were sold at grocerys stores, specialty shops, and even Macy's. Recipes calling for the spice's use appeared in the New York Times.

Fanta Orange Soda can

Bag of Eight O'Clock Coffee

Food and Immigration Series

We've talked a lot about how immigrants lived at the turn of the 20th century, but what did they eat? And what do newcomers to New York prepare in their kitchens and restaurants today? This week, we'll be launching a series on immigration and food in in the Big Apple. Feel free to share your stories and recipes in the comments section.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Questions for Curatorial - Crime at 97 Orchard Street

Curatorial Director Dave answers your questions.

Is there any evidence of crimes committed at 97 Orchard Street? Is there a way of measuring crime in the surrounding neighborhood?

Museum researchers know of few crimes committed at 97 Orchard Street between 1863 and 1935. However, in the 1894 Report and Proceedings of the Senate on the Investigation of the Police Department of the City of New York, a note appeared indicating the 97 Orchard Street was the site of “policy and gambling.” Unfortunately, the Report does not specify who was responsible for this gambling operation. Nevertheless, evidence suggests that the incidence of prostitution, crime, and gang activity on the Lower East Side during the late 19th and early 20th centuries was high.

Prostitution was a pervasive part of immigrant life on the Lower East Side. Located one-block west of Orchard Street, Allen Street stood as the neighborhood’s most notorious thoroughfare of commercial sex. There most prostitution took place in tenements. During the 1890s, for example, one observer remarked that in “broad day light you can see them [prostitutes] at their windows and calling to passers by at night. They are so vulgar in front of their houses that any respectable person cannot pass without being insulted by them.” Another resident lamented that neighborhood women could not walk the street after dark “without becoming a victim to the because of the paramours who hang around corners awaiting the proceeds of their concubines.” For most, there was little recourse. “It is useless to appeal to the police,” decried another resident, “as the very men who are sent out in citizen clothes stand and talk with them and go in saloons and drink with them.”

Criminal activity in the form of robbery and extortion was also common on the Lower East Side during the early twentieth century. One resident remembered that, “Horse poisoning was a big problem. They were called the Jewish Black Hand. They were a bad bunch of people. They wanted tribute, a dollar a month for your horse. If you had ten horses, they wanted ten dollars a month or they poisoned your horses.” Another resident found an Italian gang also known as the Black Hand particularly menacing. In later years he remembered, “It was very tough around Avenue D. You couldn’t walk through there...they were Italians. They’d show you a knife. ‘Give me your money or I’ll kill you.’”

On December 8, 1891, an article appeared in the New York Times describing a incident of theft on Orchard Street. According to the article, burglars stole the Torah scrolls out of a synagogue at 91 Delancey, when the 3 men saw a police patrolman in front of 105 Orchard Street, they threw the Torah scrolls under a truck and ran away. The article doesn’t mention if they were caught, but the scrolls were returned to the President of the congregation, Mogan Abraham Ansche Ostrolenko.

Several years earlier in July of 1882, the New York Times reported an attempted murder-suicide at 106 Orchard Street. The incident, according to the Times, involved Mr. Martin Hoernlein and his wife, a “German couple well advanced in years.” Apparently, Mr. Hoernlein, who had a history of mental illness, cut his wife’s throat before attempting to cut his own. Although their wounds were “of a serious nature,” they were not fatal. Both husband and wife appear to have survived.

Murder and rape, however, were far less common on the Lower East Side at the turn of the twentieth century. While many local criminals stole handbags and lifted watches, violent crimes were rare, especially in the predominantly Jewish tenth ward. “East Side Jews are the most peaceful people I have ever come in contact with,” observed James Reynolds of the University Settlement. Historian Jenna Weissman Joselit writes, “…on those occasions when Jews were indicted for murder, the Jewish community was simply astounded and found the association between Jews and violence to be ‘without precedent…in the whole course of Jewish history.’”

When violence did occur, it was often rooted in ethnic tension and conflict. Youth gangs frequently battled over territory in their respective parts of the Lower East Side. One resident recalled that, “We had fights galore, the Italians and the Jews. They called us kikes and we called the wops. The Italians lived on one side of the bridge, and the Jews lived on the other side. There were terrific battles with stones and bottles, broken heads...”

While prostitution, robbery and extortion, murder and rape, and gang violence played a role in the daily lives of Lower East Siders during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, residents were much less likely to come to harm than outsiders. Lower East Siders better understood the unwritten geography and social order of the neighborhood—which areas to steer clear of, which people to avoid. Indeed, residents of the neighborhood during the 1920s and 1930s remembered a general feeling of safety when walking the streets at night. Knowing where not to venture and who not to cross no doubt mitigated residents’ likelihood of falling prey to crime and violence.

(Join us for more about crime on the Lower East Side at "Jews Behaving Badly: New York's Gangsters and Other Law Breakers," a panel discussion with Rose Keefe, Ron Arons, and moderator Rich Cohen. March 11, 6:30 PM. 108 Orchard Street. Tenement Talks website.)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

TM - On Location with the History Detectives

Last year, PBS's History Detectives set out to solve the mystery of a Connecticut farmhouse owned by a string of Eastern-European families during the late 19th and early 20th centuries (the height of Jewish immigration to the New York area). Why, they wondered, did the house change hands so many times? The detectives conducted one of their interviews - with NYU professor David Sawyer -here at the museum. Prof. Sawyer explained the appeal of the Connecticut countryside to Eastern European Jews crammed in the Lower East Side. The History Detectives posted this cool behind-the-scenes photo of the interview on their Flikr page:

(This is the front parlor space of 97 Orchard Street, at stoop level. It's where we host the Kitchen Conversations program as well as Rooms for Rent space rentals.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Questions for Curatorial - Middle Eastern Immigrants

According to a Nepali newspaper, the U.S. military is recruiting over 500 immigrant speakers of Arabic, Hindi, Pashto and other Asian languages in New York City as part of a pilot program. (The last time the military allowed immigrants with temporary visas to enlist was during the Vietnam War.) New York's Middle Eastern and South Asian communities have a rich history; the tenants of 97 Orchard likely heard some of the above languages on the street. Curitorial Director Dave explains.

Was there ever a significant Arabic-speaking population on the Lower East Side or in New York City?

New York’s Arab community, largely Syrian-Lebanese, dates from the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By 1900, half of the Syrians in the United States resided in New York City. The first Arabs did not arrive in the city until the 1870s, but that population grew to several thousand by 1920, mostly located on the Lower West Side of Manhattan. Others lived in Brooklyn, eventually the center of the city’s Arab community, although many still commuted to work in Manhattan. New York’s Syrian population was overwhelmingly Christian and large enough to support several churches, newspapers, and ethnic organizations, such as the Syrian Ladies Aid Society, which helped new immigrants. Male immigrants made their living by peddling, factory work, and running small businesses, while the women who worked were concentrated in factories manufacturing negligees, kimonos, lace, and embroidery. Syrian craftsmen were noted for rugs and tapestries.

After 1907, a community of Levantine Jews settled among the Romanians between Allen and Chrystie Streets on the Lower East Side. These approximately 10,000 refugees from upheavals within the Turkish Empire with their distinctive customs, religious practices, and languages were an island in a sea of East European Jews. The majority conversed in Ladino (Judeo-Spanish), but there were also some 1,000 Arabic-speaking Syrian Jews and a slightly smaller contingent whose first language was Greek.

Post-1965 liberal immigration policies encouraged a considerable number of Arabic-speaking Middle Easterners to immigrate to the United States. They had economic motives for doing so, but the constant turmoil in that region also fed their desire to escape. The center of this more recent Arab settlement in New York City was Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue section with its many restaurants, bakeries, and Arab-run shops. This new Arab immigration differed from that of the early twentieth century. While those that came before World War II were typically Christians, most of the newcomers were Muslims. Growing numbers of Muslim New Yorkers attended the seventy old and newly established mosques that existed in 1993 and participated in the annual fall observation of Ramadan. Such occasions brought Arabs together with Muslims from Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan, and Bangladesh as well as African-Americans of that religious persuasion. In April 1991, the newest and largest mosque in New York opened on West 96th Street in Manhattan, with space for 1,000 worshippers. Muslims have also established ten schools in the city to provide religious and secular education for their children.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

TM - 97 Orchard Street Twitters

Our creaky 146-year-old building has decided it wants to get with the times, so it started a Twitter account. You can follow the life and times of a Lower East Side tenement at twitter.com/tenementmuseum, as 97 Orchard writes about school kids clamoring up the stairs, conservators patching plaster, and generations of tenants who once lived inside its apartments.

Facts and Findings - Freebird Bookstore

Freebird Books, a used bookshop in Red Hook, Brooklyn, has added a couple of novels and memoirs about immigrant life on the Lower East Side (and the eventual exodus of Jewish settlers to wealthier uptown Manhattan and the suburbs) to their collection. The store's owners took a tour of the Tenement Museum last week, which they describe, along with the books, in their blog.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Facts and Findings - A New Guide to Historic Sites

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is launching an online travel guide with video footage promoting heritage sites. The organization preserves historic sites around the US and keeps tabs of the most endangered spots. Their pilot video features the Lower East Side (a 2008 endangered site), with footage of the Tenement Museum: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KypZBM6v5QY

Above: A boom in new construction helped place the LES on the Endangered List