Friday, December 23, 2011

A History of Two Holidays

 This year, the Hanukkah and Christmas holidays will overlap, with the fourth night of the Jewish festival of lights falling on Christmas Eve. Since we'll be celebrating both at the same time in 2011, it seems like a good time to consider the relationship between these two holidays.

If you've been on our "Hard Times" (formerly known as "Getting By") tour, you know a bit about the German-Jewish Gumpertz family, who resided at 97 Orchard in the 1870's and 80's, when the neighborhood was known as Kleindeutschland or "Little Germany". German immigrants formed this community based on their shared language, food and culture, but their religious practices were diverse: about 1/3 of the families were Catholic, 1/3 Protestant and 1/3 Jewish. Because this diversity was reflected in the population of 97 Orchard Street, Nathalie Gumpertz lived among many Lutheran neighbors who celebrated Christmas, including the Schneider family who ran the lager beer saloon downstairs.

A menorah (traditional candelabra used at Hanukkah) in the Gumpertz home at 97 Orchard Street

As American Jewish communities grew throughout the 19th Century, the relatively minor holiday of Hanukkah gained significance in the United States. This can be attributed to Hanukkah's proximity to Christmas, as well as the close quarters shared by urban immigrant families of different faiths. As Andrew Heinze writes in Adapting to Abundance, "The drama of Christmas exerted a strong influence on Jewish newcomers, as the spectacle of the Christmas tree and the rite of gift giving altered the celebration of Chanukah" (1).

 Jewish children were particularly enchanted with the very visible public display of Christmas gifts and decorations in media, shop windows and schools, prompting parents to enhance their holiday celebrations with Hanukkah gifts and even Christmas trees of their own. Heinze paints a vivid picture of Hanukkah celebrations in the Lower East Side, saying that "Passengers on the Second Avenue "El" the darkness of a December evening were struck by the rows of burning candles that illuminated the windows of tenement house after tenement house." (1)

Children admire holiday toy displays c.1908; Image courtesy Library of Congress

The earliest reference to Hanukkah in the online archive of the New York Times, dated December 29, 1889, focuses on Christian and Jewish communities celebrating winter holidays in tandem (or consecutively). The article, titled "A Jewish View of Christmas" is a re-printed message from the Jewish Messenger: "We Hebrews, disguise it as we may, cannot but feel the genial influence of the Christmastide. It meets us just as our joyous feast of Hanukkah has ended, which we celebrate with similar bounty. But we realize, none the less, the gentler aspects of the holiday, and strive to recognize as a daily lesson 'peace on earth, good will toward men'". (2)

Christmas Greetings c.1911

(1) Andrew R. Heinze, Adapting to Abundance: Jewish Immigrant, Mass Consumption and the Search for American Identity, Columbia University Press, 1990
(2) "A Jewish View of Christmas", The New York Times, December 29, 1889

Monday, December 19, 2011

Emma Lazarus: Poet of Exiles

You're probably familiar with a poem called "The New Colossus" that includes the line “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” It's an essential part of the American immigrant narrative that unfolded at Ellis Island in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty.

However, you may be less familiar with the poem's author, Emma Lazarus, a lifelong New Yorker born in 1849. Through the Summer of 2012, the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan is presenting Emma Lazarus: Poet of Exiles--the first major museum exhibit about Lazarus. This is a rare opportunity to learn more about a remarkable woman who broke gender barriers and left an important mark on American history.

Emma Lazarus

Though her Sephardic Jewish family had deep roots in the United States dating back to the colonial era, Lazarus lived through a period of unprecedented immigration. Living in New York, she witnessed the impact of thousands of newcomers beginning their lives in a new world. She captures the profound nature of this chapter of American history in "The New Colossus", her most famous work:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

--Emma Lazarus, 1883

To learn more about the life and work of Emma Lazarus, visit the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan.

--Posted by Kira Garcia

Friday, December 16, 2011

Creating Bridget Moore

Education Associate Sarah Litvin spent months preparing for our new "Meet Bridget" tour, which allows school children to visit with a costumed interpreter portraying Irish immigrant Bridget Moore, who lived at 97 Orchard Street in the 1860's. Here, she shares her thoughts on the process of bringing Bridget to life.

To transform the Irish Outsiders tour from a third to a first person narrative, I embarked on a major research project. Not only would our Costumed Interpreters need to know everything about Bridget Moore's experience at 97 Orchard Street, but they would also need to know everything that happened to Bridget up until that point.

Educator Emily Gallagher as Bridget Moore, visiting with school children

To build Bridget's memories,I divided Bridget's life into a few segments, and then learned everything I could about each one.

What was home life like in Ireland when Bridget was growing up? What was the life as a domestic servant like in New York City in the mid-1860s?
What do we know about life as a young married woman in the FIve Points area?
How did Bridget accomplish the day-to-day aspects of life at 97 Orchard Street?

This research then became a sourcebook which each actress training to play Bridget Moore must master.

In addition to building Bridget's memories, we also had to learn how Bridget Moore would have dressed and how she would have spoken. With the help of a fantastic summer intern, Jessica Pushor, and the inimitable scholar of Irish domestics, Margaret Lynch-Brennan, we uncovered some really neat sources.

To learn how Bridget Moore would have dressed, Jessica did extensive research into the dress of Irish peasantry, domestics in New York, and maternity clothing in mid-19th century. She unearthed the below photograph of an Irish domestic, which we used as the primary source to base our Bridget Moore costume.

For language, the source that proved most useful was a novel written in 1861 by Ann Sadlier, a woman who was, herself, an Irish domestic in New York before becoming an author.

The novel, Bessy Conway, is available online for free. It follows a young Irish emigrant from her home in Ardfinnan, County Tipperary, to New York. In her seven year stint as a domestic, Bessy encounters and learns to fight temptation in the big city. As she sees friends fall victim to drink, materialism, and lust around her, Bessy navigates the straight and narrow (and religious!) path. It was a great read and a great source to give insight into the irish immigrant communitiy in New York.

Here are a few choice ninetheenth-century Irish immigrant-isms we dicovered:
P.D.A: "Pour Dire Adieu" (To say godbye)
I don't care a snap: I don't care at all
shin-dig: a party
neither chick nor child: bachelor
astore: my darling
crummy: milk cow
posset: warm drink of sweet and sour milk

--Posted by Education Associate Sarah Litvin

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Faux Feast

We're stocking up on food here at the Tenement Museum, but it's not for a holiday party. It's faux food for our upcoming exhibit "Shop Life" which will explore the many businesses housed at 97 Orchard over the years, including a 19th Century German saloon run by John Schneider and his wife Caroline. While these replicas wouldn't taste very good, they sure look the part! Historic faux food expert Sandy Levins meticulously crafted each piece.

A pitcher of milk, Blutwurst Sausage, Sauerbraten in a pot, and Lebkuchen

Lebkuchen (in the rectangular pan) is a traditional treat from Nuremberg, Germany, where John Schneider was born. Similar to gingerbread, this cookie is flavored with spices like aniseed, coriander, cloves, ginger, cardamom and allspice, as well as nuts including almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts, or candied fruit.

Cut Lebkuchen (in the octagonal bowl), Pig's Feet, Heaven and Earth, Almonds, and Sauerkraut

"Himmel und Erde" or "Heaven and Earth", in the top right pot above, is a traditional German mixture of mashed potatoes and apples.

Traditional German pretzels--these look delicious!

Pickles are still a favorite treat here in the Lower East Side
If you've been on our "Foods of the Lower East Side" tour, you've sampled traditional German pretzels and pickles just like these. Though they've been thoroughly Americanized, both of these foods originate in immigrant communities.

The "Slop Bucket"
The Slop Bucket was a particular challenge to create. Caroline Schneider wouldn't have wasted much in her kitchen--food was a precious commodity. Here we have what is essentially a 19th-Century compost bin, with grape stems, apple cores, eggshells and various peels, all re-created in precise detail.

"Shop Life" will open in 2012--we'll keep you posted as the exhibit develops!
For more information about Sandy Levin's work creating replica foods, visit

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Virtual "Visit" With Victoria!

Over the past few weeks, there have been several sightings of a fourteen year-old resident of 97 Orchard Street, Victoria Confino, in Greenville County, South Carolina. She’s been transported via video conference into the classrooms of the entire 5th grade at Greenville County Schools—eight classes in total.

If you live more than a stone’s throw outside New York City, but know a student who you would like to Meet Victoria Confino, check out our Virtual Visit with Victoria program. From their home classroom, students take on the role of new immigrants in 1916 and virtually “visit” a costumed interpreter portraying 14-year-old Victoria Confino in her tenement apartment through a real-time video conference.

Educator Jess Varma as Victoria Confino

Visitors ask Victoria questions about adjusting to life on the Lower East Side. Students’ questions, interest, and level guide the Costumed Interpreter’s story through topics such as why people immigrate, cultural adaptation, the immigrant communities of Manhattan’s lower east side, and the definition of “American.” This program may be adapted for all levels of American History.

Here’s how it works:

1. Teacher prepares students for Confino Program using Distance Learning Teacher Preparation Materials, a step-by-step introduction to the experience of immigrating in 1916, the lower east side, and tenement life using the power point and activities provided as well as the Tenement Museum website,

2. Teacher works with students to brainstorm questions to ask Victoria Confino.

3. Students virtually “visit” with a Costumed Interpreter portraying Victoria Confino in her restored tenement apartment and interact with the costumed interpreter to ask questions about her apartment, jobs, clothes, food, culture, language, school, fun, etc. to learn her immigration story, and discover what their new lives will be like at 97 Orchard Street.

4. (Optional) Teacher leads students in a follow-up discussion of whether or not they would want to live at 97 Orchard Street in 1916 and engage in an age-appropriate activity that bridges the experience of immigrating in the past with the experience of immigration in the present.

The Museum uses a Polycom EX ViewStation unit for this program. Organizations that are setup with a similar unit, Polycom or other brands, should be able to participate. For more information, or to schedule a visit, email or call (212) 431-0233 ext. 255

--Posted by Education Associate Sarah Litvin

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Why I'm a Museum Member: Meet Rosalie Reinhardt

If we may be so bold, the generous and thoughtful folks who make up our group of Tenement Museum Members are pretty exceptional! Through their financial and intellectual support, they help keep the Tenement Museum strong, making sure we can continue to offer free ESL classes and tours for local community organizations. They also help support our educational programs--last year we welcomed more than 30,000 school children!

We try to thank our members whenever we can, so last night we invited them to a special reception to celebrate Harvey Wang's new exhibit of photographs at 103 Orchard Street. Rosalie Reinhardt, a lifelong New Yorker, is one of our long-standing supporters. She's been a Museum Member for 9 years!

Tenement Museum Member Rosalie Reinhardt Says: "This is New York!"  

If you ask Rosalie why she supports the Tenement Museum, she'll start by telling you that her mother Maisha was a Russian immigrant who received the new American name "Mary" at Ellis Island. Like so many other newcomers, Mary lived on the Lower East Side when she first arrived in the U.S. She met and married Rosalie's father at the age of 16 and helped him run his business as a glazier in Brooklyn.

It's clear that Rosalie still feels a deep connection to her mother's heritage. Acknowledging that there are many other worthy cultural organizations in New York, she supports the Tenement Museum specifically because it "speaks directly to my family's history", which is true for many of our members. Through the Tenement Museum, Rosalie supports her New York City community through our free and low-cost programs, while also enjoying the benefits of a great cultural institution!

Our deepest thanks to Rosalie and all of our Museum Members and visitors, who help keep us relevant and strong year after year. To become a member and enjoy free Museum admission and other benefits, visit our web site here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Inside 103 Orchard: Students Experiment with Creative Re-use

At our new Visitor and Education Center, 2nd and 3rd grade students visiting the Tenement Museum for our Meet the Residents program can tap into their own ingenuity to make something from nothing. During a new activity called Creative Re-use, students are inspired by the resourcefulness of the immigrants who lived in 97 Orchard Street. A puppet made from a sock, a rug made from rags and even a scooter made from a crate and some wood scraps serve as examples of the ways former residents creatively reused what they had to make the things they needed. 

Doll in a stylish striped poncho

As the students sit comfortably in our bright, brand-new classrooms, they have the opportunity to creatively r-euse discarded materials and transform them into masterpieces. Using items from the recycling bins at the Museum and donations from Materials for the Arts, New York City’s ultimate reuse center, along with lots of imagination, students have been busy making toys and games.

As they work, students consider how they can creatively reuse the things around them. Recycling bins become treasure troves, scraps become dolls, puppets, airplanes, and even angry birds and Pokémon characters.
A see-through polka-dot airplane

It’s been quite amazing to see the students’ resourcefulness and even more remarkable to watch them curiously look around with wonder at the possibility of making something from nothing.

--Posted by Miriam Bader, Director of Education

Monday, November 21, 2011

Out Harvey Wang's Window

The Tenement Museum differs from most museums in that our collection is displayed in  re-created apartments, rather than galleries. While we've presented temporary visual art exhibits in our storefront windows (and even in the apartments at 97 Orchard Street, back in our early days), the Museum hasn't had a purpose-build gallery space until this fall. This gives us an exciting new opportunity to present new perspectives on immigration, New York City history, architecture and other themes.

We're inaugurating our new exhibition space within the Visitor Center at 103 Orchard Street with "Out Harvey Wang's Window", an exhibition of Lower East Side photographs by Harvey Wang. Below, Tenement staffer Alana Rosen reflects on Harvey's work and our unusual curatorial process.

Harvey Wang, Mr. Wong's Kitchen, 1980

Harvey Wang, a New York photographer and filmmaker, took photographs of the Lower East Side for many years. In our exhibit, we focus on the black and white pictures he took in the 1970's and 80's.  The images feature storefronts and local businesses, activities unfolding in the streets, and portraits of Lower East Side residents.  The pictures aptly represent the diversity, energy, and uniqueness of the LES during that time.  Although the neighborhood has vastly changed over the past 30 years, there is still a deep sense of history, culture, and vigor. 

Harvey Wang, Essex Street, 1979

After I saw the photographs and learned that the staff was developing a gallery guide for the exhibit, I knew I wanted to be part of the project. The exhibit was developed in a very democratic way--staff members from every department voted to decide which photographs would be included. We also answered questions about our reactions to the photos and how we felt they related to the Museum and its mission. These short texts are included in the Gallery Guide we've created for visitors. It was fascinating to hear what my co-workers had to say. I love piecing together the history of those who lived and worked in the Lower East Side, and becoming part of the neighborhood's history myself.

Harvey Wang, Cleveland Place, 1980

Friday, November 18, 2011

Occupy Wall Street's Historic Precedent

Standing in the lamp-lit nineteenth century apartments of 97 Orchard Street, it's easy to see big differences between the past and the present. But frequently, current events echo the histories we explore here at the Tenement Museum. For example, Occupy Wall Street's recent eviction from Zuccotti Park  is particularly reminiscent of a moment in history we explore in our "Hard Times" tour (until recently, it was known as "Getting By").

As its name suggests, "Hard Times" focuses on times of economic hardship for Americans. During this tour visitors learn about the struggles of  the Gumpertz family, who lived through a national economic calamity known as the Panic of 1873 and its aftermath. During these years, German immigrant shoe-maker Julius Gumpertz and his wife faced tremendous economic and emotional stress--and they were in good company: 25% of New Yorkers were out of work at the time.

Seeking an avenue to express their frustration, and demanding that the government address the problem of unemployment, thousands of workers, many of them German immigrants, gathered in and around Tompkins Square Park on January 13, 1874.

Protesters in Tompkins Square Park, 1874
In an article with the same date, the New York Times reported that, though the "Police Commission wisely refused permission to the Communists to parade 10 o'clock Tompkins Square and vicinity were occupied by 3,000 persons of the lowest class, most of whom, however, were probably there out of idle curiosity". (1)

Despite the article's dismissive tone, the event made history. Police and protesters clashed, and in the ensuing fray, many were injured and arrested. This sparked a public dialogue about police brutality, free speech, and the right to public assembly, sowing the seeds of the American labor movement.

The subsequent clash with police; Image Courtesy the Library of Congress

Two weeks later the Times quoted Mrs. Charles Lilienthal, who had been an eye-witness to the riot and was "horrified" by the events. Speaking at a community meeting about the January 13 events, Lilienthal contradicted the characterization of the Times' prior article, asking "What citizens were those that wanted to meet in Tompkins Square?...they were a portion of positively our best class of citizens. They were the true tax-payers. They were working men!"(2)

Later in the meeting, according to the article, the group made a series of resolutions denouncing the behavior of the police and asserting their right to peaceful assembly.

As the future of the Occupy Wall Street movement is determined this week, history is both being made and repeated here in New York City.

To read more on this topic, check out the Gotham Center's article, "Before 'Occupy Wall Street': Notes on prior New York City protests against economic crises".


 1. The New York Times, "Defeat of the Communists: Mass Meeting and Parade Broken Up", January 14 1874
 2. The New York Times, "Mass Meeting at Cooper Institute", January 31 1874

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Doors Are Open at 103 Orchard Street!

Today's the big day! We've opened the doors and welcomed the first members of the public to our new Visitor and Education Center at the corner of Orchard and Delancey. The Center gives us 10,000 square feet of additional space, including classrooms, a screening room and our first purpose-built gallery space.

Tenement Staffers Katie Barnard and Rachael Grygorcewicz unlocked the door at 10 a.m., making it official. 

11/11/11 has been appropriately lucky for the Tenement Museum so far, as we've had a smooth transition to 103 Orchard Street.

We think it's a very good sign that everyone felt right at home immediately. Visitors enjoyed leisurely browsing our expanded bookshop, as well as the new gallery space featuring the exhibit "Out Harvey Wang's Window".

Out with the chalkboard, in with technology! Our new ticketing screens show up-to-date tour information and are easier to read, making the check-in process much clearer.

Jennifer Flowers and John Matchett were among the first to pick up tickets at 103 Orchard this morning. Jennifer is a frequent Tenement visitor who loves history. She says the Museum gives a "perfect flavor of New York", so with John in town from Virginia she suggested a visit. He said he'd read about the Museum and it "didn't take much convicing!"

Thanks so much to everyone on staff and of course our wonderful visitors, members and supporters for helping make this beautiful new home a reality. We hope you'll visit us soon!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween History: Pumpkins, Costumes, and Future Husbands Revealed

While Halloween has been celebrated in America since the days of colonial New England, the holiday didn't enjoy widespread popularity until the mid-to-late nineteenth century. As new waves of European immigrants began to arrive in the U.S., so did their traditions: Halloween disguises, pranks and trick-or-treating all have origins in Ireland and England.

American kids still expect costumes and candy on October 31st, but another more grown-up Halloween tradition has been forgotten. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, young women looked forward to annual romantic predictions on this day. As the New York Times described it in 1892, Halloween provided an opportunity to use "various devices for piercing the veil of futurity".

In 1929, the Times reported that "Many [Halloween] charms are still tried in the rural United States...a girl will go into the cellar backwards, carrying a candle, a mirror and an apple. While she combs her hair and eats the apple, the face of her future husband will appear beside her in the mirror"

Postcard c.1900-1909, Courtesy the NY Public Library

Though American women are more practical about finding husbands these days, this trick might be worth a try if fails you. Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Tenement Museum Playlist: the Lower East Side in Song

The history, the food, the traffic, the people, the's no surprise that the Lower East Side has been inspiring music of every genre for decades. What other place on earth can count Rodgers and Hart and Joey Ramone among its admirers? For an audible trip through the neighborhood we love, check out our playlist and click the links to listen.

1929:  Rodgers and Hart's "Manhattan" from the musical I'll Take Manhattan asks the unanswerable question, “...Tell me what street compares with Mott Street In July? Sweet pushcarts gently gli-ding by.”

1941: Hal Borne's "Tenement Symphony", performed by Tony Martin in the Marx Brothers film The Big Store, draws its decidedly schmaltzy inspiration from diverse, densely-packed tenements: "The Cohens and the Kellys/The Campbells and Vermicellis/All form a part of my tenement symphony".

1978: "I Just Wanna Have Something to Do" by the Ramones may not directly reference the Lower East Side, but we'd be remiss if we didn't mention one of the many iconic punk bands who got their start at CBGB, a legendary club on the Bowery. An added bonus: this is probably the only song in history to rhyme "Second Avenue" with "chicken vindaloo".

The Ramones on stage at CBGB

1987: “Delancey St.” by Dana Dane, from the album Dana Dane With Fame, was on the vanguard of hip hop's love affair with designer labels, referencing both Gucci and Louis Vuitton.

2005: "The Luckiest Guy On The Lower East Side" by The Magnetic Fields is a "beauty and the beast song, from the perspective of the beast," from the album 69 Love Songs

2006: The instrumental jazz piece “Lower East Side Rock Jam”, from Christian Mcbride's Live at Tonic album adds an impressionistic element to our list.

2010: “Orchard Street” by Thurston Moore can be found on his solo album Demolished Thoughts. Moore is best known as one of the founding members of Sonic Youth--another influential band that played at CBGB in its early days.

Thurston Moore performing with Sonic Youth

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Who's Who at the Tenement: Meet the Collections Manager

Collections Manager and Registrar Kathleen O’Hara is one of the newest additions to the Tenement team. Kathleen completed a Master’s in Museum Studies at George Washington University. She has worked at the National Archives and interned at Woodrow Wilson House in Washington, DC.

Most recently, she helped catalogue an impressive treasure trove at Museum Village in Orange County New York, which houses a collection of objects running the gamut from tractors and carriages to molding planes and archival documents.

Kathleen expertly creates order from chaos, cataloguing and identifying objects to determine their age, condition, and needs for preservation. With her diverse experience, Kathleen is well suited to work with the Tenement Museum’s collection, which includes everything from kitchen tools to clothing, wallpaper and furniture—and even a few snacks.

Working behind the scenes, Kathleen cares for the Museum's collection
So far, Kathleen has devoted most of her time to the biggest and most important object in our collection: the Tenement at 97 Orchard Street. She treats the building just as she does smaller objects, gauging its health and vitality and keeping track of its changes.

Currently, Kathleen's working on environmental monitoring to track the changing temperatures and humidity levels inside the building, which have a huge impact on its structural integrity. She'll also be monitoring traffic, both the trucks going by on Delancey Street, and the feet going up the stairs at 97 Orchard. Whether it’s human or mechanical, all traffic creates vibrations that affect the building’s health. By measuring the impact of these environmental factors, Kathleen can determine how to keep the building healthy for many years (and many thousands of visitors) to come.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Our New Face on Delancey Street

Things are busier than ever at the Tenement Museum this fall, so we're dressing up for company: early Monday morning, we put a finishing touch on our new Visitor Center at 103 Orchard Street.

This painted Tenement Museum logo is even legible from the windows of cabs rushing by on Delancey, which should help visitors find their way to us much more easily. It's the icing on the cake for our beautiful new home!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dated Dialect: Cowboy Style

We're venturing far afield from New York, all the way to the Wild West for this installment of "Dated Dialect" from the 19th century.

"I'm going to tell that blatherskite (blowhard) to go boil his shirt (take a hike). He's all beer and skittles (unpleasant) and it's making me all-overish (uncomfortable). "

Oklahoma Cowboys c.1905; Image Courtesy Library of Congress

There may not have been many cowboys in the tenements of the Lower East Side, but these colorful characters were icons of popular culture during the heyday of 97 Orchard Street. In 1886, Buffalo Bill's Wild West show opened at Madison Square Garden, capturing the imaginations of New Yorkers with trick riders and sharp-shooters.

Buffalo Bill c.1870; Image Courtesy Library of Congress

Thanks to the Legends of America for its extensive online dictionary of antiquated slang!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Meeting Bridget Moore

Emily Gallagher as Bridget Moore
On October 24, we'll launch "Meet Bridget" an exciting new program for school groups. On this tour, students will talk with a costumed interpreter portraying Bridget Moore, an Irish immigrant who lived at 97 Orchard Street with her family in the 1860's. If you've taken our tour about the Moore family, you know a bit about Bridget's life already. Here, Educator Emily Gallagher answers a few questions from Bridget's perspective.

You were only 17 when you immigrated to the United States from Ireland. Were you frightened? What were your first impressions of New York City?

I was quite troubled to leave Ireland. I feel my heart could have broken for thinking of my family on that ship and in the early days in New York. Yet it was clear our situation was root, hog, or die.*  Leaving for America was the only way I could spare my family the fortune that it might cost to find me a husband. I come from outside Dublin, where my family and I could barely care for ourselves. When I first arrived off the boat, I was so tired! Yet straightaway I headed to the intelligence office to look for a situation as a domestic. My first years in New York were lived out tired and lonesome in the back of a lady's home, where I learned to cook and clean and be on tap all night and day if the missus needed anything, seven days a week.

Your apartment is so well kept! How do you keep it so clean, living in the city with three children?

It's much easier to keep a home in Kleindeutschland than it was in our previous home, in Five Points. In Five Points our tenement was dilapidated and overcrowded, making it near impossible to be tidy. Here at 97 Orchard Street, Joseph (my husband) and I are feeling blessed to live alone with just our family, in a new and sturdy building. Still, it's quite an effort of sweeping and scrubbing, quite tiresome to haul water and coal up the central stairs with my daughters in tow. When I was a wee lass in Ireland, there was no climbing of stairs or coal dust to sweep, and the wee ones could run outside without risk. Here, Joseph and I are learning to keep our daughters close-- the city is full of dangers for them.

What does your husband do for a living? Was it hard for him to find work when he arrived here from Ireland?

I am quite blessed to have our Joseph, who works as a barkeep back in our old neighborhood. During the season when strong families come to holiday in the City, he also works as a waiter in a popular restaurant. He arrived in New York from Dublin, able to read and write, and was determined to work in a pub. Many of the situations he wanted specified "No Irish" in their want ads, so he had to rely on the community to help him find his position. He is a charming one, and good looking, so eventually a bar owner wanted him to be a part of his business. His situation is quite enviable, he makes a decent wage and works indoors and can eat from the larder there, so I understand that we must do whatever he is asked to keep his relations with his employer. It saddens me that we get so little time together, but I am glad to be the wife of someone of such importance.

I see you have some ingredients for dinner here on the table. What kinds of foods do you and your family eat?

While I'm pleased to live in this new building, it has stretched our budget quite thin. When I worked as a domestic I learned to cook many fine dishes, but because of our expenses here what I can provide for my daughters and Joseph is quite meager. Sometimes Joseph brings me a loaf of bread from the pub, which is a nice treat since we can't quite bake it in these cast iron  stoves. Tonight I am making a stew with a tiny bit of meat I got from a pushcart, carrots and potatoes. We'll drink whatever Joseph brings home in the growler this evening, except for our wee one Agnes, who will drink the milk I purchased from a pushcart this afternoon. Sometimes she fusses so when I feed her, I can't understand it.

 *(1860s phrase meaning to be self-reliant, see here)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Victoria's Big Day Out!

A few weeks ago, Tenement Educator Elly Berke took our Confino tour on the road, all the way to the East Village, where she performed at the "Between the Seas" festival. Elly usually portrays the teenaged Victoria Confino at 97 Orchard Street, teaching visitors about life for a Greek Immigrant girl in 1916.

Elly wrote and performed this spirited off-site version, nicely capturing Victoria's excitement and vivid imagination. For a snapshot of her performance via YouTube, check out the video below:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Searching for History Online

A Census Taker at Work in 1890
Visitors often ask how we know so much about the families who lived at 97 Orchard Street. It's a great question! If you've ever done genealogical research about your own family history, you know that there's a surprising amount of information on public record. The United States Census is of course an important resource for learning about population density, employment, and the ages and nationalities of specific families.

The first United States Census was taken in 1790. Before the contemporary practice of submitting census forms by mail, enumerators (or census takers) went door to door visiting families and collecting data.

Tenement Museum researchers draw information from a variety of resources: oral histories, libraries, and of course, the internet. Some of these resources are surprisingly accessible. is an online resource for genealogy with a massive number of documents, newspaper clippings, and even photographs available to the public. We recently found an 1880 census record for the Gumpertz family on this site. This is an interesting snapshot of the family during the time they lived 97 Orchard Street.

An 1880 Census
If you've taken our "Getting By" tour, you know that Nathalie Gumpertz raised her children alone after the dissapearance of her husband Julius in 1874. While her husband wasn't declared legally dead until much later, Nathalie already refers to herself as a widow in this census.

Detail of the Gumpertz Family Information

You might notice something else amiss: Nathalie's daughters, Olga and Nannie, are listed as "Ulka" and "Nancy", and the family's last name is spelled as "Gumbertz". Between language barriers and chaotic environments, information was often lost (or mixed-up) in translation, particularly for early censuses. Nonetheless, it's still an interesting glimpse of the Gumpertz family--check out your own family's history online. You might be surprised at what you find! 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rosh Hashanah Memories

This week marks the start of the Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah, and the first of the High Holidays. In her memoir, Miriam's Kitchen, Elizabeth Ehrlich remembers her mother-in-law Miriam's dedication to the preservation of Jewish traditions, especially the celebration of this important day.

Miriam, a holocaust survivor, was born in Poland and ultimately immigrated to the United States. But for a time in her early twenties, she lived in Israel. Miriam had to adapt both her daily life and her religious traditions to life in this new--and very different--country.

Ehrlich writes, "[Miriam] remembers the struggle to keep the milk, when she had it, from spoiling in the heat. No refrigeration, and often no ice. Once in those early days...Miraim and her mother prepared the holiday fare. They improvised menus known back in Poland with scant Israeli ingredients. Miriam made noodle sheets with an egg from her backyard hen-house, kneading and rolling and cutting the silken dough on a wooden board. She had a fowl slaughtered, and this became soup and a filling for kreplekh, dumplings; she baked a savory pudding and a sweet dessert. And then the mercury rose."

Worried that her holiday feast would spoil, she sent her husband to find ice. Off he went on his bicycle, and finally found some three towns away. Miriam improvised a cooler by putting the ice into a basin and stacking containers of food on top.

"And then the neighbors started to come," she remembered. "The whole street had heard of Jacob's coup and all shared Miriam's predicament. 'Each one brought something. Everything went into that basin.' she shrugged, 'We were neighbors. at the very end one family brought borsht--beet soup. They put the bottle on top...when i went back later to get my food, the bottle had turned over, and there was borsht on everything, all over. Everywhere'".

Many Rosh Hashanah meals were prepared at 97 Orchard Street over the years. No doubt Miriam's adaptation to scarcity in new surroundings, as well as her generosity with neighbors (despite the inconvenience) would have sounded very familiar to the many families who made their homes in our Tenement.

Shanah Tovah, Happy New Year!

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Tribute to the Rowdy Irish Musicals of Ned Harrigan & Tony Hart

Here at the Tenement Museum, we talk a lot about the day-to-day difficulties of life in a 19th century tenement. But even the poorest New York City dwellers sought entertainment when they could. Before movies, television, and even radio, theatergoers flocked to see performers like the famed Irish American actor and playwright Ned Harrigan and his partner Tony Hart, who kept their audiences in stitches with their vaudeville routines.

On October 13, the Irish Art Center will present a tribute to Harrigan & Hart at Symphony Space in New York --a rare chance to enjoy the hilarious energy of these early icons of musical comedy.

Tony Hart and Ned Harrigan in "The Little Frauds"

The duo was known for finding humor in the everyday experiences of working class citizens, bringing some much-needed levity to communities struggling to stay afloat in tough circumstances. In "Squatter Sovereignity" a New York City shantytown (home to many Irish immigrants) was the setting for a raucous musical comedy about a broken engagement and the resulting family battle.

Click here to get tickets for the upcoming tribute to Harrigan & Hart featuring Irish musician Mick Moloney and others. We think these songs and stories have weathered the last hundred years quite nicely--and who says a history lesson can't be funny?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

So Much to Celebrate at 103 Orchard Street!

After a year and a half of construction and many more years of planning, we were absolutely thrilled to host our first event at the Sadie Samuelson Levy Immigrant Heritage Center yesterday. Local elected officials, staff and friends of the museum gathered to celebrate a major milestone as we inaugurated the building with a naturalization ceremony for 18 New Yorkers from 16 different nations.

New citizen Istvan Becze with his son; Photo by Mario Tama, Getty Images

The ceremony was officiated by Judge Robert A. Katzmann, who is the son of a refugee from Nazi Germany and the grandson of immigrants from Russia.

District Director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Andrea J. Quarantillo acted as M.C. As she recited the list of nationalities represented in the group (from Ecuador and India to Italy and China), she remarked "16 Nations! That's America, but that's also New York!"  Indeed, it was a wonderful "only in New York" moment.

New citizens pose with their certificates
Swedish-born Jonas Malmsten (second from left) with his girlfriend Delethia Ridley and friends Alice Tan Ridley Sidibe and Sean Ridley 

We were joined by New York State Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate D. Levin, City Council Member Margaret Chin and Controller John Liu, as well as many other supporters and friends who helped make our new Visitor and Education Center a reality.

When the Center opens to the public next month, we'll have an amazing array of new offerings including a new original film about the Museum, an exhibition of photographs by Harvey Wang, a demonstration kitchen and state-of-the-art classrooms. We hope you'll visit our new home soon!

Tenement Museum President Morris Vogel with Museum Founder Ruth Abram

Tenement staff members celebrate


Monday, September 12, 2011

Dated Dialect: The Forgotten Slang of Centuries Past

As we sometimes discuss on our tours, Orchard Street wasn't always as tidy as it is today. In the late 19th century, New York was known as one of the dirtiest cities in the world, with refuse and horse dung piling up on the streets. Back then, folks had a flamboyant term for the resulting stench--"kennetseeno"--a multisyllabic synonym for "stinky". This was primarily a British term, but the population--and as a result, the language--of New York has always been diverse.

In 1896, New York got its first official santitation system, and things began to smell a little sweeter. But some things never change. Just this summer, New York Magazine declared one of our neighboring blocks to be the stinkiest in the city. But don't be put off--the city's not nearly as "kennetseeno" as it used to be!

Phew--You can bet this was kennetseeno!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Dated Dialect: The Forgotten Slang of Centuries Past

In the early days of 97 Orchard Street, folks had whole vocabularies of venerable vernacular which are totally unfamiliar to us today. For instance, what on earth does this one mean? "That's a huckleberry above my persimmon". Here's a hint: it has nothing to do with fruit salad.

This saying once meant something like "That's a bit out of my league (or beyond my ability)." Conversely, to say "I'm your huckleberry" meant "I'm the right man for the job."

If you love tales of the old American West, you might find this one familiar--it's commonly associated with the legendary 19th century gambler, gunfighter and dentist Doc Holliday, who was portrayed by Val Kilmer in the 1993 film Tombstone, and again by Dennis Quaid in 1994's Wyatt Earp.

Doc Holliday--He's your huckleberry.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

And the Artifact is...

On Friday, we asked if you could identify this artifact. While no one was able to name the object, many of you correctly determined that it was used in conjunction with textiles.

Photo property of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum
And the artifact is...a rug hook! Using this artifact as leverage, a craftsperson would pull loops of yarn or fabric through a stiff woven base, like burlap or linen. The end result is truly a work of art.