Friday, July 30, 2010

Announcing the SNAPSHOT! Photo Contest finalists!

Thank you to all of the amazing photographers who joined us for SNAPSHOT! A Tenement Museum Photo Event to celebrate the launch of our new photo database. In case you missed it, on July 20, 2010, photo junkies and Tenement Museum fans were invited into 97 Orchard with their cameras to take photographs of the building's interior (something we normally don’t allow). We received a number of incredible submissions to the SNAPSHOT! Photo Contest, and you can see all of them by visiting the Tenement Museum’s Flickr group.

It was a difficult process, but we managed to select 11 finalists that we think capture the architecture of 97 Orchard and the tenement apartments inside. We hope you will help us pick a grand prize winner by checking out all of the finalists below (click on the thumbnails to view larger images) and voting, on the right, for your favorite!

Voting will end on Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 4:30 pm and the winner will be announced here on Friday, August 6, 2010.

Congratulations to all of the contestants and finalists!

Finalist 1:
Unrestored apartment wall on the fourth floor of 97 Orchard Street. Photo by Dominic Poon.
History 4

Finalist 2:
Front room of the recreated Moore Family Apartment exhibit c. 1869 on the fourth floor of 97 Orchard Street. Photo by Kathleen L. Kent.

Finalist 3:
Sewing machine in the front room of the recreated Levine Family Apartment exhibit c. 1897. Photo by Sue Shea.
sewing machine

Finalist 4:
Kitchen of the recreated Levine Family Apartment exhibit c. 1897. on the third floor of 97 Orchard Street. Photo by Shawn Hoke.
Tenement Museum Striped Socks, 3rd Floor by Shawn Hoke

Finalist 5:
Kitchen of the recreated Rogarshevsky Family Apartment exhibit c.1915 on the third floor of 97 Orchard Street. Photo by Andrea Gaffney.
sink (4).JPG

Finalist 6:
Antique doll in the recreated Gumpertz Family Apartment exhibit c.1878 on the second floor of 97 Orchard Street. Photo by Dominic Poon.

Finalist 7:
Kitchen in the recreated Gumpertz Family Apartment exhibit c.1878 on the second floor of 97 Orchard Street. Photo by Amy Neiman.
Photo by Amy Neiman, 7/2010

Finalist 8:
Kitchen of the recreated Moore Family Apartment exhibit c. 1869 on the fourth floor of 97 Orchard Street. Photo by Kathleen L. Kent.

Finalist 9:
Front room of the recreated Moore Family Apartment exhibit c. 1869 on the fourth floor of 97 Orchard Street. Photo by Daniel Molina.
Tenament 25

Finalist 10:
Kitchen of an unrestored apartment on the second floor of 97 Orchard Street. Photo by Andrea Gaffney.
sink (6).JPG

Finalist 11:
Graffiti on the third floor hallway inside 97 Orchard Street Photo by Shawn Hoke.
Tenement Museum "Nuts to You," 3rd Floor Hall by Shawn Hoke

-posted by Amita

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Featured Shop Items: Summer Accessories

We’re coming up on the dog days of summer and, if you are like many Americans, you are probably vacationing - maybe relaxing by the beach or going to amusement parks. Here at the Museum Shop we have several items for sale that will be great accessories when you travel this summer.

If you are taking a long car trip and want to keep your family members occupied, you should check out Chuck Klosterman’s Hypertheticals: 50 Questions for Insane Conversations ($14.99). On each card there is a scenario with a question at the end. For example, if you find Shaquille O’Neal in your shower and he doesn’t remember how he got there, would you call the cops? If you have the ability to save your friend from a bear attack, knowing that from then on a perpetual rain cloud would follow you forever, would you intervene? The crazy situations may lead to some surprising (and entertaining) answers from your loved ones.

Maybe you’ll be in the New York City area at some point this summer. You should definitely come to the Tenement Museum, and on your way out you should pick up City Walks New York: 50 Adventures on Foot ($14.95). This newest edition is a book of cards that tells you where to go in New York City. They are organized by neighborhood (card #13 is the Tenement Museum!). There are the expected places - the Empire State Building, the Met, and so on. But you’ll find out where there is a Little Italy in the Bronx and other little known places! It comes complete with a map with the locations numbered so you won’t get lost.

Love New York City history and looking for a summer reading book? For those of you relaxing by the beach or pool, you definitely need to read North River by Pete Hamill ($14.99). A personal favorite of mine, it is about Dr. James Delaney, who mysteriously receives his grandson on the steps of his New York City home one day in 1934. The story will hold your attention from beginning to end as it transports you from the sandy beach to winter in Depression-era New York City.

We have beautiful straw bags currently on sale 30% off ($20-$25). These bags are perfect for packing stuff (like the summer reading book mentioned above!) for the beach, picnics, barbeques, and carnivals - anywhere your summer travel may take you! They are available in an assortment of sizes and bright colors.

If you are interested in any of the items seen on this blog, come stop by the Shop at 108 Orchard Street at Delancey or give us a call at 212-982-8420 to have anything shipped. Have fun on your summer adventures!

-Posted by Devin

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Exclusive Offer from the Tenement Museum Shop

Signed copies of 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement, which is soaring on the bestseller lists, are available at the Tenement Museum Shop.  You can order it here.  (All of our copies are signed.)  Check out today's New York Times review or read more about the book on one of our recent blog posts.

-Posted by Penny

Meet Katie Barnard, for Live! At the Tenement

Katie Barnard is a costumed interpreter in the Live! At the Tenement program, portraying Bridget Moore. I recently spoke with her both in and out of character.

Can you tell me a little bit about who you’re portraying in this program?

I’m portraying Bridget Moore, an Irish immigrant who lived in the building in 1869 with her family.

What responsibilities do you have to keep your character accurate?

Mostly things about correctly portraying what’s good about living here for her but also the truth of her story, which I think is a tumultuous one. The trip across the ocean, leaving the homeland and the famine. What does that turn a person into, if they’ve survived but watched people die because of nothing they can control?

And you want her to seem grateful at the same time.

Exactly. It’s a careful balance. It’s interesting because Bridget is different than a lot of the other characters; this house for her is probably the nicest house she’s ever lived in, aside from when she was a maid.

How do you maintain the interest of your audience?

Well, we only have ten minutes so there’s not really a lot of maintenance that has to be done, but usually connection to the space allows visitors to reference things around them, and then stories and anecdotes to back up the how and why of a particular item. It’s hard because you don’t want to be inaccurate historically but at the same time, you should also seem like a human being. And we have the least information about Bridget Moore [out of all the] characters, so it requires a little artistic license.

I think someone in Bridget Moore’s situation would want to entertain, would want to be witty and entertaining with visitors. And I think it’s only in those moments where people ask direct questions about her journey or her homeland that it surprises her a little bit, you know, so that there’s a reaction.

Have you done anything like this costumed interpretation before?

No. I’ve done a lot of acting in general… which is interesting, actually, because in general [when] acting, you’re very specific and accurate. You’re trained to have a lot of research behind you, so costumed interpreting isn’t too far from what you might do if you’re in some sort of play [that’s] set in a different era. I also portray Victoria Confino, [an immigrant who lived in 97 Orchard Street in the 1910s,] in a different program so sometimes my wires get crossed, maintaining the different accents, characters, and time periods. [Laughs.] It gets confusing.

What is the most fun about portraying Bridget Moore?

I think what’s most fun about her are the things that she gets excited about. I imagine from the research that [program coordinator] Sarah Litvin has done, which is brilliant research, we can figure out from the time period what would have been exclusively, like, oh-my-gosh-can-you-believe-I-have-this-thing. So I find the most fun to be figuring out that excitement about something that would seem really trivial to us now. A rug on the floor seems like nothing but to Bridget Moore, that’s a big deal.

Then, program coordinator Sarah Litvin and I met with Bridget Moore…

Could you tell me about yourself, your family, and what you do for a living?

Sure, of course. My name is Bridget Moore. I’ve got a husband Joseph, and I’ve got three wee ones. A girl, Mary Kate. She’s almost four. And a girl, Jane. She’s almost three. And a wee one, Agnes. She was just born, just recently. Joseph works in a saloon, in a pub, you know? Nearby. He does that at night and sometimes during the day. I work here in the house.

How long has your husband been working at the pub?

He’s worked in a pub since I knew him. But he switches from pub to pub depending on the season. Sometimes he works in a hotel, sometimes he works at a pub in the Five Points. It’s depending on whether it’s the busy season or the slow season. He’s got it all figured out.

So he didn’t come to this country with you?

No, no, no. I came here alone when I was wee. I was seventeen or so.

How would you describe your experience since you arrived in the city? How is life in the tenement?

I think it’s pretty nice. The only thing I don’t like so much is slaggin’ all the stairs, you know? You’ve got to climb all the stairs. We don’t have that. When I was in Ireland, it was very different. We were all on the one floor and there was one room and that was it. It’s very complicated with all the stairs and the rooms and all that. And you’ve got to climb the stairs many times in a day because you’ve got to go down there to get water. The well is down out behind the building. But when I first got here, I was a little bit intimidated cause I came from a farm. When you come from a farm, and ya’ arrive in a place like New York, it’s very strange. There’s a lot people from all over. No one in this neighborhood speaks the same language I do, and I had to get really used to that. We’ve only been here a little while in the neighborhood. When you live in the Five Points, it’s a little bit like being in Dublin, I hear. But I don’t know. [Laughs.]

Do you feel you have a strong sense of community here now? Or does it still feel foreign to you?

No, it’s alright. It’s different because my community at home is my family. And here, you learn to make family where you can. I’ve got friends at the church.

So if you could change one thing about the tenement, what would it be? Would it be having to go down all those stairs for water?

It would be the stairs! [Laughs.] But there are other things too, y’know. It’s so dark. I’d like a few more lamps, but right now we don’t have enough money to get them.

SL: Is there anything you do to try to make use of the light you have?

There is. You know, I learned about something. Can I tell you it? When I was uptown, they would say, to make the room make a little bit brighter and larger… they’re always worried uptown about making everything bigger than it is. So they tell you you’ve got to put glass on the wall. Now this is very strange, and Joseph doesn’t like it at all because in Ireland, if you look in the glass, they think you go to the next world. So there’s a lot of worry, but I said, “If you’re in America, you’ve got to put the glass on the wall because here it’s so dark and you’ve got so little space that if you put the glass on the wall like this [points to the mirror hanging on the mantle], it makes it feel bigger and brighter.

What are your hopes for the future in the next couple of years here?

It’s hard to say. This is a pretty nice place so if we could maintain it, that’d be great. If we could get a little more light and stay, that’d be wonderful. [Laughs.] But the only problem is Joseph gets a little restless because there’s no one here from Ireland except one pair upstairs. So he wants to go back to the Five Points, but if I have my way, I don’t think so.

Meet Katie Barnard tomorrow at Live! at the Tenement's evening bash, 6:30 PM at the Museum Shop, 108 Orchard Street.

- Posted by Joe Klarl

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Signing a New Lease?

The guided tours of 97 Orchard Street generally focus on the lives of the tenement's residents. But have you ever wondered who owned the building since its completion in 1863? Browse these images from the Tenement Museum's online photo database to learn more about the landords of 97 Orchard.

Nathan Loewy (pictured here with his wife Emily and their daughter in Atlantic City) was the landlord of 97 Orchard Street in 1889.
Loewy family photograph

In 1896, seven years after purchasing 97 Orchard Street, Loewy sold it to his father-in-law, Bernard Drachman, who sold it the following day to his daughter (and Nathan’s wife) Emily Drachman Loewy, pictured here.
Formal portrait of Emily Drachman Loewy

Barnet Goldfein owned 97 Orchard Street with his partner, Benjamin Posner, from 1905 to 1906. Here he stands next to his wife Dora Goldfein, circa 1923.
97 Street owner Barnet Goldfein and wife, Dora Goldfein

Bertha Rosenblatt, the daughter of Albert and Lena Rosenblatt, stands in costume for Purim (a Jewish holiday celebrated one month before Passover), circa 1915. The Rosenblatts owned 97 Orchard Street between 1907 and 1919.
Portrait of Berth Rosenblatt

Gottlieb Helpern and a friend stand on a roof top in 1930. Check out those suits! Helpern undertook ownership of 97 Orchard Street in 1953.
Gottlieb Helpern and a friend on a roof top

Landlord Gottlieb Helpern stands in front of 96 Orchard Street. Gottlieb was also the landlord of 97 Orchard Street when this photograph was taken circa 1979.
Landlord Gottlieb Helpern

-posted by Amita

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Closing of Ellis Island

As part of our 400 Years of Immigration History campaign on Twitter, we're sharing a timeline of American immigration. Yesterday’s tweet was about the closing of Ellis Island, the famous immigrant station.

Ellis Island opened in 1892 and closed in 1954, with an estimated 12 million immigrants passing through this center during the 62 years it was in service. The peak year of immigration was 1907, with an astounding 1.25 million arrivals. Immigrants disembarking at Ellis Island were subject to health examinations that often determined whether they would be allowed into the country. If an immigrant was considered too ill, there was a hospital complex on the island for treatment. Ellis Island also temporarily housed immigrants because they had to have their identification papers before they could depart.

Ellis Island was not only utilized as an immigration processing center. During World War I, the rate of immigration fell and Ellis Island served as a detainment arena for enemy ships and suspected enemy aliens (the same purpose it served during World War II). Later on, returning injured or sick American soldiers received treatment there. After World War I ended, immigration briefly picked up again, but after 1924 Ellis Island was no longer used for processing immigrants. According to the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, the island was converted into the “center of the assembly, detention, and deportation of aliens who had entered the U.S. illegally or had violated the terms of admittance.” Immigration rates to the United States continued to drop, especially after the Internal Security Act of 1952, which did not allow members of Communist or Fascist groups to enter the United States, and the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952. Ellis Island was closed two years later. [Read more.]
When most people think of Ellis Island, they imagine the Ellis Island Immigration Museum (you should go if you have never been, it’s excellent!). But Save Ellis Island, a National Park Service partner, is also working to rehabilitate and maintain all of the 29 buildings on the island, including the hospital complex that has fallen into ruins. For more information about Save Ellis Island, read our blog post.

Intrigued? Click here for more blog posts about Ellis Island.

-posted by Devin

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 (Amended 1950)

When my colleagues at the Tenement Museum asked if I would be willing to provide a perspective on the American Displaced Persons Act of 1948, I jumped at the chance. This act, which granted admission and permanent residency to European displaced persons, was a notable shift from the restrictive quotas adopted in 1924 under the National Origins Act. It was passed in the context of destruction in postwar Europe, the Holocaust, and the Soviet occupation of Eastern and Central Europe.

In 1945, when Allied troops entered the concentration camps, they discovered piles of corpses, bones, and human ashes, as well as thousands of survivors -- Jews and non-Jews -- suffering from starvation and disease.

Within months of Germany's surrender in May 1945, more than six million displaced persons (DPs) had returned to their home countries. However, between 1.5 million and two million DPs, mostly from countries under Soviet occupation, refused repatriation. Among them were more than 250,000 Jews.

Sinaida Grussman holds a name card to help any of her surviving family members locate her at the Kloster Indersdorf DP camp.

Most Jewish survivors were unable or unwilling to return home because of persistent anti-Semitism and the destruction of their communities during the Holocaust. Many of those who did return feared for their lives. In postwar Poland, for example, there were a number of pogroms (violent riots) that claimed scores of Jewish lives.

In December of that year, President Truman issued a directive that loosened quota restrictions on persons displaced by the Nazi regime, giving preference to DPs, especially widows and orphans. Under this directive, more than 41,000 displaced persons immigrated to the United States from Europe; approximately 28,000 of these were Jews. Still, opportunities for legal immigration to the United States remained extremely limited.

Great Britain continued to strictly limit the number of Jews allowed in Palestine. Jews already living in British-controlled Palestine organized "illegal" immigration by ship (also known as Aliyah Bet). In 1947 the British forced the ship Exodus 1947, which was carrying 4,500 Holocaust survivors headed for Palestine, to return to Germany where the passengers were again imprisoned in camps. The Exodus 1947 attracted worldwide publicity and strengthened support for the DPs' struggle to emigrate from war-devastated Europe. It was not until the establishment of the State of Israel in May 1948 that Jewish DPs began freely immigrating to the new sovereign state.

In this context, Congress passed the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 authorizing 200,000 DPs to enter the United States. On June 25, 1948, President Truman signed the law with “great reluctance,” protesting that the bill used date restrictions designed to limit the number of Jewish refugees eligible for entry. Truman chose to sign what he saw as a deeply flawed bill, rather than further postpone action on the DP crisis. Congress later passed amendments that extended the total allotment of U.S. immigration visas for DPs to approximately 400,000 persons. By 1952, over 80,000 Jewish DPs had immigrated to the United States under the terms of the two Displaced Persons Acts and with the aid of American Jewish charitable groups.

With the majority of Jewish DPs eventually finding refuge in the United States and Israel, as well as other nations, the DP emigration crisis slowly came to an end. Almost all of the European DP camps were closed by 1952, as Jewish survivors of the Holocaust began life anew in their adopted homelands.

-Special thanks to David Klevan, the Education Manager for Technology and Distance Learning at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, for writing this post.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Visitor of the Week: Debbie Keller

Over the summer, look out for this new feature - Visitor of the Week! Each week we'll profile a different person who's been to the Tenement Museum. If you're coming to visit and would like to be profiled on the blog, send us as email.

Meet Debbie Keller, a writer and teacher from Sacramento, California who recently visited the Museum with her husband, Jim Muldavin and son, Noah. Like many of our guests, Debbie was in town visiting the city because she loves it here and still has many friends to visit.

Besides being born in Greenwich Village, Debbie has interesting Lower East Side ties. Her grandparents on both sides of the family, as well as her husband’s grandparents, all at one point lived on here in tenements and were involved in the garment industry. They emigrated at the turn of the century, sometime between 1908 and 1913. Her grandfather reupholstered furniture, and later in life he got his own company started. Debbie speculated that he started as a tailor and stayed in the sewing realm for the rest of his life. His family eventually moved to Washington Heights.

Her maternal grandparents (last name Schertz) came from Austria and her paternal grandparents emigrated from Poland (which at the time was part of Russia). What I thought was really cool was Debbie’s story of how the name Keller came to be. When her grandparents came to Ellis Island, their name was changed from  “Kalles” to Keller, which is the name she goes by today. Her husband’s family came from Moldova (northeast of Romania). Their original last name became Muldavin when they passed through Ellis Island. [Editor's note: no names were actually changed at Ellis Island. It's likely the family name change came later, either through transcription errors or by the family's choice. The Rogarshevsky family, whose story the Museum tells on the Piecing it Together tour, changed their name to Rosenthal by the 1930s.]

Debbie and her family had seen the Piecing it Together tour when I talked with them, but this was not Debbie’s first visit. She first came with her uncle shortly after the Museum opened. She was amazed by 97 Orchard itself.

“The condition of the building, actually, and the stairwells was what struck me the most," she commented. "But I was looking for more details about the living conditions, specifically. For example, the lack of sanitation, and there’s no sunlight or ventilation, and how crowded the rooms were. Also, my husband and son had never seen it before, so I’m glad they came with me!” [For more information about sanitation, check out the Moore Tour or read the blog.]

After leaving the Museum the family was planning to eat lunch Katz’s or Second Avenue Deli (at 33rd Street). Debbie was very impressed by the Lower East Side neighborhood.

“It’s changed even since I’ve been here before, I like it. It’s very cool and artsy.”

Debbie left me with something she wanted to share with everyone. “This Museum is fantastic. I just want everybody to come see it! It’s so rich with history and so amazing and so many Americans came through this gateway, it’s just the coolest thing!”

-posted by Devin

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Meet Jeffrey Marsh, for Live! At the Tenement

Jeffrey Marsh is currently a costumed interpreter in the Live! At the Tenement program. I was lucky enough to speak to him in and out of character. See Jeffrey perform as Harris Levine tomorrow night at Live!.

Jeffrey, who are you portraying here at the museum?

I will go back in time more than a hundred years and be Harris Levine who lived in the building in 1898.

What responsibilities do you shoulder to keep your character accurate?

One of our speakers, Karen Lomen, called it a delicate illusion. It’s my job to keep that world of 1898 intact from the tour’s start to its finish. There’s a whole comprehensive, cohesive world that these [visitors playing the role of newspaper] reporters can tap into.

How do you maintain the interest of your audience?

Well there are so many layers to costumed interpreting. Part of it is being charming; part of it is using tools like soliciting help from the people you’re talking to, respecting them so that that turns into a respect for the interpreter. And having the tools that [program coordinator] Sarah Litvin gave to us really helps in that space.

How is it different to play this role than to simply be an educator?

Oh goodness. Well, it’s a heck of a lot more fun, not that educating’s not fun. It’s all fun but this is some of the most fun that I’ve had here. It uses my actor self as well. I moved to New York to do this – performing and acting. And when I first started at the Museum, this was going to be my day job, I was going to have to slog through and do plays and performing another way. But I’m utterly delighted to have it all fold together with this program. I can use those muscles for acting well beyond what is my motivation. I get to use my third person experience as an educator to take on a whole new role. And as I experience the Museum in a new way, hopefully visitors will too.

A lot of us have felt that this is so special. It feels like we shouldn’t be allowed to do it. It’s so much fun. It’s supposed to be about educating and the history and all of that stuff but this program has taught us that that process of interpreting the past, of looking at these lives, can be so interesting and so fun to us. That will translate, I think, in two directions.

You’ve told me what’s the most fun about this program. What’s most nerve-wracking about it?

Really keeping a respect for the lives we’re talking about. Nerve-wracking may not be the best way to put it. But that is the main focus because he’s an actual person and I want to have as much reverence as I can have for his whole story, the complexity of his life. It’s easy to be charming and entertaining, but we also want to convey how it may not have been in that living situation. That complexity can inform the interpretation as well.

Now, as a reporter for the New York Times all the way back in 1898, some questions with Harris Levine…

I just want to know a little bit about your family…

You know I can’t read the Times? You know that? But when it comes out, you tell…

I’ll tell you how it goes. Could you tell me about your family and how you make a living?

Living? You mean work?


Well, that Mrs. Goldberg next door, she got a joke for everything. She come running in last week and she said, “Well you know in America, in English, they got the word “home.” Got four letters in there: W – O – R – K.

So you work in your home?

I do work in my home. We got the contract now from the goniff on Hester Street. He tell me this color’s gonna be in for the fall. I think it’s schlecht. It’s bad. But he says ladies gonna be wearing that color head to toe in the fall. Rose is what it’s called. Rose here, rose there, rose in the kitchen and every part of the apartment.

Do you make all of this clothing yourself?

We sew. It comes to us cut. It’s delivered up here.

I see. And do you have a wife? Children?

I do. Jennie. She comes with me. We get married right before we come. And now we got three. Max just been born. He’s new. Jennie’s not here though. She’s down with the fish peddler trying to get two herrings for a penny. The kids went with here because they want to get out. It’s so hot in here. So Jennie’s gonna be sad; she missed American reporter.

What do the kids usually do each day?

Pauline plays a game… well, she’s at that age where she wants me to be nice, right? So she goes and she waits for the coal truck to come by and she chase after. Anything that falls off that truck, she get it and she bring it to me. She brought me three pieces last week. And the other one’s a baby. You know what he does? Lie around. You know what happens if I lie around all day? We don’t eat. [Laughs.]

Williamsburg Bridge, looking east from Manhattan to the
East River. Lower East Side Tenement Museum (c) 2010
I was wondering if you could tell me how New York differs from your old home?

Rev. Goldstein – the rabbi in Plonsk where I’m from – said, “You know what about New York City? They got no God there. They got this new god they call money. And take a look - it’s true.

You seem like you have a nice home here but if you could change one thing about the tenement, what would it be?

Listen, you heard of this place, Brooklyn? In a minute, we’re all gonna be the same city. Over there, they tell me, if you’re Jewish, you work in one place, you open the door, walk out, down the street even, open another door and that’s where you live.

So you’d like to move to Brooklyn?

Yes, a neighborhood called Williamsburg. Work here, live over there. That’s enough.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The 1919 Palmer Raids

As part of our 400 Years of Immigration History campaign on Twitter, we're sharing a time-line of American immigration from the very beginning to today. Tomorrow's tweet is about the1919 Palmer raids. This historical event is named after Attorney General Alexander Mitchell Palmer, who orchestrated the arrests.

During World War I, immigrants living in the United States often had conflicted loyalties. Most newcomers were thankful to be here, but many still had ties to their homelands, some of which were now enemies of the United States. Simultaneously, the threat of violence against the U.S. government was hitting close to home. In the summer of 1919, a series of bombings occurred in cities all over the country, including Washington DC, with one bomb hitting Palmer’s home. Although it was never determined exactly who was behind the bombings, Communist radicals became the primary suspect. The Palmer raids were on the cusp of what would later be termed the “Red Scare.”

On November 7, 1919 (the date specifically picked because it was the second anniversary of the Russian Revolution), the raids and arrests began. The homes and headquarters of suspected radicals were invaded, with over 10,000 arrests made. Of that incredible number, 245 were deported, including Lower East Side resident Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, editor of the anarchist journal Blast. The couple was sent back to Russia. [Read more.]

So what exactly were the criteria for being arrested and possibly deported? One source (PDF) wrote that “everything from parliamentary socialism to Bolshevism, encompassing ‘radical feminism,’ anarchism, and labor militancy as well” was enough cause for investigation.

Throughout American history there have times of great anxiety around immigrants similar to the Palmer
Krasnaia Armiia, 1919. Digital ID: 1691951. New York Public Library
A 1919 depiction of the "Red Army"
Courtesy of the NYPL Digital
raids and the Red Scare era. For example, about 120,000 Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast during World War II were forced to live in internment camps. It was never proven that any of those incarcerated had in fact committed any kind of espionage or sabotage against the United States (about half were, in fact, children). So what was the reason for this forced segregation? According to the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, the interment camps “were motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

Even as recently as the past decade, some of the nation's immigrants have experienced racial prejudice. After the terrorists attacks of September 11, 2001 many Muslim-Americans feared both federal censure and random acts of violence. Some worry that racial profiling has become too common, with stricter airline rules and the Patriot Act allowing the wiretapping of suspects and the detainment of aliens deemed as “threats to national security.” It's interesting that, in fact, this same sort of profiling and surveillance took place almost 100 years ago.

I wonder how people feel about the treatment of immigrants in such tumultuous times. Do you think it's wrong to detain someone without access to a fair trial by their peers? Do you think immigrants still have strong, nationalistic ties to their homelands? How do you think that affects their allegiance to the United States? If you're interested in these questions, in addition to discussing them with friends, family, and here on the blog, pick up a copy of David Laskin's The Long Way Home: An American Journey from Ellis Island to the Great War, which chronicles 12 young men, all immigrants, who fought for the US in World War I. It's an eye-opening look at these very issues of nationhood and allegiance during war time.

- Post by Devin.

Monday, July 19, 2010

97 Orchard Street's Decor and Architecture

What is the architectural detail on the façade, archways, and cornices of the buildings?

The front façade of 97 Orchard Street is an extremely simple version of the Italianate style, the most popular style for buildings erected in New York City during the early 1860s.
By the time 97 Orchard Street was built, the Italianate style, featuring arched openings for doors and windows, projecting stone lintels (a supporting wood or stone beam across the top of an opening, such as that of a window or door or fireplace), and foliate brackets (decorated with carved leaves), had filtered down to even the most modest projects. At 97 Orchard Street, the brick façade of the upper floors is ornamented by segmental-arch window openings (the circular arch above each window in which the inner circle is less than a semicircle) with brownstone trim. An Italianate projecting-metal cornice caps the façade and is coated with brownstone-colored sand paint.

What do we know about the wallpaper in 97 Orchard Street?

Around 1905, the main hall on the first floor was redesigned with the addition of an inexpensive, but durable covering of burlap painted red, and later shellacked with a brown varnish. In the late 1880s, wallpaper began to replace paint on the front room walls of apartments in 97 Orchard Street. We believe the landlord arranged for the walls to be papered probably every time new tenants moved into an apartment. Landlords may have opted to use wallpaper instead of paint because with its busy patterns, it better hid imperfections in the walls. In some cases tenants apparently added wallpaper in order to beautify the room.

In some of the apartments at 97 Orchard Street, up to 22 layers of wallpaper were discovered by paper conservator Reba Fishman Snyder. 7-10 layers of paint were found underneath the wallpaper in the front rooms. The walls of the kitchens and bedrooms exhibit an average of 37 to 39 layers of paint. Because the building was occupied for 72 years (from 1864 through 1935), simple statistical analysis shows that the interior surfaces were painted approximately every two years.

All photos can be found at the Tenement Museum's online photo archive,, and are part of the Museum's collection. Arch photo and facade photo by Jerome Liebling.

- Posted by Kate

Friday, July 16, 2010

Visitors of the Week: The Ornstein Family

Over the summer, look out for this new feature - Visitor of the Week! Each week we'll profile a different person who's been to the Tenement Museum. If you're coming to visit and would like to be profiled on the blog, send us as email.

Meet the Ornstein Family, recent visitors to the Tenement Museum. Pictured here are Leslie, Greg and Toriah. They live in Gainesville, Florida, where Leslie is a teacher and Greg is a data analyst. Said Leslie, “We love the City, so we’re visiting.”

Greg also has Lower East Side family ties. His father, Benjamin, lived on Orchard Street for a time and eventually lived all over the Lower East Side. Benjamin was born in 1936, and in 1957 he moved to California, where Greg was born. The Ornsteins wanted to see the neighborhood where Benjamin grew up in the 1930s and 1940s. They actually had specific addresses where he resided on the Lower East Side, including 739 East 5th Street, 89 Avenue B between 5th and 6th streets, and 26 Avenue B between 1st and 2nd streets. After their tour they planned on visiting these places and seeing what they look like now compared to when Benjamin lived there.

The Ornsteins were seeing “Piecing it Together” when I chatted with them, and about a year ago they had seen “Getting By.” They weren’t sure what to expect from the new tour, but they remembered parts of “Getting By” that were resonant to them.

Greg commented on the upgrades of the living conditions. “What I liked was the sense of the technological progression. It began as just a squalid little corner, then the air shafts were installed, and then electric light and flowing water. And as we went through the building, we got a sense of how the tenements became a more humane place to live.” [Read more about living conditions in the tenements.]

Leslie said, “I thought it was fascinating that our understanding of 'tenement' was that it was where poor people lived. And we learned that ‘tenement’ doesn’t necessarily mean poverty. [The negative connotation] is something that it has gained over the years. It’s become associated with negativity and poverty.”

-posted by Devin

Thursday, July 15, 2010

1882 Chinese Exclusion Act

The first major wave of Chinese immigrants came to the United States following the 1849 California gold rush. The vast majority of the incoming Chinese were men who worked in labor-intensive industries like railroads, mines, and canneries. Because Chinese laborers were willing to work for lower wages than their European counterparts, companies often used the Chinese as strikebreakers. Labor competition led to resentment of the Chinese and political agitation to limit the number coming into the country.

The martyrdom of St. Crispin. Digital ID: 833640. New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library, Mid-Manhattan Picture Collection.

This animosity toward the Chinese culminated in the passage of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned Chinese laborers from entering the United States. Under the provisions of this act, the burden of proof for entry lay on the Chinese. The law also separated “desirable” and “undesirable” immigrants by including exceptions for merchants, students, teachers, and diplomats.

Throwing down the ladder by wh... Digital ID: 833651. New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library, Mid-Manhattan Picture Collection. This Thomas Nast illustration was published in 1870. The anti-immigrant Know Nothing Party's flag is raised on the barricade.

The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first time that the United States passed a law to bar a specific race or ethnicity from entering the country. The immigration restrictions had important consequences for the character and experience of Chinese communities in America. During the period of exclusion, women and children were a rare sight in Chinatown “bachelor societies.”

They are prettey safe there : ... Digital ID: 833703. New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library, Mid-Manhattan Picture Collection. This 1882 illustration appeared in Puck magazine.

Initially, the act called for a ten-year period of exclusion, but exclusion lasted until after WWII when the 1943 Magnuson Act formally replaced exclusion with national quotas. The quota system still limited Chinese immigration to about 100 people per year so restrictions lasted in effect until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.

Between 1881 and 1896, Chinese immigrants fought back by filing several lawsuits that went up to the Supreme Court. Many of these cases established precedents still used in human rights cases today.

- Special thanks to Beatrice Chen, Director of Education and Programs at the Museum of the Chinese in America, for writing this post. Visit MOCA to learn more about the Chinese immigrant experience.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Meet Judith Levin, for Live! At the Tenement

I recently got the chance to speak with Judith Levin, a costumed interpreter in the Live! At the Tenement program. She told me a little bit about her character and the program, which runs until July 29th. You can see Judy in action tomorrow evening at Live!.

Can you tell me about who you’re portraying here at the museum?

I’m portraying Fannie Rogarshevsky. Mrs. Rogarshevsky came to the United States from Lithuania in 1901 with her husband, Abraham, her children, and a niece who gets palmed off on her parents who already live here. Her brothers already live here and by the time she and Abraham move to 97 Orchard Street, they’ve come from just down the street. They’ve come from another pre-old-law tenement that probably might have just been about to undergo renovation. So they come here and they’ve got six children, two of whom were born down the street, ranging in age from a little child to teenage girls. About half the family is working in the garment industry. So by 1910, she’s got kids working and has just married off a kid, her daughter Bessie, to a border of her parents, and they’ve moved across the street and produced two kids fast.

When you’re portraying her, how do you make the character as accurate as possible?

I have a sense of who she is from the way she looks in pictures, from the history of her children – if they go away, they move back soon. The grandchildren remember her yelling out the back window, telling the bums to go sleep somewhere else. She’s a woman who loses her husband when her husband is quite young, in his early 40s, from tuberculosis. And she becomes the janitor of this building in order to keep a roof over her family’s heads. She is a big, tough lady.

What I try to balance is the sense that she’s a baleboosteh, a boss, a big tough mama. On one hand, she has a very complicated life. These people are not as successful as the Levines [another family interpreted at the Tenement Museum and on Live! at the Tenement] are going to be. They’re not going to wind up living in a nice neighborhood. But she’s kept most of her kids alive, and they come back, and she wants them near her. There’s a story that when one of the daughters moves to the apartment behind this apartment that Fannie sends the Sabbath meal on the clothesline across to a daughter who had been married and living in the Bronx but moved back here during the Depression.

So these stories are going through your head when you’re in character?

Yes, from photos and from the memories of children and grandchildren. We know more about this family and what they’re like than, say, the Levine family because we have the memories of one of the sons, Henry, from when he was quite an old man, who could tell us where everybody slept, which is what everyone always wants to know and what we almost never know for sure about these early families.

From there, how do you try to engage your audience?

I want people to respect her. I don’t think she was having a great time. People have commented on how cheery these characters are but I don’t think she was a very cheery person. But she was very proud of the home she had made, so it is very interesting to have people come into this space that she inhabits with this family. They come in and they often say, “Oh, this family has money. Look at all this stuff they have. They don’t have a factory in the living room.” And I say, “Yeah, but they had six children.”

She was very proud of the things she had here. A working family in the old country did not have a room that looked like a living room, even if it turns out you’ve got four boys sleeping in it every night using the couch as a pillow. And what we know from family memories is that she was proud of the furniture, and we were able to replicate that. Our sense is that she’s buying furniture secondhand and, to her, it’s fancy. It’s what the nice people uptown would have had because it’s carved and it’s upholstered, and the headboard of the bed is solid wood. It’s also all about forty years out of date.

She comes to 97 Orchard Street, and they have running water, which she’s never had before. She’s a house-proud woman. She has lights for the first time. You can see the dirt and that helps. If you can’t see it, it’s harder to clean.

So I’m always trying to balance the ways in which she was very proud of what she had achieved and on the other hand, the fact that this is a woman who’s getting down on her hands and knees to scrub the toilets of her neighbors every week.

Do you find it gratifying to be a costumed interpreter? Is it fun?

I find it exciting and difficult and interesting enough that I want to keep doing it. What it’s done is that, being Fannie, spending time in that apartment, and thinking as a member of that family with those responsibilities, I do a different tour. So when I move to the role of educator, there’s a part in my head that’s Fannie’s voice understanding what that couch meant to her. Now, after a lot of years at the Museum, that’s one beat up couch. But for her, it’s the symbol of this life that she has made here. However poor that life seems and was, they’re making themselves American. It’s an Orthodox family. They don’t want to give up who they are. They don’t want to become American in that way, yet she’s also very proud of what they have here.

She’s the last person to ever live in this building. When everyone moves out, Fannie is living here in 1941 with her youngest son Philip and his wife. Only at age 68 does she move into government-supported housing where there’s hot water. So for some reason, she’s hanging onto this place where so much of her life had been. She’s the center of a world that includes her parents in the building, and her brothers who sound like fruit sellers to me, on a small scale, in the neighborhood. She knows everybody and I think she’s trying to run all their lives. So it changed my sense of how to give that tour.

Meet Judith Levine - as Fanny Rogarshevsky - tomorrow evening. For tickets, visit

- Posted by Joe Klarl

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

An Update on the New Visitors & Education Center

Construction continues at 103 Orchard Street, which will house our new visitors' center, education spaces, and auditorium. Through the summer and autumn, the basement and first and second floors will be transformed from this…

 …and this…

…to this:

We will be documenting the construction process, so be sure to check back for updates!

- Posted by Penny