Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Visitors of the Week: Lisa and Fred from Hartford, Connecticut

Planning a visit to the Tenement Museum? Send us an email to be our next Visitor of the Week.

Meet Lisa and Fred from Hartford, Connecticut. While cat-sitting for their son in the West Village, the couple is taking advantage of a week in New York. Their tour here at the Tenement Museum inspired their own memories of apartment living and family stories of the Great Depression.

What tour did you go on today?

Lisa: Getting by with Raj [a Tenement Museum educator].

He mentioned to me that you both have interesting connections to tenement buildings.

Fred: I was born in Brooklyn in a coldwater flat. I guess it’s the next generation of what we saw here. I lived there until I was six, and then we moved to New Jersey. So the tour was very interesting and I could relate to it.

L: Fred’s father came over from Germany in 1929. He was an immigrant, but he didn’t go through Ellis Island. My grandmother came over from Germany also when she was eight, but she landed in Chicago. I was interested in what happened to immigrants after they came to the United States and the struggles they had.

Did you see any structural similarities to the building you grew up in versus our tenement building?

F: One thing is the airshaft. Of course ours was newer, so we had running water. But it brought back a lot of memories.

L: Your father used to talk about how it was so hot in the summertime because you were never getting any air.

F: Yeah, the apartments were long and narrow. It had the airshaft in the middle, and then on one end was the street and the other end was the backyard where we had our clotheslines [laughs]. I still remember all that.

Do you think the summer or the wintertime was harder?

F: You know when you’re young the summer and winter all runs together. Heat or cold don’t bother you as much.

L: I think this was a wonderful opportunity to see how people actually lived when there were thousands of people in the streets. When there were so many people living in those apartments. Like, for example, there were eight people in one apartment with how many…20 apartments? With everyone sharing four latrines and one water pump in the back.

Plus, at a certain point the storefront level was a functioning saloon of sorts; the patrons were all also using the bathrooms.

L: It’s unbelievable that people could live like that.

This tour focuses on the Great Depression, did you have any memories since you both had relatives immigrating [to America] during that time period?

F: Yeah. Both our parents lived through the Great Depression and it’s very clear it left a mark on them. In turn, it left a smaller mark on us. They preached about what happened in the Great Depression. You’ve got to say that you have to use every piece of the soap down to the last molecule.

L: And your father used to talk about how when he came over here the Depression had just started. He had a series of jobs until the businesses closed. He had earned a dollar a day, and when he had some rent he just barely made it in terms of his expenses.

What was his line of work?

L: He actually was a machinist. When that business went under, he would take any job he could get so he was working as a baker making donuts in the morning. They say the pay was so small you didn’t even have a safety net.

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