Friday, November 5, 2010

Visitors of the Week: Alice and Emily From Chicago

From left: Alice and Emily
[Editor's Note: Guess the Artifact will be back next Friday! In the meantime, enjoy an interview with two of our visitors...]

We're always looking to learn about the many, diverse visitors who stop by the Tenement Museum each week. Planning a visit? Send us an email and be our next Visitor of the Week!

Meet Alice Kroll and Emily Franz, childhood friends from Chicago who contacted us about being the next Visitors of the Week. We're lucky they did because Alice, who works in business development and sales, and Emily, an artist and mom of five kids, had a lot to say. I met them in our Museum Shop at 108 Orchard Street just before they took their very first tour at the Tenement Museum.

What brings you to New York City?
AK: Fun. Just fun and adventure.

EF: I love New York City. I can't get enough of it so this is my fifth or sixth time here.

Have you ever been to the Lower East Side before?
AK: Around this area, no, we haven't.

What are your first impressions of the neighborhood?
EF: You know, it looks a little worn. It probably looks kind of like what it would have looked like fifty or sixty years ago: a little dirty, a little worn, a little smelly.

What part of Chicago are you from?
AK: We grew up on the southwest side of Chicago around Midway Airport. And we went to grammar school together so we've known each other since we were five years old.

EF: We're southsiders, the more down-to-earth side of Chicago (laughs).

Is this your first time at the Tenement Museum?
EF: Yes.

How did you hear about it?
AK: From Emily!
EF: I saw it on a map and I also found a really old magazine from '92, and they did a whole feature on this museum. I forget which magazine it was but it was like a five-page spread. And I thought, wow, that must be really cool to see how the immigrants lived.

What tour are you taking today?

AK: Getting By, a walk-up tour.

Why did you decide to take that tour?

AK: Well, we took this tour because it was the next tour that was available when we got here. We landed at LaGuardia this morning and we wanted to hit the streets running.

So we're the first stop on your trip?

AK: Absolutely.

EF: The very first thing.

AK: My grandparents immigrated from Poland to Chicago so these next two days in New York, we 're going to visit the Tenement Museum, Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty to just get a sense of what it was like for the immigrants to arrive at the turn of the twentieth century.

EF: And I have a real interest in vintage things and how the immigrants lived. I just want to be able to see how the apartments looked, just to get a feel for...

AK: A museum that you can be in, that you can experience firsthand.

EF: It's the unglamorous side of New York. It's rough. Life was hard.

Before you take your tour, what are your assumptions about immigrant life in New York City?
AK: That it was hard, that they had to buck a lot of prejudice from the different immigrant groups. In some ways, they may have been taken advantage of. I'm sure they worked low wages for hard work. But there was that enduring spirit that it was better here than the country they had left. And I'm really thankful that those people built the cities, the buildings and the culture. It was on their backs that all the best parts of New York City were built.

EF: I think the immigrants lived a really difficult life. When I think of them, I think of how close they lived together. They probably lived a better life at home and when they came here, it was dirty, it was close knit, and they didn't have privacy. But like Alice said, it was a nice trade off for what was to come later on.

Alice, did your grandparents ever talk to you directly about their experiences?
AK: No, and that's the interesting thing. When my grandparents immigrated in the early 1900s, they really didn't talk about their experiences back in the homeland. They fully adopted their American life. So there aren't a lot of stories. They didn't want to talk about the hard times. That's one of my interests about coming here, to understand what they wouldn't talk about.

Emily, you're a blogger yourself. What do you blog about?
EF: Just personal experiences and thoughts, nothing specific to history. I love it though.

And what's the focus of your art?
EF: I'm a doll designer, a painter, I collage. I do all kinds of stuff and I love to be creative. I make primitive dolls so I'm very interested in the historic toys small children brought with them, whether it was on the Oregon Trail or on a boat to America.

AK: And as a true artist, you get your inspiration from everywhere and anywhere.

EF: That's right! The world is a sponge. I'm a sponge to the world.

- Posted by Joe Klarl

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