Monday, November 9, 2009

Tricks, Treats and Ghosts

Children often come into the museum’s slightly spooky, dark hallway and ask in fear, “Are there ghosts at 97 Orchard Street?” We say, “No.”

But this October 31, the Museum opened its doors for a special Family Halloween Celebration, and some unexpected specters were spotted in the halls.

The day began with cider and donuts, arts-and-crafts projects and a photo booth for vintage family photos. Large spotted spiders, cobwebs, and black crepe paper streamers turned the basement into a spooky party space.

Once guests were invited upstairs, they saw faces both old and new - Victoria Confino, part of the Confino Family Living History Tour, was busying about her kitchen as usual, but Harris Levine, Bridget Moore, and Rosaria and Adolfo Baldizzi were also at home this special morning.

All of our ghosts (In reality, costumed interpreters, of course) made charming hosts.

Victoria pointed out that our clothes looked pretty strange to her 1916 eyes: T-shirts and trousers on women seemed as peculiar as a young trick-or-treater dressed as a ballerina –

“You’re wearing your underwear on the outside?” Victoria asked about the tutu and tights. “Is that the custom where you come from?”

Bridget Moore, a tenant in 1869, was concerned that she couldn’t offer us tea. Harris Levine (who believed it was 1897) invited the 11-year-olds visiting his apartment to work full-time in his garment factory.

"Only ten hours a day - you can have the Sabbath off!"

Rosaria Baldizzi insisted that we call her Sadie.

“I have an American name now,” she explained.

She was packing and lamented the tenants’ recent eviction from the building after the new (1934) law requiring landlords to fireproof staircases in all tenements. The building, she reminded us, had been her home for many years. Her husband, Adolfo, mentioned their move too but was looking forward to the change.

For those of us who gives tours of the building, meeting this cast of characters in the flesh was unexpectedly moving. Even though those apparitions were just our coworkers in period costumes, they were a reminder that the stories we tell are true ones, that people really did live at 97 Orchard, and that their lives were as varied as any across this great city.

-- Posted by Judy Levin

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