Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pigeon Flying: It's "war in the air"

Scene from On the Waterfront. Courtesy Indywire.
Tomorrow Tenement Talks presents The Pigeon Game, a documentary film work-in-progress about the disappearing culture of pigeon racing. While doing research for the Talk, I was delighted to find that the Tenement Museum’s own Benny Diaz, from the facilities management division, flies pigeons. Benny and I sat down to talk about flying flight pigeons, an admittedly different practice than pigeon racing.

Q: Tell us about your pigeons.
A: I have flight pigeons; the idea with flights is that you fly them around from your roof. You have a stick topped with a rag or a bag that you wave at the birds. Other people will fly their pigeons from other roofs, sometimes five or six blocks away. The idea is when all the birds are flying; you try to catch as many birds as you can from the other owners. You use the stick to draw in your bird and the other birds; then you walk them into their coops. It is war in the air. You can be friends on the street but it’s war on the roof.

Q: Do you have names for your pigeons?
A: We don’t name them, but the name is within the color of the birds. If it’s yellow in color, it’s called a Yellow Flight. If it’s a bird with two colors blended, it’s called a teager.

A yellow teager. Courtesy Steve.

Q: How many pigeons do you have?
A: Right now I have approximately 150 birds. At one time, I had up to 1500 birds.

Q: How long have you been keeping them?
A: I’ve been doing this for around thirty-five years.

Q: How were you drawn to pigeon keeping?
A: In my neighborhood growing up, there was a man who had pigeons. He was older, around sixty. I was drawn to the pigeons and went on his roof. I would help clean them, feed them, and take care of them.

Q: Is this something your family does?
A: No, I’m the only hobbyist in the family.

Q: Where do you keep your birds?
A: They are in Brooklyn, on the roof of my friend’s home. I visit them every day because I need to feed and water the birds. I could never leave them; I would miss them too much.

Q: Have you raced pigeons in the past?
A: No, I just do flights. Racing pigeons is very time-consuming. You must have a schedule to train the birds.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: I would like people to know that the pigeons we keep are very different from the pigeons in the streets. Pigeons in the streets are known “street rats.” The pigeons we keep are of all different varieties.

To watch flight pigeons in action, watch this film clip entitled “Up on the Roof.” (Benny has a cameo!)

And more pigeon talk tomorrow night at 6:30 PM. In addition to filmmaker Annie Heringer, who'll show clips from her documentary, you'll also meet Marty McGuinniss, who has had birds since he could walk and has become one of the top pigeon fliers in NYC.

Join us at the Museum Shop, 108 Orchard Street at Delancey.

- Interview by Alana Rosen

Monday, August 30, 2010

Visitors of the Week: Mary, Monica, Sally, Susie, and Connie

From left: Mary, Monica, Sally, Susie and Connie

Hope you've been enjoying this summer's new feature, Visitor of the Week. Each week we've profiled a different person who's been to the Tenement Museum. Stay tuned for more Visitor of the Week profiles this fall. If you're coming to visit and would like to be profiled on the blog, send us an email.

Meet Mary, Monica, Sally, Susie and Connie, our latest Visitors of the Week. This group of five friends, who have known each other for years and are in the same book club, came to visit New York City, and we’re happy that the Tenement Museum was on their list of places to see. Hailing from LaCrosse, Wisconsin, all are teachers except for Susie, who is a nurse. We talked after they had taken the Moores tour.

What part of the tour was most surprising or resonant to you?
The lack of sanitation was appalling. [For example, Bridget Moore may have had to feed her children swill milk, which was unpastuerized and very dangerous. Read more about the sanitation issues of the nineteenth century.] What was also surprising was how much the tour illustrated the books we read, like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Angela’s Ashes. It really depicted the Irish immigrant experience. [Read more about Irish immigration to the United States in the nineteenth century.]

If you lived in a tenement during this time period, what would have been the most difficult part of daily life?
The darkness would have been unbearable. I can’t imagine dealing with the death of a child and the feeling of despair and no way out. The gloominess and having to live in such a cramped space, with constant work over every little thing would make life extremely difficult.

What other places are on your to-do list?

We’re here for five days and we’re doing a historic walking tour, seeing “In the Heights,” renting bikes in Central Park, going to the New York Public Library in midtown Manhattan, taking a food and cultural tour, and going to the Top of the Rock.

-posted by Devin

Friday, August 27, 2010

Rugs Installed in Gumpertz and Rogarshevsky Apartments

Have you ever wondered if the residents at 97 Orchard would have had bare floors or rugs? We've found evidence that suggests residents may have had rugs (in, for example, the front room of apartment 8, the Rogarshevksy residence). With that information in mind, rugs were recently installed in the front rooms of the Gumpertz and Rogarshevsky apartments. They are both reproduction carpets that are true to the period, made in the same way they would have been made at the time. In addition to making the recreated apartments look more authentic, the rugs also provide valuable protection for the wood floor against wear and tear from foot traffic.

The rug in the Rogarshevsky apartment is a rag rug, woven of scrap fabrics, perhaps by another tenement dweller in the area who made them as part of a "cottage industry"-style business. It is woven of three pieces, each three feet wide and hand stitched together.

The rug in the Gumpertz apartment is an ingrain carpet, made of two pieces, each four feet wide.

Special thanks to Dave Favaloro and Bayard N. for their help with the installation.

-posted by Derya

Thursday, August 26, 2010

From Work Space to Space for Worship

What can a pair of tarnished candle sticks hidden away on a kitchen mantel tell us about a family?

For Harris and Jennie Levine, making a living in America meant using their small tenement apartment at 97 Orchard Street as both home and workspace. Harris, like many other Eastern-European immigrants at the turn of the century, made a living through piecework for the garment industry, eventually employing a handful of other workers in his family’s living room.

Levine Family Parlor in the Tenement Museum

During the week Jennie and their children shared the space with Harris and his workers as they pieced together ladies’ dresses. Harris might have been cramped over the sewing machine situated near one of the few windows in the apartment, while up to half a dozen women stitched pieces of fabric alongside him in the living room. In the kitchen a presser, a senior male member of Harris’ staff, ironed the completed pieces next to the same stove Jennie would be using to cook and clean for her family.

The Levine Family Kitchen in the Tenement Museum
On the kitchen mantelpiece are two candlesticks – small objects that tell a larger story of how the Levine family would have maintained their culture and religion in this home/work environment. With the Jewish Shabbat beginning at sunset each Friday evening, Jennie would have a limited amount of time in which to reclaim her home and transform it from a work space to a space of worship. She might have waited impatiently for the workers to leave on Fridays so she could move the dress model out of the center of the room, dust around the sewing machine, and put away the tools of Harris’ trade, like the bobbin, pattern tracer, and scissors.

Though Jennie wouldn’t be able to reclaim the space until Friday afternoons, she might begin her Shabbat shopping on Thursday nights or Friday mornings to gather all the necessary ingredients to prepare a proper meal, as none of this work could be done after sunset.

A New York Daily Tribune reporter visiting the neighborhood market on Fridays stated that “the people are massed so thickly on the pavements that it is only in aggressive fashion that one can make his way through the crowd. As for the middle of the street, there is no middle to be seen.” Homemakers like Jennie poured into the streets to gather last-minute ingredients for this weekly holiday.

For working families, Shabbat rituals helped transform the tenement into a special space for one day, with the aroma of stew and challah filling the apartment instead of freshly steamed dress pieces, and the sounds of song and prayer replacing the hum of the sewing machine. As sundown approached, Jennie would bring out the candlesticks, hidden on the mantel during the week, and place them prominently on a table to signify the beginning of the family’s day of rest. On Shabbat, the Levine family could find comfort in the old traditions, modified for a new home.

All photos by Battman Studios, Courtesy Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

- Posted by Shana Weinberg

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tenement Talks: Fish out of Agua

Courtesy of IndieBound.org
Join us tonight for Tenement Talks featuring Michele Carlo, author of Fish Out of Agua: My Life on Neither Side of the (Subway) Tracks. You might remember Michele as a regular from our “Lower East Side Stories” series, where she often told tales about growing up in New York.

Well, now Michele has an entire book of stories about her life in the city. She talks about her growing-up years in the Bronx and weaves in stories about her mother and grandparents, who immigrated from Puerto Rico and settled in an apartment on East 103rd Street in Spanish Harlem (El Barrio) during the Great Depression.

When Michele was a child, her abuela showed her a photo of her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. Young Michele was confused - these women, with their dark hair and skin, didn't look a thing like this red-headed, freckly child. Growing up, she faced  pressure from both sides - her aunts criticized her for being raised “white,” and her peers didn’t know what to make of her. This conflict - who am I? - is one many immigrants and their children face.

Michele's writing is full of energy, spunk, and truth—she tells it how it is. Several of our staff are already fans of her work and have been excitedly anticipating her visit.  Please join us tonight at 108 Orchard at Delancey and be sure to pick up a copy of her memoir! You'll support this great author and the Museum, too. Call 212-982-8420 if you'd like to order an autographed copy.

-posted by Devin

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Live! At the Tenement Bash

After a great five-week run of the Live! At the Tenement program, things culminated on July 29 with a bash. Live performances, some by costumed interpreters who had finished up with their tours mere minutes earlier, and Whole Foods-provided food and drink helped guests make merry for the two-hour evening show.

Clare Burson started the night with a solo acoustic set supporting her newest record, Silver and Ash, a concept album about her grandmother’s emigration from Germany. The sparse, haunting songs felt perfectly suited to the particular venue that night, covering everything from the stifling summer heat to historical tragedies like the bombing of Rotterdam by the Germans during World War II.

During quiet folk songs, waltzes, and ballads, Burson twisted vintage sounds into something uniquely modern and beautiful. While tuning up, she entertained the crowd with a story of a coveted family heirloom—one hundred year old Lithuanian cheese.

Clearly, Ms. Burson cares about the past, and it radiated from her with her every word. A few local Lower East Side residents explained that they only hoped “she’d play even more.” They thought it was “so beautiful; she’s a wonderful singer.”

The Venn Diagrams, an eclectic two-piece formed in 2001 featuring guitarist Rick Sorkin and the Museum’s own Jeffrey Marsh, took the stage next. With guitar and ukulele, the Diagrams reinterpreted classics like Lou Reed’s “Take a Walk on the Wild Side,” Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five,” and even strummed a carefully bent handsaw with bow for an eerie take on “Dream a Little Dream of Me.”

Marsh also drew inspiration from opener Burson for one bittersweet, immigration-related original about “a big trip” away from a loved one.

“I adore her music,” he said, “and I wanted to do an homage.”

Much like their inventive webisodes that involve irreverent chatter, musical performances, art pieces, and comedy in rapid succession, the duo eschewed a straightforward set, instead speaking offhand and sometimes directly to the audience during their cabaret act. They kept the intimate crowd guessing about what would come next.

The shop was packed once costumed interpreter Katie Barnard stepped away from her Bridget Moore persona for the night and revealed her own talents, beautifully singing a slew of show tunes accompanied by sister Lisa Barnard on piano. The crowd wildly cheered her renditions of songs like “I’m Not Afraid of Anything” from Songs for a New World. And for the first time, actress, singer, and fellow costumed interpreter Jen Faith Brown joined Barnard for a few enthralling duets including Ragtime’s “Our Children” after practicing for more than six weeks. Brown also took her turn performing alone, with classics “Singin’ In The Rain” and “Bill” from Showboat receiving equal fanfare.

It was inspiring to see the small experiment of the Live! At the Tenement program grow to bring the community together by finding new ways to educate and entertain. Many who attended the party had already experienced Live! once or even several times before.

Returning to the tenement for a third time, one audience member thought the interaction offered even the most unlikely visitors a reason to stop by.

“It’s really fun,” she said. “It’s all history, which I usually don’t like, but the [costumed interpreters] were so good! It was cool.”

Jeffrey Marsh explained that the program had exceeded the performers’ expectations as well. “Towards the end everything was sold out, which is a good step, but beyond ticket sales, the reaction from visitors has been much grander, much more wonderful than anything we could have ever imagined.”

Thanks to everyone who supported Live! At the Tenement and celebrated with museum staff on July 29.

-posted by Joe Klarl, with video by Devin

Monday, August 23, 2010

Shortwave Listening at the Baldizzi Apartment

In the kitchen on the second-floor apartment at 97 Orchard Street, a 1930s-era radio sits nestled within a cabinet alcove. Tucked behind the family’s kitchen table, this unassuming object is one of many that help educators at the Tenement Museum talk about the everyday activities of the Italian family who lived in the apartment from 1928-1935. This little radio can help us understand the experience of immigration and better imagine the lives of those who lived within the tenement.

When the Baldizzi family lived in this apartment, the radio filled the room with familiar sounds from the old country, helping transport Rosario, the lady of the house, back to her native Palermo, Sicily. Thanks to interviews with Rosario’s daughter, Josephine, we know that her mother used to listen to – and often weep along with – Italian-language soap operas.

Rosario Baldizzi
As a summer intern at the Tenement Museum, I spent several weeks researching Italian radio – scouring through dusty card catalogues, speeding through Italian language newspapers on microfilm, and corresponding with radio experts from coast to coast. Bit by bit, I pieced together information about Italian radio in Rosario’s time period and began to understand the role it played in Italian immigrant communities.

Surveys of the Italian community living in Boston’s North End in the early 1940s show that people there had diverse motivations for listening to the radio, which impacted what types of programs they preferred.

Not surprisingly, many Italian-Americans enjoyed listening to programs in their native tongue. Many were still beginning English speakers, and many also appreciated finding familiar storylines, dialects, and humor in these programs.

Respondents from the survey stated that popular programs included Pasquale C.O.D., a program about an Italian grocer, and La Rosa Macaroni Hour, “the noon time drama of Lives of the Saints.” Italian companies selling products such as tomatoes, macaroni, and cheese often advertised to the community through these programs.

While serial dramas, sometimes referred to as “washboard weepers,” were popular with housewives who were at home during the day, female survey respondents largely stated that in the evenings the men of the housed decided what station to turn to, often choosing news broadcasts. Younger listeners, more interested in “becoming American,” preferred to listen to English language programs. Music hours and variety shows were quite popular for this group.

Italian radio slowed by the 1940s as the United States became involved in World War II, but English language radio attempted to capture the experience of Italian immigrants.

Actor J. Carroll Naish
playing Luigi Basco.
Courtesy Old Time Radio
Little Italy on NBC Blue told the fictional story of the Morenos, an Italian-American family, and their experiences living in the Italian “ghetto” not far from 97 Orchard Street. This program, created by Himan Brown, the child of Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants, was a short-lived counterpart to a Jewish serial drama, The Goldbergs.

Another popular show, Life with Luigi, centered on the experiences of an immigrant making his way in America. The CBS comedy series began every episode with a letter from Luigi to his Mama in Italy, describing his adventures as he tried to adapt to his new country. (Listen to a clip of the show here.)

Exploring the history of particular objects in the tenement apartments allows educators to set the scene for the families who lived here: we can imagine Rosario excitedly turning on the radio to hear the latest segment of her favorite soap opera, while her daughter Josephine waits impatiently to listen to her own choice of programming. How did it make Rosario feel that Josephine might have preferred English programs to Italian dramas from the old country? Would the Baldizzi family have recognized the experience of the Italians in Little Italy or Life with Luigi as their own?

Step into the Baldizzi apartment, and you just might be able to hear the faintest crackle of a shortwave radio, an object which helped connect a family to a culture they left behind in Italy, while also introducing them to a new way of life in America.

Baldizzi family kitchen, restored to 1934, at 97 Orchard Street

- Posted by Shana Weinberg

All photographs (c) Lower East Side Tenement Museum 2010 unless otherwise noted. See more at photos.tenement.org.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Trip to the Merchant's House Museum

Most of us who work at the Tenement Museum are, as you might expect, museum geeks. We read the trade papers (such as they are – you go Museum magazine!) and keep an eye on what other institutions are doing. As NYC museum employees, we get free admission to other city museums (an amazing job perk), and we often take staff field trips together.

Tredwell home, circa 1899.
Courtesy MHM.

Recently, we got the chance to see the Merchant’s House Museum, located on East 4th Street between Lafayette and Bowery. This row house, inhabited by Seabury Tredwell and his family from 1832 to 1933, is considered “the best preserved” federal building in New York City, according to the New York Times.

It’s an especially interesting house museum because it contains artwork and furniture that belong to the family. Some of the artifacts include a collection of 12 chairs credited to Duncan Phyfe (a renowned New York-based cabinet maker who also made fine furniture), two matching gas chandeliers (circa 1852), and over 40 dresses and other fashion items that the Tredwell women wore.

Glass chandeliers.
Courtesy MHM
Seabury Tredwell made his money from a hardware importing business on Pearl Street in the first part of the 19th century. Like many other merchants, he and his family lived in fashionable Washington Square, which was less crowded than areas further downtown. Over time, as that neighborhood in turn became busier, the wealthy tended to move north, but the Tredwells stayed.

Our guide Elizabeth couldn’t say for sure why that was. Records show that the Tredwells re-furbished their home in the 1850s and might have been reluctant to leave a property into which they’d just invested a large sum of money. Perhaps they’d planned to retire to their farm in New Jersey and simply never got around to it. In any case, members of the family lived there until the youngest, unmarried Tredwell daughter died in 1933.

Since the Merchant’s House Museum interpretation encompasses roughly the same time period as the Tenement Museum, our sites are complimentary, though very different. While 97 Orchard Street’s residents were working-class laborers, the Tredwell family was quite well to do (for most of Seabury Tredwell’s life, at least). It is estimated that 7,000 people lived at 97 Orchard for its 72 years as a residence, whereas 29 East 4th Street was home to roughly 14 people over a 101-year span, with a single person, Gertrude Tredwell, inhabiting the four-story residence for several decades.

It’s interesting to observe how different the lives of these two buildings’ residents were during the same time period. The Tredwells had a parlor for callers and bells throughout the house for ringing servants. Mr. and Mrs. Tredwell slept in separate bedrooms. 97 Orchard Street’s residents lived in three-room apartments and didn’t even get front door buzzers until sometime after electricity was installed around 1924. Married couples were lucky if they got to share a bedroom – and didn’t also have to share it with several children.

We were curious to hear about the daily lives of the family’s servants, since someone like our own Bridget Meehan probably worked as a domestic servant before marrying Joseph Moore in 1865. She might have spent hours in the basement kitchen, baking in a beehive oven and scrubbing pots before retiring to her fourth-floor bedroom, like the Tredwells’ scullery maids did.

We were very fortunate to be able to visit the building’s top floor, normally off limits to visitors, to see the former maids’ quarters. While the space has abundant light coming from several dormer windows and a large skylight, it’s easy to see how it might have been hot and stuffy in the summer and cold in the winter. And domestic servants rarely got a respite from their work, not even up here – Elizabeth told us that the large, open space in between the four, small bedrooms was used for ironing, mending, and other household chores. The only free time a servant had was typically Thursday evenings. You can imagine why marriage might have seemed a cheerful alternative for many working girls.

Gertrude Tredwell.
Courtesy MHM.
I heartily recommend a visit to all those interested in American social history. Check the calendar and find a day when they’re offering a special program, like a restoration and furnishings plan tour (August 25) or Gertrude Tredwell’s 170th birthday party (September 17). And don’t miss the ghost tours in October!

Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for students and seniors, and they're open Thursday - Monday, 12-5 pm. Click here for more information.

- Posted by Kate

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Family Photos

Did you visit the Tenement Museum this summer and leave wanting to know even more about the families of 97 Orchard Street? Our online photo database contains images of some of 7,000 people who lived in the tenement building from 1863 to 1935, including the Baldizzi family (whose apartment you can explore virtually or visit on the “Getting By” tour). Adolfo Baldizzi, who immigrated to the United States from Italy in 1923, lived at 97 Orchard Street from 1928 to 1935 with his wife Rosaria, and children Josephine and Johnny. While Adolfo worked odd jobs and Rosaria found employment lining coats in a garment factory, the family struggled to survive the depression. You can learn more about the Baldizzis by browsing through their family photos below.

Rosaria Baldizzi stands on the roof of a building. She is holding a purse in her right hand, ca. 1925-40. When Josephine’s job at the garment factory threatened her family’s Home Relief benefits, she quit.
Former 97 Orchard St resident Rosaria Baldizzi

Adolfo Baldizzi poses beside a wood inlay of the New York City skyline “home bar” he made, ca. 1930-50. Adolfo had formally trained as a fine woodworker in Italy, but after immigrating, was forced to work odd jobs.
Former 97 Orchard Street resident Adolpho Baldizzi

Johnny Baldizzi and Josephine Baldizzi stand on the roof of 97 Orchard Street, ca.1935. Josephine remembered the anxiety people felt during the depression and recalled that as a child she felt more like a “little old lady.”
Former 97 Orchard Street residents Johnny Baldizzi and Josephine Baldizzi

Josephine Baldizzi Esposito and family attended the MetLife/Tenement Museum Family Reunion in 1992. Pictured here are Roger Esposito, Maria Esposito Capio, Josephine’s husband George Esposito, Josephine Baldizzi Esposito, Gina Grzelak, and James Grzelak. Josephine was very involved in the restoration of her family’s apartment in 97 Orchard Street.
Josephine Baldizzi Esposito and family at the LESTM Family Reunion

-posted by Amita

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tenement Talks: Super Sad True Love Story

Author Gary Shteyngart’s latest novel Super Sad True Love Story came out July 27, and tonight he will be at the Tenement Museum for our latest Tenement Talk, co-sponsored by the Museum at Eldridge Street.

In Super Sad True Love Story, you’ll meet Lenny Abramov, a middle-aged son of Russian immigrants, who falls in love with Eunice Park, a young woman whose parents come from Korea. Lenny feels like an outsider—he writes in a diary while the rest of the world refers to books as “printed, bound media artifacts.” After a brief stay in Rome, Lenny and Eunice wind up in New York City where everything holding America together is on the brink of falling apart. Between a nation-wide credit catastrophe, uprisings in Central Park, National Guardsmen eying the New York City streets, and the Chinese government’s growing impatience with our economic woes, it’s hard to believe that love can still exist. Sounds apocalyptic, but in truth this satirical novel is often super funny.

Sections of Shteyngart’s writing made me wonder if he's not writing about today, despite the fact that his novel takes place at some undetermined point in the future. For example, when Lenny and Eunice have their first conversation, they speak completely in abbreviations, much like people do on Facebook, Twitter, or in text messages. Just how far away are we from these abbreviations taking over our spoken language entirely?

Like his two main character’s parents, Shteyngart is an immigrant, having emigrated from Leningrad (which was part of the U.S.S.R. when he was born in 1972) as a young child. He now resides on Grand Street here in the Lower East Side and is a professor of writing at Columbia University and Princeton University.

Below is the trailer for his novel, which as you'll see showcases Shteyngart's personality and style.

This Tenement Talk, held at 108 Orchard at Delancey, is free and open to the public. Simply RSVP to events(at)tenement.org. Reserved seats are available for those who purchase a book at the evening's event; otherwise, standing room will be available.

-posted by Devin

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Meet Lauren Rosenberg: Summer Intern

Meet Lauren Rosenberg, an education department intern at the Tenement Museum for the summer of 2010. On her last day at the Museum, she took some time to talk with me about her experience as an education department intern.

What have been your major responsibilities?
As an education department intern for the past two months (three days a week), my major responsibility has been assisting in the creation of lesson plans that accompany online interactives.

What were the highlights of your internship?
Aside from working with the wonderful people at the museum, I thoroughly enjoyed the tours and working with teachers and museum professionals.

Which tour was your favorite?
I liked “Piecing It Together” the best because my family immigrated here at roughly the same time period and worked in the garment industry. I actually gave the tour about four times and enjoyed doing so.

Were you nervous at all about giving tours?
I’m a school librarian during the year, so I’m not at all worried about talking to lots of people. [In terms of remembering all the tour information], after doing the run through with Pedro, I was okay and I remembered everything. Plus I saw the tour three times before I gave it, which helped tremendously.

When you first started, what did you expect to gain? Were your expectations fulfilled?
I planned on doing lesson plans that would help teachers and educators and working with great people. And those expectations were definitely fulfilled!

What accomplishment are you most proud of?
My favorite lesson plan is the We are Multicolored plan, which is not up on the website yet but will be eventually. [Editor's Note: We are Multicolored is an online game that allows users to make their own custom flag by mixing together the components of three different national flags.]

What are your plans for the fall and beyond?
I’m an early education school librarian, so that’s where I’ll be. Hopefully I can use the lesson plans I assisted with this summer in the library media center where I work.

Do you have any advice for people who are currently looking for internships?
Internships are a great way to learn about a profession, so try to apply to what you’re interested in and get a wide variety of experiences. Try different things because sometimes you don’t know what you like until you’re involved.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience here?
The people who work here are amazing, and I’ve had such a wonderful summer. It was truly enjoyable coming to work everyday.

-posted by Devin

Monday, August 16, 2010

Meet the Lustgartens

As part of its research for “Minding the Store,” the Museum is working to locate the living descendants of 97 Orchard Street’s shopkeepers, particularly those whose stories will feature prominently in the exhibit itself. One of those shopkeepers is Israel Lustgarten and his family.

In an unrestored, partially-furnished “instructive ruin” apartment, we will tell the story of the Austrian-Jewish Lustgartens and their kosher butcher shop, which was located at 97 Orchard Street c. 1890-1902. In 1899, it was one of 131 kosher butcher shops on the Lower East Side. During the May 1902 kosher meat riot, the front window of the Lustgarten butcher shop was smashed.

Recently, with the assistance of Research Intern Danielle Charlap, the Museum located Louise Almy, who is the great-granddaughter of Israel and Goldie Lustgarten and the granddaughter of Fanny Lustgarten and Louis Graubard, who also worked in his in-laws' butcher shop. Now living in California, Louise has donated several photographs featuring the family, a sample of which appears below.

Portrait of Israel Lustgarten, date unknown.
Collection of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

The patriarch of the Lustgarten family, Israel hailed from town of Stanislau, Austria in what is today Galician Poland. Sometime in the early 1880s, Israel, Goldie, and their six children left Stanislau for New York.

The Lustgarten Family c. 1887 in front of their 262 Broome Street kosher butcher shop.
Pictured left to right: Goldie (mother), Fanny (daughter), Joseph (son), William (son), Bertha (daughter), Rebecca (daughter), and Israel (father).
Collection of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

In 1889, the Lustgartens left 262 Broome Street and moved to 97 Orchard Street. That each member of the family appears with an apron in the photo above suggests the degree to which the Lustgarten’s butcher shop was a family business.

Portrait of Goldie Lustgarten, date unknown.
Collection of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

If you look closely, you can see that Goldie is wearing a sheitel or wig, which suggests that the family was observant. This might have been as much a business strategy as a religious disposition; observant customers would have sought out and patronized observant kosher butchers.

Fanny Lustgarten, date unknown.
Collection of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

In 1889, Israel and Goldie’s eldest daughter, Fanny, married Romanian-born butcher Louis Graubard at the Eldridge Street Synagogue. Museum researchers believe that Louis worked in his father-in-law’s butcher shop at 97 Orchard Street and that he and his wife also took up residence in a separate household in the building. Indeed, the married couple’s first two children, Simon and Meyer Graubard, were born at 97 Orchard Street, in 1892 and 1895, respectively.

Louis Graubard, date unknown.
Collection of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.
Louis later went on to become a political operative in Tammany Hall and served as the Democratic captain in the Ninth Election District of the Eighth Assembly District.

-Posted by Dave Favaloro, Director of Curatorial Affairs

Friday, August 13, 2010

Under Construction

Curious what’s going on behind our construction shed at the corner of Orchard and Delancey? Take a look inside:

We hope you are as excited to see the final product as we are!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tenement Talks: Hot Time in the Old Town

Are you sick of the dog days of summer? Are you tired of the number of 90-plus degree days we New Yorkers have suffered through so far? Imagine having to live through this horrendous weather without air-conditioning or even fans! Join us tonight at Tenement Talks for a discussion of Hot Time in the Old Town: The Great Heat Wave of 1896 with Edward Kohn in conversation with Richard Greenwald. You’ll feel cooler inside the air-conditioned Museum Shop, but the unbelievable, true stories of what happened in August 1896 are sure to make you sweat.

Tenement dwellers seeking refuge from the heat,
1879. Courtesy of the NYPL Digital Gallery
The Great Heat Wave of 1896 lasted from August 4-14 and may have killed as many as 1,500 people in the city, with temperatures reaching an astounding 120 degrees Fahrenheit inside the hot, unventilated tenements on the Lower East Side. Woven into this story are then-police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt, who struggled to contain the crisis, and Nebraska populist and Democratic presidential-nominee William Jennings Bryan, whose presidential hopes were arguably defeated by the heat.

Kohn documents in vivid detail the many stories of tenement dwellers who were so terribly affected by this natural disaster. The very young, the elderly, and the ill were most at risk of succumbing to the unbearable heat. The poor in general were also hit hard, given the temperatures inside crowded tenements.

The catastrophe made the front page of the New York Times on August 14, 1896, as the heat wave was beginning to wane. The article listed the high temperature for each of the preceding days and the names and addresses of the deceased. For example, one victim was Augusta Lipman of 98 Essex Street (just a couple of blocks away from 97 Orchard) who passed away at home. She was only six months old. Kohn also discusses fifteen-year-old Lewis Pumper, a recent immigrant from Poland, who hanged himself because he could no longer bear laboring in a bakeshop all day and sleeping in an unventilated basement at night.

Kohn's history will make you wonder how the government should respond in such times of crisis and what we can do to be as prepared as possible when the next natural disaster strikes.

Learn more tonight at 6:30pm at 108 Orchard Street near Delancey.

-posted by Devin

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tenement Talks: Displaced Persons

Join us tonight at Tenement Talks for a discussion of Ghita Schwarz’s book Displaced Persons, a tale of people displaced by World War II and how they rebuilt their lives. Joining her is Sara Ivry, a writer and editor who primarily covers Jewish issues and conducts a weekly podcast.

You’ll be intrigued by the stories of the main characters Pavel, Fela, and Chaim, strangers who band together in the wake of World War II. Years after living as refugees, they fulfill their dreams of coming to the U.S. and settle in Queens. Pavel and Fela are married with two young children, and Chaim and his wife Sima acclimate to America. Even though life goes on, they struggle with painful memories.

In the trailer for the book, Schwarz discusses the difficulties displaced persons (DPs) faced, especially after the war when they tried to return to a state of normalcy in a foreign land. “They’re no longer heroes in a war-time drama of escape,” commented Schwarz. “They’re just trying to get through the ordinary tasks of life. But their history really does follow them, and emerges in sort of surprising ways for them.”

Schwarz also acknowledges the similarities of the situations the protagonists in her novel and immigrants today face. “What they want for their sons and daughters is a total break with the terrible experiences they’ve gone through. But at the same time there’s a lot of anxiety about their children losing a sense of contact with their heritage and their past and their parents’ culture.”

Homeless group of Jewish refug... Digital ID: 58172. New York Public Library
Jewish refugees in Poland, circa 1939
Courtesy of NYPl Digital Gallery
The DPs in this novel were only a few of nearly two million who could not return to their home countries in Europe due to fear of persecution and many other reasons. The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 (amended 1950) was “an act to authorize for a limited period of time the admission into the United States of certain European displaced persons for permanent residence, and for other purposes,” according to U.S. immigration legislation online. Read our previous blog post about the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 for more information.

Tenement Talks are free and open to the public. Please join us at 108 Orchard at Delancey for this event! You can RSVP to events(at)tenement.org.

-posted by Devin

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Czech and Slovak Emigration to the United States

In response to the Tenement Museum's 400 Years of Immigration History Twitter campaign in July, guest blogger Rosie Johnston of the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library shares stories of twentieth-century Czech and Slovak immigration history.

A Slovak Immigrant, Ellis Isla... Digital ID: 212079. New York Public Library
Slovak Immigrant at Ellis Island, 1905
Czechs and Slovaks had emigrated to the United States long before Czechoslovakia even came into existence in 1918. But two events in the country’s more recent history sparked mass emigration to America: the Communist coup in Czechoslovakia in 1948 and the Soviet-led invasion of the country in 1968. The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library has been recording the stories of those who left during the Communist era, asking them why and how they came to settle in America.

When Communists seized power in Czechoslovakia in 1948, approximately 25,000 of the country’s citizens fled in that year alone. The most frequent routes out of the country were over the Czech border with Bavaria in the west and the Slovak border with Austria in the south. The borders were guarded and closed, but especially in these early days, people found a way across if they knew what they were doing. John Palka escaped with his family in 1948, escorted by a paid guide:

At this time, leaving Czechoslovakia was regarded as a criminal offense and, indeed, if you fled, your closest relatives could well end up in prison. Click here for the story of Ludvik Barta, whose mother-in-law spent four years in prison because her husband left in 1948.

A number of escapes during this early period of Communism in Czechoslovakia read like something out of a spy novel or Hollywood film. Perhaps the most famous escape of this era was that of the Masin brothers, who spent one month on the run in East Germany in 1953, trying to make their way to West Berlin. They had tried to leave in 1951, but this plan had been foiled and oldest brother Ctirad Masin spent two years in labor camps as punishment. The brothers were pursued at one point by as many as 25,000 East German police and they killed at least three people on their journey to the West. Ctirad Masin remembers the very last leg of his group’s journey:

In other stories, people allegedly used scuba gear to swim down the Danube River into Austria (the Danube was later mined to prevent such escapes). In 1951, a group of resistance fighters actually hijacked a train and forced it over the border into Western Germany. A number of those on board the so-called ‘Freedom Train’ later settled in the United States, including Karel Ruml, whose profile will soon appear on our website.

The next big spike in Czech and Slovak immigration to America came in 1968, the year that Warsaw-Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia and put an end to a period of liberalization and reform (including an easing of travel restrictions) often referred to as the Prague Spring. It is thought that even more Czechs and Slovaks fled in 1968 than had 20 years previously.

Immediately following the Soviet-led invasion on August 21, Czechs and Slovaks continued to apply for tourist visas abroad; they received them without problems and then left the country, with no plans to return. There are also stories of border guards ‘turning a blind eye’ in the days after the Warsaw Pact invasion. However, in 1969, so many Czechs and Slovaks left the country that the government nullified all existing passports in a bid to stem the exodus.

The most common forms of escape during the years that ensued were, on the whole, much less dramatic than those of the early Cold War era. A common way of leaving the country was through organized coach tour. Joe Gazdik’s story is quite typical. He took a bus tour to Denmark in August 1969, obtained his passport from the group leader and then declared his intention to remain abroad. He says it was important not to talk too early:

Another way that Czechs and Slovaks made it to America during this period was through marriage (though understandably, many of those in question would insist that emigration was not their prime concern when tying the knot). Those who did marry an American citizen and emigrate legally to the United States (such as Stan Pechan) talk about the large amount of paperwork and multiple bureaucratic barriers to navigate, particularly on the Czechoslovak side. In Stan Pechan’s case, it took one and a half years before he could join his wife in the United States. Some were not even granted visas to get married in person – the ceremonies instead took place by proxy at the Czechoslovak Embassy in Washington and Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Prague.

By the time Communism fell in Czechoslovakia in 1989, it is believed that between 180,000 and 600,000 Czechs and Slovaks had fled their homeland. Thousands of these individuals live in the United States today.

-posted by Rosie Johnston

Monday, August 9, 2010

Tenement: Apartment or Workspace?

By the turn of the 20th century, New York City's garment industry had rapidly expanded, employing mostly young, female, immigrant laborers. While factories were often the sites for garment production, tenement apartments also doubled as work spaces. You can read more about the garment industry here. Check out these photographs from the museum's online database that reveal the conditions the workers endured.

Three women sew garments by hand in a tenement apartment. A cast-iron stove is pictured to the left and a fold-up bed is pictured to the right. c. 1890-1920
Three women sewing garments by hand

This illustration, which appeared on the front page of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper on March 15 1894, depicts a well-dressed lady and gentleman from the University Settlement, a reform organization, entering a tenement sweatshop. A bearded man is pictured seated at a sewing machine and several bundles of finished garments appear in the lower right corner of the frame. The caption reads, "WORK OF THE UNIVERSITY SETTLEMENT IN NEW YORK CITY."
Illustration from 'Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper'

Former 97 Orchard Street resident and garment factory-owner Isaac J. Elias (standing left) is pictured beside a long table, at which fifteen women are seated and working at individual sewing machines. Fabric scraps litter the floor. c. 1910-1930
97 Orchard Street resident and garment factory owner Isaac J. Elias

Inside a midtown Manhattan coat manufacturing shop, former 97 Orchard Street resident Rosaria Mutolo Baldizzi is pictured second from the right. Rosaria is the mother of Josephine (Baldizzi) Esposito. c. 1940-1950
Interior of a midtown Manhattan coat manufacturing shop

-posted by Amita

Friday, August 6, 2010

Featured Shop Items: Back-to-School Special

It's August now and by the end of the month school will be back in session for some people! At the Museum Shop we have many items for sale that will make going back to school even more fun (for both kids and adults!).

Among our fun items we have an assortment of cool pencils ($1-$2). Why have an ordinary No. 2 pencil when you can have subway map pencils, taxi cab pencils (with a taxi at the tip), New York Big Apple pencils (with an apple at the tip), and Empire State Building pencils!

We also have foreign language learning tools designed for young children. The Magnetic Poetry Kids' Spanish and French kits ($15.95-$16.95) include 200 flip magnets that can be combined to make endless phrases and sentences. On one side is the foreign word and on the other side is the English equivalent. According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), learning foreign languages at a young age can be very helpful later on. Because it contains small parts, it is not suitable for children under age 3.

For even younger children, we have the Magnetic Poetry Kids' First Words (again because this product contains small parts, children under 3 should not use it). This item includes 140 tiles designed to accommodate small hands. The words are the basic vocabulary that children tend to learn first. The Giant Play and Learn Book ($19.99) by Pascale Estellan has endless activities for young children to have fun while learning. This is a great activity book to do while on the bus or relaxing after school, independently or with friends and family.

Adults and high schoolers, we have items for you too! For those of you going back to school this fall, you may find yourself needing to get organized because your schedule is becoming more hectic. We recommend the Moleskine Weekly Notebook ($18.95 large hardcover, $10.95 small softcover). It's an eighteen month calendar, covering July 2010 to December 2011. Its sleek, black design is perfect for anyone in a professional setting, such as an internship, job or class.

Maybe you or someone you know is heading off to college or a desk job soon. A great accessory that college students and new hires need to spice up their workspace is a mousepad to complement their computer. At the Shop we have an excellent assortment of colorful mousepads ($19.95), including "Imagine" at Strawberry Fields in Central Park, a scene of Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Cyclone at Coney Island. There are so many mousepads to choose from, you'll find one that fits your style and personality.

If you are interested in any of the items seen on this blog, stop by the Shop on 108 Orchard Street at Delancey or give us a call at 212-982-8420 to have anything shipped. Every purchase helps the Museum, and we appreciate your support! 

-posted by Devin

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Announcing the SNAPSHOT! Photo Contest Winner!

It was a photo finish! Congratulations to Amy Neiman, whose photograph is the Grand Prize winner of the SNAPSHOT! Photo Contest! Amy's photograph artfully depicts the kitchen in the recreated Gumpertz Family Apartment exhibit c.1878 on the second floor of 97 Orchard Street.

Photo by Amy Neiman, 7/2010

Thank you so much to all who voted! Amy will receive $25 to the Tenement Museum gift shop and her winning photo will be added to the museum’s permanent collection.

Well done, Amy, and a big congratulations to all of the finalists and entrants, whose photos you can view by visiting the Tenement Museum’s Flickr group.

-posted by Amita

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Donor to the Collection: Mr. Allan J. Madansky

Often visitors ask us about the furnishings in the recreated exhibit apartments. Where did we get them? Did they belong to the actual family who lived in the apartment? In a nutshell, we conduct extensive research on the family and use what we learn to create a “historic furnishings plan.” This document includes an inventory of everything the family would have had in their home, down to the number of spoons. Once the furnishings plan is complete, museum staff search auctions, estate sales and flea markets for the items. Most of the time we purchase the items, but every once in a while, someone will offer to donate an item that we can use in a recreated apartment. This was the case earlier this year when I got a call from Allan Madansky.

Mr. Madansky’s mother, Chana Bias Meir, immigrated to the Lower East Side from Minsk about a hundred years ago. She was originally from Poland, but lived in Minsk for a while until she came to the United States. On the Lower East Side, she lived at 11 Henry Street and used a wooden butchering board to prepare her kosher meats at home. Meat would be placed on the slats and fluids would drip into the white, enameled tray at the end.

Collection of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum
After his mother passed, the board came into the possession of Mr. Madansky, who hung on to it over the years. After visiting the Tenement Museum, he decided to offer the board to the museum for use in the Rogarshevsky Family apartment. The Rogarshevsky Family lived in 97 Orchard Street during the same time that Mr. Madansky’s mother lived on the Lower East Side. We know that Fannie Rogarshevsky, the matriarch of the Rogarshevsky Family, kept a kosher house, and we even have a metal pail she used for koshering meat that was donated to the museum by her family.

After visiting Mr. Madansky at home and picking up the board, I brought it back to the museum for cataloging. Soon it will be on display in the kitchen of the Rogarshevsky Family Apartment, which is on the third floor of 97 Orchard Street and visible as part of our Piecing it Together Tour.

-Posted by Derya

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Adaptive Reuse at the Brooklyn Navy Yard

The Tenement Museum is the perfect example of “adaptive reuse,” a term that describes the preservation of old buildings and structures for new purposes.  The apartments of 97 Orchard Street have been restored from ruin to their current function as a museum that tells the true stories of immigrants who lived there between 1863 and 1935.  Other examples in Manhattan include The High Line, a defunct elevated railway that has been redesigned as a beautiful public park, and the Victorian-Gothic style Jefferson Market Library, a former courthouse that the City converted to a public library branch in the 1960s.

Across the East River in Brooklyn is another exciting example of adaptive reuse at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  The navy yard, which was established in 1801 by the U.S. Navy, is today a 300-acre industrial park home to over 240 businesses.  On a recent bus tour hosted by the Brooklyn Historical Society, the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation (BNYDC), and Urban Oyster, I learned about the history of the navy yard and its revitalization as a model of sustainable industry.  The BNYDC, which manages the site for the City of New York, is leading this effort.  Capsys is one tenant that builds environmentally-sensitive modular units to construct affordable housing, hotels, and assisted-living facilities.  Surroundart, a fine arts company, is located in the Perry Building, the country’s first multi-story industrial building with Gold LEED certification.

The Perry Building
As Andrew Kimball, President of the BNYDC, explained in a recent Metropolis magazine article, “We’ve demonstrated here that urban manufacturing is back...It doesn’t look anything like the days of the smokestacks. It tends to be small-scale, with very nimble businesses that tap into the creative class...”

The Paymaster Building (built 1899),
whose windows reflect the wind turbines across the street.
The BNYDC continues to adaptively reuse the yard.  It is expanding its capacity to meet the demand for industrial space, turning massive, currently inoperative warehouses into a sustainable manufacturing center.  The BNYDC is also planning to update the former Naval Hospital Annex, whose hospital and surgeon’s house are both national landmarks, for use as media campus in connection with the production company Steiner Studios.  There is discussion of creating a memorial park at the annex as part of the Brooklyn Greenway, a 14-mile path that will run from Sunset Park to Greenpoint.  Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Navy Yard Center at Building 92, a visitor’s center and exhibition space that will examine "the past, present, and future of the BNY and its relationship with the community,” is scheduled to open in the renovated 1857 Marine Commandant’s home in late 2011.

However, historic preservation questions remain.  Developers plan to demolish nine of the eleven dilapidated, but historically-significant, Naval Officers’ Quarters on a six-acre site called Admiral's Row, managed by the National Guard, to build a ShopRite supermarket and a retail center.  (Admiral’s Row is not yet owned by the City, a transaction that would need to take place before redevelopment.)  This $60 million project will provide access to affordable, healthy food and jobs for residents in nearby public housing projects, though preservationists want to protect all of the existing buildings.

While we wait to see the outcome of these contentious issues, I encourage everyone to visit the site.  Tenement Museum members can get 10% off all Urban Oyster tours.

-Posted by Penny

Monday, August 2, 2010

Their Backyard: Children of the Lower East Side

It's summertime and school's out. Lots of city kids are spending their vacations playing games outside, venturing to summer camp, or mastering ever popular video games to pass the time until the new school year begins. School wasn't always mandatory, until the Compulsory Education Law of 1894 required that children 8 to 12 years-old attend school full-time. [Read more.] Josephine Baldizzi (a resident at 97 Orchard from c. 1928-1935) recalled that the schools were the facilities most utilized by her family. [Read more.] That made me wonder, how did children of the Lower East Side spend their time outside of school? I’ve pulled a few photographs that capture what life was like for the children of the tenements in the mid-20th century to give you a taste of the incredible visual material now available on the museum's online photo database.

Kids playing hookey from school c. 1948

Kids playing hookey from school

Young boys play on a tenement building c. 1935

Young boys play on a tenement building

Boy sits looking out over a tenement rear yard c. 1935

Boy sits looking out over a tenement rear yard

Boy and girl on Clinton Street c. 1946

Boy and a girl on Clinton Street

Haven't had a chance yet to browse the photo database? Search for other keywords of interest (e.g. the street you grew up on or “Baldizzi” or “fire escape”) to learn more about the history of the Lower East Side.

-posted by Devin