Monday, July 27, 2009

A Hydrant in the Rear Yard

The water hydrant we bought for our rear yard exhibit, right, is identical to one in a period catalog.

Slowly but surely, we're recreating the yard behind 97 Orchard where residents used the bathroom, did laundry, and even socialized. In a basement collections room, archeological fellow Jessica MacLean is busy studying and cataloging artifacts dug out of the privy over a decade ago. And
Melissa Cabarcas of the Curatorial Department is in the process of installing a period water hydrant manufactured by the Kupferle Foundry, a St. Louis company that's been churning out hydrants since the 1850s (the earliest version of this model is 1887, according to a patent we have).

According to a 1903 book compiling investigations made by the New York Tenement House Commission, backyard hydrants weren't always reliable. Tenants sometimes faced an inadequate water supply and had difficulty dragging water from the rear yard to higher floors. An inspector noticed, for instance, that a Second Avenue tenement's hydrant was broken and an Elizabeth Street building wasn't receiving enough water. "On the East Side and in Williamsburg, families were without water for whole hot summer days," he wrote. No matter the weather, areas surrounding the hydrants were coated with slimy stagnant water - a source of disgust for women who did their laundry there, but one of joy for children who used tenement yards as playgrounds.

-posted by Liana Grey

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