Thursday, December 31, 2009

Weekly Immigration News

Relatives Say Photos Depict Ellis Island’s First Immigrant
(New York Times, December 28, 2009)
For more than a century, she was lost to history. Three years ago, she was rediscovered. As it turned out, the first immigrant to set foot on Ellis Island when it opened on Jan. 1, 1892, an Irish girl named Annie Moore, did not go west and die in Texas, as had long been believed, but spent her days as a poor immigrant on the Lower East Side, dying in 1924. Now, relatives have found two photographs of the woman they believe is the real Annie Moore.

Repeal of Nebraska Tuition Bill Draws Support
(ABC News, December 28, 2009)
Nebraska lawmakers are set to again consider repealing a law that offers tuition breaks to some illegal immigrants, and the looming debate is already drawing support. A majority of lawmakers participating in an Associated Press pre-session survey say they support rescinding the offer made after lawmakers fought to override Gov. Dave Heineman's veto to pass the law in 2006.

Book review of From Every End of This Earth by Steven Roberts
(Washington Post, December 27, 2009)
Steven V. Roberts begins his new book, From Every End of This Earth, by describing Bao and Tuyen Pham's escape from Vietnam following the fall of Saigon. The Phams are one of 13 families Roberts profiles in this homage to the "sacrifice generation" and the children for which they make that sacrifice. His goal, he says, is not to "capture the entirety" of the immigrant experience, but to write a book that explores the parts and "resembles the mosaics I used to see in the ruins of ancient Greece," where he was based for a time as a reporter for the New York Times.

Decision to let ferry widow stay a 'Christmas blessing,' McMahon says
(Staten Island Advance, December 23, 2009)
Hailing it as a “Christmas blessing,” Rep. Michael McMahon today applauded the government’s decision to grant permanent residency to a Jamaican immigrant whose husband died in the 2003 Staten Island Ferry crash. The government yesterday overturned the deportation of former Elm Park resident Osserritta Robinson. Mrs. Robinson and Louis Robinson had been married for eight months when he was killed in the crash of the ferryboat Andrew J. Barberi.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rear Yard Now Open!

This week the Lower East Side Tenement Museum is proud to announce the opening of “The Rear Yard at 97 Orchard Street,” a permanent exhibit that immerses visitors in a mid-19th century tenement yard. The exhibit – the first re-creating an urban American privy yard – explores important aspects of daily life in 19th-century urban America and sanitation reform efforts in the tenements.

The yard is finally complete! Above: recreated privy shed, or outhouse.

As part of the Tenement Museum’s tour The Moores: An Irish Family in America, the “Rear Yard of 97 Orchard Street” is recreated to depict 1869, six years after the building welcomed its first residents. The space includes a wooden privy shed (outhouse) with four individual stalls; a cast-iron water hydrant; original paving stones; a wood plank fence; and reproduction period laundry hanging from lines overhead.

 Workers install paving stones, artifacts that were excavated from 97 Orchard's rear yard in 1991.

From 1863 until 1905, when indoor plumping was installed at 97 Orchard Street, the yard was an extension of the tenement household, a space for residents to use the toilet, pump water for cooking and bathing, and wash laundry. The yard also served a social function as a space for women to socialize with one another and for children to play.

The recreation of the yard was completed with the help of period photographs, many taken by the Tenement House Department in around the turn of the 20th century. In addition, the Museum used research from urban archeologist Joan Geismar, whose team excavated 97 Orchard Street’s rear yard between 1991 and 1993.

Expecting to find the “ubiquitous, round, deep, dry-laid, stone-privy pit documented through archaeology in other 19th century urban rear yards,” the team was surprised to instead find the remnants of a water-cleansed brick privy vault believed to date from the building’s construction. The building’s financer and first owner, Lucas Glockner, was “a man ahead of his time when it came to backyard toilet facilities,” according to Geismar. (There were no laws governing outhouse construction in New York until the 1867 Tenement House Act.)

This physical investigation suggests that for 97 Orchard Street’s early residents, conditions were probably much more pleasant than the stereotype of tenement life might suggest. But, by 1900, 97 Orchard Street’s privies were shared by 105 tenants, living in eighteen apartments. Around 17 people shared each toilet. All of the building’s residents also shared a single water hydrant.

Beginning in the mid-19th century, tenement rear yards became the subject of an intense public debate about the relationship between sanitary technology, immigrant hygiene, and the public health. For middle-class reformers, the rear yard was ground zero for the linked threats of epidemic disease, social disorder, and moral degradation.

Visitors to the Tenement Museum’s The Moores: An Irish Family in America tour will explore both the yard’s role in the city-wide housing reform efforts and its practical importance in the private lives of working-class New Yorkers.

Public tours are offered daily, 10:45 am – 4:45 pm. Tickets are available at the Visitor Center, 108 Orchard Street; online at; or by phone at 866-606-7232.

We hope you will come for a visit and learn about this important space in person. And some day soon we will add it to our virtual tour!

- Posted by Kate

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Questions for Curatorial - Yiddish on the LES

Curatorial Director Dave answers your questions.

Were the dialects of Yiddish spoken on the Lower East Side during the turn of the last century mutually intelligible? For example, if they have lived at 97 Orchard Street at the same time, could the Polish Levine and Lithuanian Rogarshevsky families have understood one another?

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants to the Lower East Side hailed from a number of different regions, among them Hungary, Galicia, Rumania, and Russia. Although the "eastern Yiddish" dialect spoken by people from each of these regions evinced a shared linguistic heritage, their “Lithuanian,” “Polish,” and “Ukrainian” sub-dialects differed substantially from one another in vocabulary and grammar, as well as in the pronunciation of certain vowels.

A language “always in a rapid process of growth and dissolution,” the Yiddish spoken by Eastern European Jewish immigrants was further transformed by the encounter with America. The historian Irving Howe writes, “A whole sublanguage or patois grew up in the immigrant districts, neither quite English nor quite Yiddish, in which the vocabulary of the former was twisted to the syntax of the latter.”

It is possible, therefore, that while Yiddish-speaking immigrants from modern Poland (like the Levines) may have experienced some immediate difficulty in communicating with Yiddish-speaking immigrants from modern Lithuania, a shared linguistic heritage and an increasing overlap between Yiddish and American English appears to have narrowed this linguistic divide.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas from the Tenement Museum

Merry Christmas to all our readers!

 Read a history of the Volunteers of America sidewalk Santas. They've been around for over 100 years with their distinctive chimneys. Apparently the New York chapter even created a "Santa School" in the 1950s.

And here's a bit about how cartoonist Thomas Nast invented the Santa that's familiar to so many Americans - today a personification of Christmas, but not always so.

We're also carrying this book, The Battle for Christmas, at the Museum Shop for the holidays. Author Stephen Nissenbaum "rediscovers Christmas's carnival origins and shows how it was transformed, during the nineteenth century, into a festival of domesticity and consumerism." Apparently New Yorkers played a prominent role (mais oui).

Warm wishes to all!

The Tenement Museum blog will return on December 29.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Questions for Curatorial - Pets in the tenements

Curatorial Director Dave answers your questions.

Did any 97 Orchard Street residents keep pets?

According to Josephine Baldizzi, who lived in the building in the late 1920s and 30s, their family owned a canary while living at 97 Orchard Street. Her father Adolfo was extremely fond of all the animals. After a busy day at work, he would walk into the apartment and immediately get a piece of lettuce to feed the bird in its cage. His wife Rosaria, however, hated all of the animals because they tracked dirt and bugs into the apartment. Josephine remembers her having a particularly hard time with Adolfo’s bird because the fluttering of its wings would send birdseed flying.

In her oral history, Josephine also mentions that the family had a cat, as well as a black and white dog, but it is unclear if this was at 97 Orchard Street or a subsequent residence.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mystery Object Revealed

Yesterday we posted a mysterious pink lumpy object and asked you to guess what it was. Well, drumroll, please...

It's a challah!

Curatorial and education department staff are busy updating elements of the Piecing it Together tour. Right now the Rogarshevsky family apartment depicts the Shiva of Abraham Rogarshevky in 1918, but next year, the museum will change the exhibit so that it depicts a typical Sabbath day in 1916.

The Sabbath table at that time would have include two loaves of challah bread. As food and drink are not permitted inside the museum (yay integrated pest management!), Collections Manager Derya turned to Iwasaki Images of America, which makes reproduction foods for restaurants, supermarkets, and - museums!

To make a bread, we had to send a sample to the company. Annie, our VP of Education, picked one up on Grand Street  and took it home for a week to harden. (The bread had to be dried out before a mold could be cast.) After a week, the challah bread was mailed from the Lower East Side to Iwasaki Images’ California studio, where they coated it pink putty and made a mold!

We were lucky enough that the excellent Ron documented the process and sent us some photos. Behold - how a reproduction challah is born:

First, you make a mold out of a real challah bread.

Then you pour in the plastic molding agent and let it harden. The breads fresh out of their little mold "oven" are surprisingly life like.

They get a layer of shiny gloss and then a layer of light yellow that looks rather like an egg wash.

Next, they are spray painted.

And voila - we have bread!

You can see the new bread on the Piecing it Together tour sometime in the near future. (The bread will not be available to sign autographs.)

Thanks to Iwasaki Images for all the photos.

- Posted by Kate & Derya

Mystery Object - Keep Guessing!

We'll reveal what our mystery object is around noon today... in the meantime, keep your guests coming! Hint: it's definitely food-related.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mystery Object

Can you guess what this is?

(Photo Iwasaki Images of America)

Hint: it's for the Rogarshevsky apartment.

More details tomorrow...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rear Yard is almost complete...

The rear yard of 97 Orchard Street is coming along nicely. Over the weekend the wooden fence went up, and now there are doors on the privy shed as well.



In this last photo, you can see the wooden laundry pole on the left hand side as well as the slate / concrete flooring. Residents would have strung their laundry lines from this pole to the fire escapes at the rear of the building. In fact, the Curatorial Department's next task is to dress the exhibit with clothing hanging to dry.

We're pretty excited to see the exhibit almost finished. Hopefully by this weekend visitors will be able to experience it in person. If you'd like to learn more about the rear yard - how residents over the years used the space and why housing reformers paid it special attention - stop by for The Moores: An Irish Family in America. Tours leave daily, 11:15 - 4:45.

-- posted by Kate

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tenement Talks Staff Favorite Books of the Year

We chose our favorite books from this year’s Tenement Talks. A Herculean feat! Each of us who work closely on the Talks chose our Top 5, but it could easily have been Top 10. We loved each of the 75 events we hosted this year, but these were the books that touched us the most personally. Needless to say, they'd all make great gifts, too.

Amanda, Tenement Talk Curator:
-          When Everything Changed, Gail Collins
-          Brooklyn, Colm Toibin
-          The Snakehead, Patrick Radden Keefe
-          Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann
-          Chinatown Noir, Henry Chang

Helene, Museum Shop:
-          Triangle: The Fire that Changed America, David von Drehle
-          Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, Melvin Urofsky
-          Brooklyn, Colm Toibin
-          Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann

Kate, Outreach:
-          Automats, Taxi Dances, and Vaudeville, David Freeland    
-          Storefront: The Disappearing Face of New York, Karla and James Murray
-          Appetite City, William Grimes

-          On the Irish Waterfront, James T. Fisher

      -          My Red Blood, Alix Dobkin

Don't forget, you can listen to podcasts of some of these talks on the Tenement Museum website.  And 2010 is shaping up to be another great season! Sign up to be on the Tenement Talks list - email us at events [at] tenement [dot] org.

Weekly Immigration News

African immigrant seeks alliance with Chicago's Mexicans
(Chicago Tribune, 12/6/09)
A few months after arriving from Sierra Leone, Alie Kabba learned the dynamics of Chicago immigrant life when he found a pickup soccer game near his Rogers Park apartment. All of the players were Mexicans.

"I didn't have enough for my own team," he recalled. "They had the numbers."

Now head of the United African Organization, Kabba is pursuing an intriguing and complicated experiment: to see whether Africans can forge a political alliance with the Mexicans, who make up the largest share of immigrants in Chicago.

Census Finds Rise in Foreign Workers
(New York Times, 12/7/09)
Nearly one in six American workers is foreign-born, the highest proportion since the 1920s, according to a census analysis released Monday.

Because of government barriers to immigration, the share of foreign-born workers dipped from a 20th-century high of 21 percent in 1910 to barely 5 percent in 1970, but has been rising since then, to the current 16 percent.

Population shifts could boost Calif, NY in census
(Associated Press, 12/9/09)
A steady flow of new immigrants is providing a late-decade population boost to major metropolitan areas such as Chicago, Miami, New York and Los Angeles, whose states are seeking to stem declines before the 2010 census.

Even with a recent dip in immigration, the addition of foreign migrants into those major cities most attractive to them has cushioned substantial population losses from native-born Americans who had migrated to interior parts of the U.S. in search of jobs, wider spaces and affordable housing before the recession.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

New Sign!

Today we installed some new signage on the from door of the Visitor Center & Museum Shop. Now you can clearly see what hours we're open. Woo! Hopefully this extra bright signage will make us a little easier to find, too.

- Posted by Kate

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Questions for Curatorial: 19th Century Bilingualism

Curatorial Director Dave answers your questions.

Were any of 97 Orchard Street’s residents bilingual? Natalie Gumpertz—could she speak German and English?

According to US Census records, many of 97 Orchard Street’s foreign-born residents appear to have been able to read and write English, suggesting a fair degree of bilingualism among these immigrant tenement dwellers.

Although category was phrased in the negative (i.e., “cannot read,” and “cannot write”), the 1870 U.S. Census for 97 Orchard Street records that the overwhelming majority of German-born residents were able to read and write English. The census enumerator recorded both Natalie and Julius Gumpertz as able to read and write English.

The 1900 U.S. Census specifically asked if residents could “speak English.” Once again, the overwhelming majority of foreign-born residents answered yes and were recorded as being able to speak English. Included in this number were “Russian”-born Harris and Jennie Levine (they actually came from the city of Plonsk, in what is now Poland) who told the enumerator that they were able to speak English.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tenement Talks Review: Becoming Americans

Last Thursday, the Orchard Street Contemporaries sponsored Becoming Americans, a Tenement Talk featuring Ilan Stavans, editor of the new book, and Pete Hamill, one of the many contributing writers.  We were thrilled to receive a packed house at 108 Orchard and our guests had the opportunity to enjoy food and beverages from our generous donors, the Infamous Yellow House, Sierra Mist, and Russ & Daughters. 

Mr. Stavans and Mr. Hamill spoke eloquently about the immigrant experience and what it means to be American, a question that is central to the museum’s mission.  Mr. Hamill, the son of Irish immigrants, proclaimed New York the “capital of cities for people not like you” and talked about the different things—from food to language to music—that immigrants have contributed to this country. 

Mr. Stavans, an immigrant himself who came to New York from Mexico in the 1980s, shared that sentiment, referring to America as a mosaic of immigrant cultures. With larger immigrant communities today than ever before, the story of immigration continues to unfold, changing what it means to be American. In Mr. Stavans words, America is always in the process of “becoming.” 

So who tells the stories of these many immigrants and new Americans?  As our guest speakers both pointed out, that is a task often left to the younger generations. 

This idea struck a chord with many members of the Orchard Street Contemporaries.  Our mission is to engage young people in the preservation of the Lower East Side’s immigrant history by connecting it with the vibrancy of the neighborhood today, as well as contemporary issues related to immigration. 

We are currently looking for more young professionals to join us in fulfilling our mission by organizing future events and programs.  If you’re interested, contact us at

Becoming Americans features four centuries of immigrant writing and is available online or at the Museum Shop at 108 Orchard Street.

-- Posted by Kristin Shiller, a volunteer for the Tenement Museum’s young professionals group the Orchard Street Contemporaries.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Rear Yard Update - Privy Shed is Here

On Friday the privy shed was delivered!


Restoration contractor Kevin Groves, who has spearheaded many preservation and recreation projects for the Museum, built the shed at his workshop in Montgomery, N.Y. He'd hoped to create the structure out of salvaged wood, but it didn't prove possible.

Instead, the shed is made of new wood and several of the stalls will be roughed up and dirtied to make them look as they might have in the early 20th century. One of the stalls will be left clean to represent the era when the building, and the privy shed, were new. Over time, the rain, sun, and wind will also take their toll, weathering the structure naturally.

Next up: doors and decoration.

(Photos by Tenement Museum)

-- Posted by Kate

Friday, December 4, 2009

Weekly Immigration News

Visit to Ellis, Liberty islands brings immigration experience to life
(Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, 12/3/09)
More than a decade ago, I began tracing my family roots, a pastime that has grown so popular in the United States that the country now has more than 250,000 genealogical societies. After years of poring over vital records, collecting family photos and documenting relatives’ stories, I knew it wasn’t enough. I still felt disconnected.
That’s what makes the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island so invaluable as historical monuments. They stand not only as testaments to the country’s past but also as a piece of family history for millions of Americans. They offer us a chance to walk in the footsteps of our ancestors.

Immigrant Detention Doubles Since 1999
(The Washington Independent, 12/2/09)

The number of immigrants in detention in the United States has more than doubled since 1999, according to a new report from a government data research organization released Wednesday. The report, based primarily on information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, also finds that ICE has increasingly transferred detainees more often and to facilities farther from where they were apprehended, disrupting contact with family members and attorneys attempting to represent them in their deportation cases.

Editorial: The boon of immigration: Newcomers to America more than pull their economic weight

(New York Daily News, 11/30/09)
The need for combining secure borders with a rational policy for admitting newcomers is as pressing today as it was when the last attempted remake went down in flames under President George W. Bush, victim largely of the myth that immigration is a drain on the economy and a threat to native-born workers.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Personal Connection to 97 Orchard Street...

Read this thoughtful commentary piece from a decedent of the Rogarshevksy family, published in the East Hampton Star...

Other Lives
Last month, after years of thinking about it, my husband and I toured the Lower East Side Tenement Museum at 97 Orchard Street in Manhattan — a building where my Aunt Miriam lived once and apparently had hated every minute of it.

[Continue Reading]

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Rear Yard Update

Work is coming along on the rear yard exhibit... only a few weeks now until it's complete.

We have installed new plumbing to make the drainage better. Never again will educators stand in murky rain-waters up to their knees while expounding about life in the rear yards!

The middle section has been leveled and sand and gravel laid down as the base for the old bluestone which will cover most of the yard. This is the original flooring - it was buried under about two feet of dirt - and will pave the space once again. We'll also install colored concrete which looks like the real thing but provides a smoother surface for visitors traveling between the rear door and the stairs.

The end of the week will see the delivery of the privy shed itself, which will arrive in installments and actually put together in situ, along with the woodplank fence to the north and west. At the top of the photo below you can see the space where the shed will sit. This was its original location, 1863 to at least the 1920s.

After construction is complete, the Curatorial Department will “decorate” the rear yard – dirtying two stalls of the privy shed, hanging period laundry on the lines, and installing a reproduction wooden wash tub. This will give you a sense of how the space was used and how it would have looked at both the beginning of the building's life as a residence and the end.

In a previous post I wrote about some of the historical photos taken by the Tenement House Department. Check them out for a sense of where we're going with this exhibit.

- posted by Kate, special thanks to Arnhild Buckhurst

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tenement Talks Links from around the Web

In The Neighborhood: Becoming Americans
(Lox Populi, Nov. 30, 2009)

One of the things that I love most about Russ & Daughters is that our food, besides being delicious, is a conduit of memory and a catalyst for storytelling.

Every day I get to talk to people – some are new customers, many are regulars, and still others have been coming to the shop for twice the number of years I’ve been alive. The conversations take place over or in front of the counter, in the course of slicing lox, filleting a herring, sharing a piece of babka, or talking on the phone. Frequently the stories revolve around family histories and immigrant journeys; it is not uncommon for a tear to be shed in the shop.

As the immigrant experience is central to the existence of Russ & Daughters, I enjoy listening to these stories as much as I do sharing our own.

[Read more from Niki Russ Federman about Thursday's Tenement Talk, Becoming Americans, which is co-sponsored by the Museum's young professional's group Orchard Street Contemporaries]

NY Landmarks Conservancy Co-sponsors Paul Goldberger Book Talk on Architecture; Peg Breen Gives Introduction (New York Landmarks Conservancy, Nov. 30, 2009)

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum Book Shop was packed with people eager to hear Paul Goldberger, America’s foremost interpreter of public architecture, present his two new books, Why Architecture Matters and Building Up and Tearing Down: Reflections on the Age of Architecture.

The Conservancy co-sponsored the event and Peg Breen, Conservancy President, gave the introduction.

The prolific author offered his own way of seeing and experiencing the built world and how it impacts our lives.

“Architecture is the making of place. Architecture is the making of memory,” he said.

[Continue Reading]

-- posted by Kate

Monday, November 30, 2009

Questions for Curatorial: Apartment Leases in the 19th Century

Curatorial Director Dave answers your questions.

Did the residents of 97 Orchard Street have leases for the apartments they rented? What were the terms of these leases?

For much of the 19th century, real estate transactions were sealed by a verbal agreement. From 1863 to 1934, when 97 Orchard Street was a residence, tenants most likely had oral leases. It wasn't until the 1920s that Lower East Side residents moved towards written leases that were more protective of tenants.

This change developed after the New York legislature instituted the Emergency Rent Laws in 1919-1920. Following a severe housing shortage, with escalating rents and widespread evictions, as well as over a decade worth of agitation on the part of tenants associations, these laws placed unprecedented emphasis on tenants obtaining written leases.

Although the Emergency Rent Laws protected tenants who made oral leases, State legislators such as Charles Lockwood and Samuel Untermeyer continually stated that written leases constituted tenants’ only real protection against illegal rent hikes and evictions.

The potential confusion and trouble caused by oral agreements was born out at 97 Orchard Street. On October 3, 1869, 97 Orchard Street resident and Hanover-born real estate broker Heinrich Dreyer met German-born baker Louis Rauch in a saloon on Avenue A. According to Dreyer, Rauch employed him to broker the sale of his bakery at the price of $3500. At that time, the two agreed that Dreyer would receive a 5% commission of $175 for arranging the sale.

According to an October 1870 court case involving Dreyer as the plaintiff and Rauch, Mr. Frederick Schmitt, and Mr. Christopher Weinz as defendants, Rauch never paid Dreyer the promised commission.

In fact, two other real estate agents claim to have brokered the sale of Mr. Rauch’s bakery at 115 Avenue A to Mr. John Rash on January 20, 1870 and were therefore each entitled to the commission.

The court determined that although Rauch made verbal agreements with all three real estate agents (Dreyer, Schmitt, and Rauch), only Schmitt had introduced buyer and seller in person. It was on this basis that the commission was awarded to Frederick Schmitt.

-- Posted by Kate

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

In the midst of the American Civil War, on October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln decreed that the last Thursday of November would henceforth be "a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."

The holiday had been celebrated unofficially since the 17th century and was made an official national holiday by President George Washington on October 3, 1789.

Interestingly, both men used this day of Thanksgiving to unite the nation.

In 1789, Washington decreed "Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being... That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks -- for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation... for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted." (By October 1789, 11 states had ratified the Constitution, including New York.)

Seventy-four years later, Lincoln asked the nation to give thanks for its blessings even in the midst of crushing war: new freedom (Emancipation), peace and order (after bloody draft riots in New York and elsewhere), and the abundance of the frontier (work began on the Trans-Continental Railroad that year).

He wrote, "It has seemed to me fit and proper that [the gracious gifts of the Most High God] should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."

For newcomers to America, who came in large numbers from the German states and Ireland during the mid-19th century, Thanksgiving provided a chance to give thanks for a new home, a new job, safety, freedom. Perhaps the new residents of 97 Orchard Street, constructed that year, were thankful for new housing. The holiday also provided an opportunity for all Americans (native or foreign born, Northern or Southern) to come together around a singular national holiday.

This Thomas Nast illustration from the November 20, 1869 issue of Harper's Weekly shows a number of different people sharing a turkey at the table of "self-government" and "universal suffrage." Nast was never particularly sympathetic towards immigrants, so this cartoon is most likely poking fun.

Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Lower East Side Anniversary

One hundred and forty-five years ago this month, Mr. John Schneider opened his lager-beer saloon at 97 Orchard Street.

On November 11, 1864 he placed an ad in the New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung, a leading German-language newspaper, which read:

The undersigned makes announcement to his fine friends and acquaintances as well as the honorable musicians, that he has taken over by purchase the saloon of Mr. Schurlein, 97 Orchard Street. Invited to the opening, Saturday, November 12th, with a superb lunch, respectfully

                                                                                        John Schneider
                                                                                        97 Orchard Street

Why might Mr. Schneider have mentioned "honorable musicians" in his announcement?

The family had a strong connection to music. John Schneider played in a regimental band with the 8th New York Infantry Volunteers during the Civil War.  Most likely, the "honorable musicians" are those who played with him in 1860-62. His father, George, was also a respected musician on New York's German music scene. Because of his personal interest, John probably made an extra effort to provide music for his patrons on a regular basis.

Regarding German saloons on the Bowery in 1881, one observer commented, “Almost every beer saloon has a brass band, or at least a piano, violin, and coronet, and what the performers lack in finish they make up for in vigor. Through the open doors and from the cellars come outbursts of noise and merriment..." 

According to historian Madelon Powers, German immigrants were fond of mixing drink and song, and were noted for their spontaneous saloon singing. Writing about the music of German saloons in turn-of-the-century Chicago, Royal Melendy observed that, “The streets are filled with music, and the German bands go from saloon to saloon reaping a generous harvest when times are good.”1

The most common form of German-American music during the mid-to-late 19th century was choral music performed by singing societies that often met in saloon backrooms. It is likely that John Schneider’s saloon included a small stage or area where music was performed by local singing societies or mannerchor and small German bands. 

Many of the songs that became popular among German immigrants and the singing societies in which they took part expressed an ambivalence about the experience of leaving friends and family for an unknown land. Songs such as Muss I denn zum Stadtele N’Aus? (Must I Go Away from the Town?) and The Decision to Go to America; or, The Farewell Song of the Brothers expressed both an understanding of the need emigrate as well as the pain of leaving loved ones. 

Informal and spontaneous singing was also common in 19th century German saloons. When in a singing mood, patrons of Schneider’s Saloon might break into a rendition of Auch du leiber Augustin, Hi-lee! Hilo! or Die Wacht am Rhein.

Groups of saloon regulars not only broke into song for the purpose of entertainment but also as a means of strengthening group identity. Sung widely in informal settings such as the local saloon, heimathlied or “homesickness” songs not only helped German immigrants reinforce ties to the Fatherland but -- many Germans having emigrated before the creation of the German nation in 1871 -- helped contribute to a new consciousness among German immigrants, unifying these fragmented elements into an American ethnic community. 2

1 Madelon Powers, Faces Along the Bar: Lore and Order in the Workingman’s Saloon, 1870-1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998)
2 Victor Greene, A Singing Ambivalence: Immigrants Between Old World and New (Kent State University Press, 2004).

- Research & Writing by Dave Favaloro

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Immigration News (plus Housing & Health)

Puerto Ricans in New York Face Persistent Struggles
(WNYC, November 20, 2009) Puerto Rican leaders have made lots of news this year – from Sonia Sotomayor’s rise to the Supreme Court, to the so-called ‘three amigos’ who took power in the New York legislature. While New York’s most visible Latino leaders are Puerto Rican…some researchers are trying to call attention to a less visible reality: that almost a third of Puerto Ricans are living below the poverty line, compared to less than a fifth of all New Yorkers. And in educational and professional achievement, New York’s Puerto Ricans are doing worse than Latinos as a whole. WNYC’s Marianne McCune reports.

U.S. DHS Head Insists Immigration Reform Is Key
(Carib World News, Nov. 20, 2009)
"The need for immigration reform is so clear," insists the US Homeland Security Chief, Janet Napolitano. In remarks this week to the Center for American Progress, Napolitano insisted that President Obama is committed to this issue and "the administration does not shy away from taking on the big challenges of the 21st century, challenges that have been ignored too long and hurt our families and businesses."

Exhibit documents immigrants’ stories
(The Galviston County Daily News, Nov. 20, 2009)
The traveling exhibit Forgotten Gateway chronicles the Port of Galveston, Texas’s largely forgotten history as a major gateway to American immigration from 1845 to 1924. Forgotten Gateway builds on a growing scholarly and public interest in the history of migration patterns to America and Galveston’s place as one of the nation’s top immigrant ports in that history.

Immigration Reform: The Phone Call Heard Around the Country
(New American Media, Nov. 19, 2009) Organizers described them as immigration reform "house parties." Across the country last night, in churches, schools, immigrant support centers and private homes, backers of immigration reform gathered around telephones (the speaker phone turning the device into a de-facto radio) as Hispanic U.S. legislators laid out the strategy for pushing a reform of the immigration system in 2010.

Fire Reveals Illegal Homes Hide in Plain Sight
(New York Times, Nov. 19, 2009)
For at least two years before a fire killed three men in an illegally divided house next door, Diane Ross and her family lived in an illegal apartment at 42-38 65th Street in Woodside, Queens. Their life there — in a basement divided into one apartment and four single-room units, with six others upstairs, all crammed into a two-family house — seemed to them to be business as usual, and attracted no special notice. Neither the tenants nor their landlord, who said he charged $107 a month for each room, tried to hide it.

Sir John Crofton, Pioneer in TB Cure, Dies at 97
(New York Times, Nov. 19, 2009)
Sir John Crofton, a pioneering clinician who demonstrated that antibiotics could be safely combined to cure tuberculosis, a dread disease that once killed half the people who contracted it, died on Nov. 3 at his home in Edinburgh. He was 97.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

New finds in 97 Orchard Street basement

We uncovered more spaces in the rear of the basement. This is an area we believe was once a residential apartment. The brick was covered with sheetrock. We removed it to have a look at what was underneath.

 Here's one of the fireplaces. You can see that it's been boarded up.

This fireplace was not boarded up quite so professionally. Bob, Chris and Derya could easily get into an open space at the top and begin to sift through some of the debris that fills the fireplace cavity.


Here's the back of a piece of sheetrock. It should give us a clue as to when the sheetrock was installed.

We found a table knife, all rusted over.

We found this letter. It says, "Scher's Jobbing House, 97 Orchard Street, NYC." The return address is pre-printed on the upper left-hand corner: PO Box 743, City Hall Station, New York, NY. It was posted on July 19, 1933 at 6 PM, passing through "City Hall Annex New York."

A man named Scher was a mentor to Max Marcus, who ran an auction house in 97 Orchard Street in the 1930s. We won't be able to open the letter until it's been "re-humidified." Right now it's brittle and we don't want to damage the envelope or the contents. Derya will put it in a humidity chamber to soften it out a bit.

What could be inside? And how did a letter end up in a boarded-up basement fireplace? We shall report back to you on the former very soon, and feel free to speculate about the latter...

- posted by kate

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Begecher Family History, Part 3

The story of the Begecher Family, who lived at 103 Orchard Street in the early 20th century, continues below. Read parts one and two. Research and writing by Alan Kurtz. Special thanks to Bowery Boogie.

On December 14th of 1904, five years after his arrival (the minimum time required by law), Marcus became an American citizen, taking the oath at the United States Eastern District Court. His Petition for Naturalization described him as a peddler living at 103 Orchard Street and noted that he could not read or write English but could “read and write the Hebrew language intelligently.” It wasn’t until 1906 that prospective citizens were required to know English.

Marcus Begecher’s Petition for Naturalization: his address is 103 Orchard Street

Though much of the 1905 New York State Census has been lost, a hand-copied facsimile dating to the 1940s records the family as Max, Sarah, Ida, Lena, Rosa, Mendel, Sam, and Jackel Bulchecher. Max listed his occupation as peddler, Ida and Lena worked in “ladies wear,” while Sam and Jackel attended elementary school. Rosa and Mandel’s given occupations are not legible.

Five years later, at the time of the 1910 Federal Census, the family still resided on Orchard Street and were enumerated on April 16th under the names Marcus, Sabra, Ida, Max, Rose, Samuel, and Jacob Buchacher. Lilly was living elsewhere. Marcus was recorded as a salesman in a dry goods store, Ida and Rose as operators in a tailor shop, Max as a truck driver, and Sam an office boy. Unfortunately, their apartment number was not recorded. Whether Marcus, Ida, and Rose were still working for their more well-off Bralower relations is not known.

1910 Federal Census record for 103 Orchard Street; the family is listed in the middle.

Two months later, on June 8, 1910 Ida Buchesser, age 23, married Max Katz, a 30 year old widower with a young son, and moved to the far reaches of the Bronx.

At some juncture during the early to mid 1910s, possibly when the building underwent extensive renovation in 1913, the family moved from 103 Orchard Street around the corner to 247 Broome Street. The family surname continued to evolve: Sam would retain the name Begecher, Max and Lilly would adopt the name Schesser, while Jack would somehow morph into Jack Schwartz.

Jack and Lilly

Marcus and Sarah died within one year of each other: Marcus on May 22, 1923 and Sarah on May 12, 1924. They are buried in Acacia Cemetery in Ozone Park, Queens. Though their Death Certificates carry the surname of "Schesser," their headstones are inscribed "Betchesser."

Ida Begecher Katz died on January 24, 1961, having outlived her husband Max by almost 28 years.

Eventually all surviving family members would leave the Lower East Side.

My wife is the granddaughter of Ida Begecher Katz and great-granddaughter of Marcus and Sarah Begecher.

Do you have any information about 103 or 97 Orchard Street? Any memories of the people who lived there? Share them with us! Email press-inquiry (at) tenement . org.

- Posted by Kate

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Begecher Family History, Continued

The story of the Begecher Family, who lived at 103 Orchard Street in the early 20th century, continues below. Read part one here. Research and writing by Alan Kurtz. Special thanks to Bowery Boogie.

On July 9, 1899 Ida and Lilly’s father, listed on the steamship Friesland’s manifest as "Markus Boczezcer," a 54-year-old laborer, arrived from Antwerp, Belgium with one dollar to his name. Though quite young, Ida (and perhaps Lilly) had apparently saved enough money to at least contribute to the cost of his ticket.

He was briefly detained at the Barge Office at the Battery, most likely because immigration officials feared that he wouldn't be able to earn a living and thus become a “Public Charge.” (He came through the Battery because the original buildings at Ellis Island burned down in 1897, and the new brick buildings were still under construction at this time.)

Markus was probably released under the aegis of his brother-in-law Louis. Just nine days after his arrival, Marcus Begecher filed his Declaration of Intention (commonly called “First Papers” as they constituted the first step in the naturalization process) with the Southern District Circuit Court of the United States to become an American citizen: certainly a statement of commitment to his new and adopted country.

It would be three long years before the family was entirely reunited. Sarah, Mendel, Ruchel, Schema, and Snerza (Mendel would eventually become Max, Ruchel Rose, Schema Sam, and Schnerza Jack) arrived on the steamship La Bretagne sailing from Le Havre, France on September 7, 1902. The New York Times reported the weather as "cloudy; warmer; showers; southeast winds.”

The manifest records them as the "Bucecer" family. They were briefly detained at Ellis Island before Marcus arrived and obtained their release; La Bretagne had docked shortly after daybreak and the family was released at 2:35 in the afternoon. During their time in “detention” the family consumed five meals; one for each family member.

Sarah Bralower Begecher

Sarah was not only reunited with her brother, Louis; her husband; and her two eldest daughters but also with additional siblings and her aged mother, Anyavita Bralower, who had come to America sometime during the 1890s.

Though it seems as if the family initially shared crowded living space with the Bralower family (Sarah's relations) on Hester Street, they soon moved to Eldridge Street (near Delancey Street) before relocating to 103 Orchard Street sometime before December of 1904.

...To be continued tomorrow, as the family makes a home on the Lower East Side.

- Posted by Kate

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Begechers of 103 Orchard Street

When you are in the research business, sometimes you get lucky and things just come to you. A genealogist working for the Museum back in the early 1990s was handed the wrong file at an archive, and inside - quite by accident - was a letter of support for 97 Orchard Street resident Nathalie Gumpertz's petition to declare her husband legally dead. This story now forms the basis of the Getting By tour.

Last week, out of the blue, Bowery Boogie sent me an email - a Mr. Allen Kurtz had read on that blog about the Tenement Museum's research into 103 Orchard Street and wrote in to say, "My wife's family lived in that building from 1904 to 1910." As if that weren't cool enough on its own, Mr. Kurtz then sent along an extensive family history, charting the Begechers' arrival in the United States and their path through 103 Orchard Street and beyond.

I'm very happy to share that history with you this week. What's wonderful is how typical this immigrant experience is... and yet so personal to this distinct family.

Special thanks to Bowery Boogie.

The Begechers of 103 Orchard Street
By Alan Kurtz

In many ways, the Begechers (Marcus, Sarah, and their six children, Chaya, Liebe, and Ruchel, Mendel, Schema, and Schnerza) were typical Eastern European Jewish immigrants. Originally from Botosani, a small city in what is today northeast Romania, they more likely than not came to the United States to escape a life severely limited by persecution, oppression, and grinding poverty. 

Not able to afford passage for the family to depart for America as an intact unit, the Begechers arrived in dribs and drabs as if a human chain; one saving up hard earned dollars to purchase passage for the next. Consequently, family members were often separated for months if not years.

Though it cannot be proven with complete accuracy, Chaya (who would subsequently Americanize her name to Ida) was likely the first to arrive, possibly sometime in 1898. Because she was still a child, perhaps as young as eight years of age, she came to America not in steerage, but as a Second Class passenger. 

As steamship lines were not required to record their “better heeled” First and Second Class passengers on official manifests until 1903, her exact arrival date is not known, and it may be that she didn’t arrive until 1901. 

Similarly, the name of the person who accompanied her to America is a perplexing mystery. What is known is that the man, who Ida would describe later in life as either an agent or an “uncle,” was quite protective of her and would not let her go down to steerage to meet other young passengers. As a result, she had no one to play with. All the while, she suffered from seasickness. 

Ida Begecher Katz, later in life. Courtesy Alan Kurtz.

Her passage was paid for by her aunt and uncle, Celia and Louis Bralower of 50-52 Hester Street, who owned a thriving dry goods business. Their company, established in the 1880s, would survive for nearly 100 years.

Immediately after arrival, Ida was put to work in their shop to pay off her passage. Ida’s sister Liebe, who would later change her name to Lilly, may have arrived shortly thereafter. Her arrival manifest has also not been located.

To be continued tomorrow... as the rest of the family arrives in America. 

- posted by Kate

Friday, November 13, 2009

Questions for Curatorial - Restriction, Exclusion, and Quotas

Curatorial Director Dave answers your questions.

Was there a ban on certain immigrant groups moving into 97 Orchard Street at any time in the building’s history?

Legislative acts banning certain immigrant groups from the United States were first instituted during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, though nativism and anti-immigrant sentiment are as old as immigration itself.

Passed in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act represented the first federal law banning a group of immigrants solely on the basis of race or nationality. In 1917, Congressional legislation further restricted immigration by barring the entry of Asian Indians. A prohibition on Japanese and Korean immigration followed in 1922 so that, after 1924, among East Asians only Filipinos were untouched by immigration restriction laws.

Beginning in the 1920s, Congress passed a series of quota laws aimed at stemming the mass immigration of Southern and Eastern Europeans that had occurred over the course of the past two decades.

Each European nation received a quota based on its proportion to the foreign-born population in the 1910 census, resulting in a drastic reduction in the number of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe. In 1929, another system, the national origins quotas, was put into effect, giving each European country a proportion equal to its share of the white population according to the 1920 census.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Antique Footwear!

If you haven't seen it already, check out this trove of old rubber boots found in the Mark Miller gallery space across the street from the Museum.

The video and photos we took are posted on the Bowery Boogie blog.

Here's a little video of the guy who was doing excavation work in the basement taking a giant lump of fused rubber boots to the dumpster.

Here are some of the photos along with some info about the shoes from Derya, our collections manager.

Boy, do we wish these shoes were from 97 Orchard Street! They would be a great find for our new storefronts exhibit.

Questions for Curatorial - Castle Garden

Curatorial Director Dave answers your questions.

Before Castle Garden was opened in 1855, where were immigrants entering through the port of New York processed?

Before Castle Garden was designated as the central landing place for all immigrants disembarking at the port of New York in 1855, new arrivals came ashore at several different piers along the East River. While immigrants reported to be carrying communicable diseases were quarantined at the Marine Hospital on Staten Island, there was little formal processing that occurred.

Once newcomers disembarked, they were met by often unscrupulous runners—agents of boarding houses and companies that transported immigrants to the interior of the country. Frequently of the same ethnicity and speaking the same language, these runners repeatedly took advantage of new immigrants, overcharging them for rents at boarding houses and rail and steam ship tickets.

Interier of Castle Garden. Digital ID: 800793. New York Public Library
Interior of Castle Garden. Harper's Weekly, 1871. Courtesy the Picture Collection of the New York Public Library.

Immigrants landing at Castle G... Digital ID: 800780. New York Public Library
Immigrants landing at Castle Garden. Harper's Weekly, 1880. Courtesy the Picture Collection of the New York Public Library.

In 1847, the New York State legislature established the Board of Commissioners of Emigration. According to historians Frederick Binder and David Reimers, “They were given both the power and the funds to inspect incoming ships and provide aid, information, and employment assistance to the immigrants.”

Opened in 1855, Castle Garden at the southern tip of Manhattan was created by the State of New York to process new immigrants and help them make the transition to the United States. There, immigrants could avoid runners by purchasing railroad and riverboat tickets from reputable vendors, obtain advice from representatives of religious and benevolent societies, and consult employment agencies staffed with translators. After 1892, responsibility for processing arriving immigrants fell to the Federal Government and Ellis Island in Upper New York Bay became the main point of entry for new immigrants.

Immigrants in Castle Garden. Digital ID: 800797. New York Public Library
Immigrants in Castle Garden. Harper's Weekly, 1880. Courtesy the Picture Collection of the New York Public Library.

Source: Frederick Binder and David Reimers, All the Nations Under Heaven: An Ethnic and Racial History of New York City (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995).