Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tenement Talks: The Man Who Never Returned

Courtesy of
Anybody who loves a good mystery is going to want to join us tonight at Tenement Talks when novelist Peter Quinn discusses his new book, The Man Who Never Returned, alongside journalist and author Kevin Baker.

When Joseph Force Crater, a powerful Justice on the Supreme Court, suddenly vanished after dinner in the summer of 1930, the country was shocked as his disappearance made headlines. A grand jury investigation of the case was launched amidst swirling rumors about Crater's whereabouts, but with not much to go on, no conclusions were ever reached. Urban legends flourished as Carter's disappearance from W. 45th Street grew to be one of the biggest mysteries in New York City history.

Peter Quinn's novel revisits this bizarre story through the eyes of fictional detective Fintan Dunne, who comes out of retirement in 1955 determined to unearth what happened nearly three decades earlier. Dunne, who was introduced in Quinn's earlier book Hour of the Cat, faces nearly insurmountable odds while chasing the truth, as he answers to a greedy newspaper bigwig hungry for a story and confronts the case's perplexing, troubled history.

Quinn, who once worked as a speechwriter for governors Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo, seamlessly blends the city's history with the fictional schemes and theories of his hardheaded protagonist. Best-selling author James Patterson says Quinn "is perfecting, if not actually creating, a genre you could call the history-mystery. The Man Who Never Returned is a dazzling story."

And as those of you who have seen Quinn at previous Tenement Talks know, he is a consummate speaker, witty and interesting as they come. 

So join Kevin Baker, contributing editor of Harper's Magazine and contributing writer of The New York Times, on September 30 at 6:30 pm to discuss a story he believes "you may never want to leave." The conversation begins at 108 Orchard Street at Delancey, and you can RSVP here.

- Posted by Joe Klarl

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Did You Know That...

A palm reader once lived at 97 Orchard Street. During restoration work, a business card advertising "Professor Dora Meltzer" as a palm reader in both Yiddish and English was discovered beneath the floorboards. By the turn of the century she would have been one of many selling fortunes to women within the Lower East Side's Jewish immigrant community.
Collection of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.
Found in 1993 at 97 Orchard Street.
Wrongly assumed by outsiders to be criminals, palm readers or fortunetellers were more likely traditional housewives, though not necessarily reputable businesswomen. Common tricks, including searching through visitors' belongings, were frequently employed to gather information.

Such behavior might seem devious, but fortune telling helped liberate otherwise housebound immigrant women like Dora Meltzer from the isolation of the tenement, allowing them to participate in the local economy and interact with the outside world. America was an unfamiliar place, especially for Jewish immigrant women. Fortunetellers could offer customers advice about adapting to their new home or, even better, reveal the future and prepare them for what life in America held.

In 1911, however, New York State Assembly outlawed fortune telling, or even advertising it, for money. Although it remains illegal to accept money for forecasting the future today, fortune telling is still widely practiced throughout the five boroughs of New York City.

Monday, September 27, 2010

He Who Does Not Love Wine...

Curator of Furnishings Pamela Keech has been working hard to develop plans for our new exhibit on 97 Orchard's businesses, opening next year. Our team has done extensive research about the businesses, and the families who ran them, and Pamela is sourcing artifacts and furniture that will re-create the basement storefronts and apartments back to a specific place in time. You've already seen her handiwork in each of the Museum's restored apartments. Here she reports on one of the new artifacts she's found for Schneider's Saloon, circa 1870s:

I recently purchased a stoneware pitcher for the exhibit on Ebay. It has an inscription on the collar that says (in German): "Wer nicht liebt Wein Weib und Gesang Bleibt Ein Narr sein Lebenlang". This translates to, "He who does not love wine, women, and song will be a fool his whole life long.” The saying is variously attributed to Johann Heinrich Voss (1751-1826) and to Martin Luther (1483-1546).

The print below was published in 1873 and demonstrates the popularity of the saying at the time the Schneider family was operating the saloon. This is why history is so much fun.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Visitors of the Week: Paulette Kaufman and Nancy Leonard

From left: Paulette and Nancy
Each week, we profile one of the many interesting visitors who stop by the Tenement Museum. Do you want to be our next Visitor of the Week? If you're planning to visit and would like to be interviewed, send us an email.

Meet Paulette Kaufmann and Nancy Leonard, friends who decided to take the Piecing It Together tour, visiting the homes of Jewish immigrants, the Levines and Rogarshevskys. Kaufmann, a New York native, had visited many years ago with her husband and described it as "such an enriching experience" that she was glad to return when Leonard decided to take a tour.

I was lucky enough to speak to them about the harshness of early immigrant life and why New York tourists ought to head over to the Tenement Museum.

When you first walked into the apartments you saw today, what was your immediate reaction?
PK: Small spaces. I was beginning to wonder how they survived.

And what did you learn about the immigrants who lived there?
PK: For me, it was a repeat so actually, I can remember more of the experience because I've come back a second time. I do a lot of historical research and I was doing some research on an immigrant who lived in the northern part of Manhattan. So I was remembering back to my experience here. I was looking at the severance records and I was looking at the other information that I had about him and I kept referencing back to the time I had been here so it's always nice to be able to come back and take a look again, now with that experience.

If you could ask an immigrant at that time any one question, what would it be?
NL: I think the obvious one from a historical perspective is "how did you survive?" because it just seems like a very difficult life, a lot of physical labor, and you sort of understand why people didn't live as long as we tend to live now. But I think more about the community, what it was like to grow up there, whether they went to school or not would be fascinating to know, and what they learned from it all.

Would you encourage others to visit the Tenement Museum?
PK: Oh, absolutely. As a tourist, you may think it's all about Rockefeller Center, but the city has great, great stories to tell on every corner and in every burrough. I've traveled all around the world, and I'm always interested when I'm going into "old" cities or older areas of cities. I want to know how people lived their lives or the change that was going on, so on and so forth. So I encourage anybody visiting New York to come down here and see a slice of the city that they probably didn't know about.

- Interview by Joe Klarl

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tenement Talks: Five Points

Courtesy of
Ever wonder about the Lower East Side's seedy history? Make sure to join us tonight at Tenement Talks as we're thrilled to host Tyler Anbinder, historian and author of Five Points: The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World's Most Notorious Slum.

A lovingly thorough history of one of the most vibrant, corrupt, and bustling neighborhoods ever, Five Points was groundbreaking upon release and introduced many readers to a place few knew even existed. The New York Daily News proclaimed that Anbinder "so thoroughly re-created Five Points that the stench of life there all but rises from the pages."

In Five Points, the author painstakingly recreates the lives of those who lived in modern-day Chinatown, predominantly impoverished African Americans, Irish, Jewish, German, Jewish, and Italians who sought a better life amidst the chaos of street riots and crime.

As notable writers of the time, including Charles Dickens, wrote gruesome tales of the slums, the murderous and rollicking Five Points quickly gained a world-famous reputation. "While Americans may have considered Five Points repulsive," Anbinder notes, "they found it fascinating as well."

In his novel, Anbinder finds the truth within the incredible tales of the depraved roots of New York City and explores the regular lives of immigrants who survived and thrived there. From religion to politics and work to play, the book creates a fully immersive portrait of a neighborhood that had "more fighting, drinking, and vice than almost anywhere else; but also more dancing and nightlife, more dense networks of clubs and charities." And, of course, he also explores the end of the era and the origins of Little Italy and Chinatown.

So, whether you're a history buff or have never even heard of the incredible Five Points, a neighborhood that helped shape New York City today, remember to stop by tonight - the Museum Shop, 108 Orchard Street at Delancey -- to join us for this event. RSVP at and we'll kick things off at 6:30 pm.

- Posted by Joe Klarl

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Teens Turn the Tragedy of History into Theater

Today we have a guest-blog from Ryan Gilliam, Artistic/Executive Director, Downtown Art.

Many New Yorkers are familiar with the history of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. It was a devastating event and launched a determined and ultimately successful campaign to improve factory working conditions early in the last century.

The young workers who died in the fire, most of them women, many of them girls still in their teens, are remembered each year on the fire’s anniversary. Their names are chalked on the sidewalk outside the tenements where they once lived. This spring, on March 25, 2011, the 100th anniversary of the fire will be commemorated with a whole host of events.

I’m a playwright and theater director who has chosen to work with teens for the past twenty years. I admire young people and have long sought to be a champion for their capacities and talents. A year or so ago, I began my own journey to discover who the young seamstresses of the Triangle Factory had been before they became victims of that terrible fire. I found their story to be remarkable.

These young women, most of whom were immigrants and only a handful of whom had any experience with the labor movement, managed to sustain one of the first major strikes by women, a general strike which sought a 52 hour work week, a 20% pay increase, and union recognition.

The strike, which lasted through a cold and bitter winter, was controversial, and the girls found themselves facing intimidation and violence on the picket lines as well as harsh treatment from the police and the courts. Their plight galvanized middle and upper class women to join them on the picket line, which became front page news.

The courage and perseverance of these young women in the strike of 1909/10, often called the "Uprising of the 20,000" inspired me to write The Waistmaker’s Opera. The opera premiered last May, and the heartfelt responses from our audiences were deeply moving.

We had the pleasure of performing an excerpt of the opera last week at the Tenement Museum's Tenement Talks series, as part of a program featuring author Philip Dray, whose new book, There is Power in a Union, has just been released.

This Saturday, September 25, we will open it again for two weekends. We perform our modern rock opera (original score by Michael Hickey) with a company of fifteen teen girls and a band of teen musicians. Act 1 moves through the streets after its start at the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Act 2 takes place in one location, a vacant lot on East 3rd Street, and the audience is seated.

To work with a company of young women the same age as the shirtwaistmakers has been a powerful experience for me. It is too easy for adults to overlook the contributions of teens to this city - to our lives, even - and The Waistmaker’s Opera is an effort to remember how young women, a hundred years ago, changed us not only with the tragedy of their deaths but with the courage of their lives.

-- Ryan Gilliam

For information on performances of The Waistmaker’s Opera, please visit our website at

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Questions for Curatorial: Orchard Street's Early Days

Curatorial Director Dave answers your questions.

Was 97 Orchard Street the first tenement to be built on the block?

By 1828, there were structures on all thirteen lots on the western side of Orchard Street between Broome and Delancey. Except for a church and the building on the corner of Broome Street, which was probably a multifamily residence with a store on the ground floor, all were mainly residential. For the most part, these were two-to-three story wood frame dwellings which by the 1850s were being used as multifamily residences.

95, 97, and 99 Orchard Street circa 1999.
Collection of LESTM.
Initial development of the 97 Orchard Street lot began with the erection of a Reformed Dutch Church in 1828, which stood on what is today 95, 97, and 99 Orchard Street. In 1860, the Dutch Reformed congregation sold the church to a Universalist congregation, who not long after sold it again to the Second Reformed Presbyterian Church.

Three years later, in 1863, the property was purchased by Lukas Glockner, Adam Strum, and Jacob Walter. The new owners demolished the church structure, for the 1864 Orchard Street tax rolls list three new five-story tenements on the lots, one belonging to each of the buyers. [Editor: Can you see the headline today? "High Rise Housing Development Destroys Church"]

As only one-fifth of the buildings located in the 10th ward were tenements, 95, 97, and 99 Orchard Streets are the earliest surviving tenements on the block bounded by Broome and Delancey.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Face of Child Labor

As September rolls around, many of our kids head back to school. It's a sometimes exciting, sometimes sad time - who wants to leave behind the beach, freedom, and Popsicles for the classroom? But a scholar friend of ours recently unearthed a pamphlet that shows the alternative to school for many Lower East Side children at the turn of the century: work. And not house work or farm chores - more like "sew buttons on 100 coats before bed."

The chart below, showing “Children Found at Work in Certain New York City Tenements October, 1906-April, 1907,” was published in 1908 in a pamphlet by the New York Child Labor Committee, National Child Labor Committee, and the Consumers' League.

As you can see, the chart shows that 558 of the children surveyed were working, while only 491 were attending school.

Even more interesting than this chart to me were the pamphlet's photographs, which immediately caught my attention.

The Museum’s Piecing it Together tour focuses on immigrants at work and how labor affected their lives. Both families we “visit” on the tour, the Levines and Rogarshevskys, were connected to the garment industry; the Levines ran a garment shop out of their home, the very thing the Consumer’s League was attempting to stamp out with pamphlets like this one.

As I stand in the Levine apartment on my tours, I find that some parts of the shop are easy to imagine. The crowded conditions, the low light, and the heat of the apartments in summer. I’ve felt these conditions myself working in 97 Orchard Street this year, our hottest summer on record!

But as many times as I’ve given the tour, I still have trouble imagining that children were the workers and often faced the terrible conditions in the garment industry alongside adults.

In their pamphlet, the Child Labor Committee makes it painfully clear that these child workers are not leading the kind of carefree lives we imagine children should. Most captions remind the reader how young the children are or what they should be doing instead of work. For example, the caption on the image below reads, “Work instead of play after school for these little flower-makers.”

Child labor was one of the facts of Lower East Side life, often a necessity to make ends meet in poor families. Illuminating this for visitors and helping younger guests contrast it to their lives today is a powerful way to demonstrate how much has changed for the children in our neighborhood.

Sometimes it's not enough simply to say that some of the people Harris Levine employed might have been as young as ten. Actually seeing the young children hard at work in these photographs, and being reminded of what more fortunate children would be doing instead, illuminates so much more. 

Even though things have changed here, the sweatshop has moved elsewhere, and a new generation of children are experiencing similar conditions in other locations around the world. At the Tenement Museum we also strive to draw these contemporary connections, reminding folks that what you see below is still happening. The Child Labor Committee strove to stamp out child labor with promotional materials like this pamphlet. What tactics do you see reformers using to stop child labor today?

- Posted by Educator Ellysheva Zeira, with thanks to Sarah Litvin

Special thanks to Marjorie Feld, a professor at Babson College and historian of the Progressive era, who is currently working with the Museum on a grant and sent us this pamphlet.

Read more about child labor in New York State, 1910-1922, in another report.

IMAGE CREDITS: Photos taken by Consumers' League, National Child Labor Committee, and New York Child Labor Committee, 1908. Pamphlet in collection of Harvard University Library. This material is owned, held, or licensed by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Contact Library for further copyright, reprint, or distribution information.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Visitor of the Week: Diane From New Zealand

Over the summer we profiled the vastly different people who stop by the Tenement Museum each week and collected their reactions to their tours. Now, Visitor of the Week continues into the fall and could even include you! If you're planning to visit and would like to be interviewed, send us an email.

Diane, our visitor this week, comes all the way from Auckland, New Zealand. Originally from Vancouver, Diane seemed thrilled to finally see the Big Apple and told me that while growing up, she had never gone further east than her home city. Later, she worked as a tour guide at the National Trust in Melbourne, Australia, educating visitors on the city's heritage homes, though her trip through the Tenement Museum was the only tour she booked during her inaugural visit to New York. So how did The Moores: An Irish Family in America stack up for this tour guide vet?

"Our tour guide was great," she said. Educator Justin Gilman adeptly led Diane through the restored home of the Irish-Catholic immigrants, as she imagined the poor conditions in which they lived.

"When I first walked in, I thought this place must look much nicer now than when they lived in it. It would have been very hot and dirty." When I asked her if she would ask the Moores anything about their lives, she quickly replied, "I wouldn't have a question. I would just want to help them!"

The Moores' immigrant experience was also affecting for Diane's husband, whose grandfather was born in Northern Ireland in 1875 and lead a hard life, illiterate and digging ditches for a living. The tour, he said, gave him a fuller appreciation for his grandfather's hardships. Though he had been to the city once before in June 1970, delivering Volkswagens in freighters at the South Street Seaport, he said he decided to make the trip short. To an eighteen year old tourist, 1970s New York was, he demurred, "not a nice place to be."

The New York of today, however, "blew me away," he said. "We have to come back again. There is too much to see."

Nevertheless, Diane and her husband are determined to see as much as they can. They'll visit the Museum of Modern Art, and Diane has already made sure to go theater-hopping. Now a vocal teacher back in Auckland, Diane received a recommendation to visit the Tenement Museum from one of her many students here pursuing the Broadway dream. And Diane, a woman who seems to have already lived several interesting lives traveling around the world, was grateful for her student's advice.

"[The Museum] gives you a sense of history, to better understand," she told me. "There are big cities in the world, but New York is unique because of the big influx of people that happened all at once."

-posted by Joe Klarl

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Questions for Curatorial: What's the Deal with that Sheet Metal?

Curatorial Director Dave answers your questions. If you have a question for Dave, email us.

What are the metal ceilings in 97 Orchard Street made of, when were they installed, and why did the landlord chose to put them up?

The ceilings in the hallways throughout 97 Orchard Street are covered in pressed metal, made from an alloy of steel and iron. These ceilings were installed circa 1900. Metal ceilings were popular because they were easier to maintain than easily damaged plaster. Different patterns are visible in the halls of 97 Orchard Street, since sections were often patched with a piece of metal that did not match the original.

thick (3).JPG
Photo by aeg7, Tenement Museum Flickr pool

Krasner, Pressed Metal Ceiling, between 3rd & 4th floors
Photo by barbarakrasner, Tenement Museum Flickr pool.

painted tin
Photo by nycshushi51065, Tenement Museum Flickr pool

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tenement Talks Tonight: Philip Dray on "There is Power in a Union"

Labor issues are not an insignificant part of every Tenement Museum program. Immigrant families like the tenants of 97 Orchard Street toiled over their work, trying to make a better life for their children and themselves. Often these workers were exploited by management, laboring in unsanitary conditions for low wages and long hours.

At the turn of the 20th century, men and women joined organized labor unions, battling (quite literally at times) for better wages, shorter working hours and more sanitary working conditions.

Philip Dray, the author of There is Power in a Union, answers some of my questions on how he became invested in writing about civil rights and liberties for workers.

Tell me about your background.
I grew up in Minnesota and have lived in NYC for many years. I’m not a professor. I just had an interest in history and like to write.

Your books include Stealing God’s Thunder: Benjamin Franklin’s Lightning Rod and the Invention of America; At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America; and Capitol Men: The Epic Story of Reconstruction Through the Lives of the First Black Congressman. You’re writing often focuses on civil rights and liberties - what draws you to this aspect of history and culture?
Yes, I am inclined towards civil rights subjects. I think it’s partly that the work of doing a book is so arduous that it must involve a subject you love, and it makes it easier when you’re describing people you basically admire. Plus, obviously you want to write about issues that matter and that you feel deserve amplification – I try to do this by relating historical stories.

Your new book, There is Power in a Union, spans several decades, even more than one century. Does a particular time period inspire you?
Probably very early 20th century, the era of the colorful Wobblies, Emma Goldman, et al. It was a period of inspiring mass organization.

What methods did you use when you began researching this book?
With a subject this huge you can’t get to everything. I try to be strategic about what I need to read and research, mostly news accounts, oral histories, etc.

Here at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, one of our tours focuses on sweatshops at the turn of the century – specifically garment workers and the advent of the ILGWU. Did you find Clara Lemlich or other sweatshop organizers in your research?
Yes, the 1909-1911 period was important labor history. An inspiring strike by young women, older liberal women as allies, efforts at industrial democracy, and then the terrible fire and reforms were demanded regarding fire safety.

Do you have plans to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire?
I don’t have specific plans for March 25, 2011. I hope to attend events at the building site.

What about now? Is there still power in a union today?
Of course, it’s a universal principal. Workers even under repressive conditions will eventually learn to use their collective might. We see it in China today and among car wash workers in LA.

Please join Philip Dray on Wednesday, September 15 at 6:30 pm to hear more about There is Power in a Union. Tenement Talks are held at the Museum Shop, 108 Orchard Street at Delancey.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Questions for Curatorial: Where Do I Store My Pushcart?

Curatorial Director Dave answers your questions. Got a question for Dave? Email us.

Do we know if pushcart peddlers would keep their carts in “stables”? Was pushcart peddling a good job relative to other immigrant occupations?

Pushcart peddlers would keep their carts in stables. One such stable existed on Sheriff Street at the turn of the century. In most cases, peddlers did not own their carts, but rented them for about a quarter a day.

In some ways, pushcart peddling was a good job relative to other immigrant occupations but, much like garment work, an incredibly trying and exhausting one as well. Perhaps the greatest attraction of peddling was the idea that a person could be their own boss.

As a reflection of European market culture, it also served as an important link to the past and a means of mediating the transition to life in the United States. Otherwise, long hours and low pay were the rewards of the peddler. According to one son of a Lower East Side pushcart peddler, his father would “get up at 5:30, go get his pushcart from the pushcart stable on Sheriff Street, where he rented it for about a quarter a day. Then he’d wheel it over to the wholesaler Attorney Street. Then he’d take it over to the ferry to Greenpoint. He’d make about $2.00 or 2.50 a day, six days…He’d help feed a family of seven on that.”

Learn more about modern-day street vendors at the Street Vendor Project website.

Pushcarts on the Lower East Side, 1937. Photograph by Arnold Eagle. (c) Lower East Side Tenement Museum 2010.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Teachers: This is for You!

I’ve been leading tours at the Tenement Museum one day a week for four years, but, as of July 6th, 2010, I’m now a full-time employee. And now I do a LOT more than just lead tours. Every few days, our esteemed vice president of education, Annie Polland, hands me a new duty (thankfully she always waits until I’ve digested the last duty she assigned me.)

Two weeks ago she handed me one of the biggest duties of all: management of our Professional Development Program. In this relatively new series, schoolteachers from across America can visit the Tenement Museum for half- or full-day workshops. We lead the teachers on tours and explain how we’ve made learning fun for students of all ages. We then work with them on lesson plans they can use with their students back home.

It’s a great opportunity for those who aren’t within an easy drive of Manhattan - instead of bringing the class to the Museum, they can use the many resources we offer for classroom instruction.

In the past year we’ve had nearly 300 teachers on this program. We offer eight Professional Development workshops, and a group can choose whichever training session most fits their needs.

“How to Read a Building” shows how to use buildings, architecture, and the decorative arts to understand the past.

In “Housing the Masses,” attendees pretend to be tenement inspectors in 1906. They explore the building, expose violations in building codes, and talk to “tenants” and “the landlord” about why the building is the way it is.

There’s “The Irish Americans” workshop, in which visitors explore that group’s particular immigrant experience. They learn how outsiders viewed the Irish by studying racist anti-immigrant cartoons from the 19th century. If this doesn’t sound relevant to current events, think again: The Irish Potato Famine was the first global human rights cause celebre, and you can find echoes of the responses to the famine and its refugees in today’s popular press.

Feeling peckish, as the English might say? Then go on our “Taste of the Tenement” program, which uses the foods of the Lower East Side to demonstrate how immigrants use cuisine to preserve culture – and how some “ethnic” dishes became American staples.

Storytelling is one of the best ways to teach, and on our “Telling My Story” workshop you’ll learn how conduct your own oral histories.

The “Immigrant Family” workshop shows primary school teachers how to use all the tools at their disposal – artifacts, oral histories, historical documents, and more – to bring history alive for students.

In “How the Other Half Lives” (yes, name inspired by the famous Jacob Riis book), you’ll learn how industrialization shaped day-to-day life for different classes – in radically different ways.

And finally, there’s “Following the Trail,” which follows in the footsteps of immigrants as they travel from their homeland to a new life in America.

As you can see, there's really something for everyone here. To learn more about our teacher training workshops, visit our website, The site hasn't been updated yet, but the next public workshop is November 2. Workshops for a school or a private group of teachers can also be booked. For rates and availability, contact Harrison at 212-431-0233 x241.

- Posted by Adam Steinberg

Friday, September 10, 2010

Tenement Talks this Fall

Behold! This fall's Tenement Talks schedule - an amazing line-up, with something for everyone.

Wednesday, September 15 at 6:30 PM
There is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America
Phillip Dray and cast members of The Waistmakers’ Opera

Monday, September 20 at 6:30 PM
Songs from the East Village
Susan McKeown and the East Village Community School

Tuesday, September 21 at 6:30 PM
New Food, Old Foodways: A Panel Discussion
Noah Bernamoff, Shamus Jones, Jane Ziegelman, and a Proprietor from Park Slope's Bierkraft

Thursday, September 23 at 6:30 PM
Five Points: The Nineteenth Century New York Neighborhood that Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum
Tyler Anbinder

Tuesday, September 28 at 6:30 PM
Two Cents Plain: My Brooklyn Boyhood
Martin Lemelman
A members’ reception will precede this event.

Wednesday, September 29 at 6:30 PM
The Immigrant’s Table: A Literary Feast
Mary Lou Sanelli

Thursday, September 30 at 6:30 PM
The Man Who Never Returned: A Novel
Peter Quinn in conversation with Kevin Baker

Monday, October 4 at 6:30 PM
Jane Addams: Spirit in Action
Louise Knight in conversation with Vivian Gornick

Tuesday, October 5 at 6:30 PM
Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York
William Grimes

Wednesday, October 6 at 6:30 PM
The Historical Atlas of New York City: A Visual Celebration of Nearly 400 Years of New York City’s History
Eric Homberger

Tuesday, October 12 at 6:30 PM
The Deeds of My Fathers: How My Grandfather and Father Built New York and Created the Tabloid World of Today
Paul David Pope

Thursday, October 14 at 6:30 pm
97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement
With Jane Ziegelman and Mitchell Davis, James Beard Foundation Vice President
$25/ticket ($15/members)
Only a few tickets remain... buy yours now! Call 212-431-0233 x259.

Tuesday, October 19 at 6:30 PM
Monk Eastman: The Gangster Who Became a War Hero
Neil Hanson

Tuesday, October 26 at 6:30 PM
Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City
Mayor Ed Koch in conversation with Jonathan Soffer
*Seating will be extremely limited at this event. Reserve your seat with a book purchase.

Wednesday, October 27 at 6:30 PM
Chinatown Noir
Henry Chang and Ed Lin

Tuesday, November 2 at 6:30 PM
Behind the Scenes: A Look at Our Newest Exhibit
David Favaloro, Chris Neville, and Suzanne Wasserman

Tuesday, November 9 at 6:30 PM
More New York Stories: The Best of the City Section of the New York Times
Connie Rosenblum and contributors

Tuesday, November 16 at 6:30 PM
The Bowery: Past, Present and Future
Co-Sponsored by the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors
David Mulkins
A members’ reception precedes this event.

Thursday, November 18 at 6:30 PM
When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present
Gail Collins

Monday, November 29 at 6:30 PM
Henry James’ New York
Colm Toibin and contributors

Wednesday, December 8, 6:30 PM
The Encyclopedia of New York City
Kenneth Jackson
A members' reception will precede this event.

Wednesday, December 15, 6:30 PM
Behind the Scenes: The Baldizzis and Catholicism
Robert Orsi

Tenement Talks are all free, unless otherwise noted, and take place at the Museum Shop, 108 Orchard @ Delancey. Seating is often limited and is usually first come, first serve, although an advance book purchase can guarantee you a seat (call 212-431-0233 x259 to purchase a book). With this fall's stellar line-up, you'll want to buy these books anyway! For event reminders, sign up for the mailing list by emailing us. For extra tidbits about our speakers or to follow along with an event live, follow us on And to become a Tenement Museum member, and receive invitations to special Tenement Talks member receptions, call 212-431-0233 x225.

 - posted by Kate

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Baking with Schmaltz

Around the turn of the 20th century, Jewish immigrants began to flood into America by the thousands, coming largely from Eastern Europe and Russia. These Jewish immigrants were faced with the grand question of Americanization: "What traditions from my home country do I preserve, and which do I shed to become more 'American'?" Many new immigrants looked to their dinner tables to begin the assimilation process.

Cookbooks printed at this time reveal "...the choices Jewish women made and, at times, the conflicts that they felt as they negotiated the tension between kosher laws and their upwardly mobiles aspirations... As the 20th century marched on, many Jewish women felt comfortable assimilating through the table...It was possible to do this and still remain Jewish in identity, soul and even according to religious law if desired." (1)

In the pages of early 20th-century cookbooks, you can find the Americanization process written in the recipes. Some of the most literal examples come from cookbooks designed to accompany commercial products, many printed in both English and Yiddish. In the Manoschewitz cookbook pictured below, you can find Passover-friendly recipes for Boston Cream Pie with a matzo meal crust and Mock Oatmeal Cookies, made with schmaltz (chicken fat) instead of butter.

The Mock Oatmeal cookies aren’t as bad as they sound, particularly when they are fresh from the oven and made with Russ & Daughters’ schmaltz. For the recipe, head to my blog Four Pounds Flour.

(1) Schenone, Laura. 1,000 Years Over a Hot Stove. W.W. Norton & Company, 2003.

- Posted by Sarah Lohman

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What do peanut butter cookies have to do with the story of Jewish immigration in America?

They're tied to an early 20th century cookbook called The Settlement Cookbook.

"When Mrs. Simon Kantor and Mrs. Henry Schoenfeld originally compiled an array of German Jewish recipes, they intended to create a textbook for use at the Milwaukee Settlement house, which provided cooking classes to newly arrived Jewish immigrants." (1)

This book, published in 1901, includes traditional German and Jewish recipes, like instructions for pickled herring and Passover cookery. But the cookbook also includes American classics such as pumpkin pie, recipes for cooking pork and bacon, and even Chicken Chow Mein, a faddish dish invented around the turn of the century in America’s Chinatowns.

This cookbook had its roots in Americanization and assimilation but also became a compendium of American food and a symbol for the incredible diversity of America’s dinner tables. The book had a staying power beyond the education of new Jewish immigrants. It went through over forty printings and remains the best selling charity cookbook to date.

I own the 27th edition, published 1946, which was a present to my Catholic Grandmother on her wedding day. It is inscribed to her: "With all my love and best wishes in your new cooking ventures."

My mother remembers making peanut butter cookies from this book every Christmas. Baking them for the first time in my own kitchen, I felt a sudden connection to my mother, and I could imagine her as a child working beside my grandmother. Through this act of recreation via baking, I suddenly felt more connected to my family’s history and gained a better understanding of my past.

Try these cookies in your own kitchen; they’re small and crispy and have become a favorite of mine and of my fellow educators at the Tenement Museum.


(1) Schenone, Laura. 1,000 Years Over a Hot Stove. W.W. Norton & Company, 2003.

- Posted by Sarah Lohman

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How to Make Dinner for 15 Cents

Lady Liberty pleads “Give me your tired, your hungry, your poor,” and many immigrants came here because they were starving. Laura Schenone writes in her book A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove, “ the desire and expectation to eat abundantly came to express the very essence of America.”

In the 1870s and 1880s, the world was rapidly industrializing. In rural areas, food was self-produced: poor families relied on vegetable gardens as a staple source of sustenance, and most had some livestock or the ability to hunt and fish. When they immigrated to America, and especially to New York City, they found themselves in fourth floor walk-ups, where water comes from a communal pump and there is no garbage pickup. The kitchen was also a bedroom, laundry room, bathroom and work room. Vegetables had to be bought, not grown, and selecting the best produce from a market was a new skill to learn. An 1877 Scribner’s Monthly described the Lower East Side’s Catherine Market as a “little heap of fish scales… butcher’s offal, and rotting vegetables.”

How do you cook a meal for your family in these conditions? It seems like it would be easy to drown in a world of low quality food, demanding physical labor, and sheer exhaustion. Women had to adapt and learn new ways to feed their families, and they had to completely relearn how to cook.

Enter Juliet Corson, a woman determined to re-teach working class immigrants how to feed their families. Corson was a modest woman who moved to New York with her family at six years old. A sickly child, she spent much of her youth in the house, reading. At 16, she was forced out by an evil stepmother, which left her in a sudden, desperate need for work.

Corson found a job in a library and lived there as well, which helped to stretch her meager wages. This brush with poverty left her determined to help the working class eek out the best existence possible. And she believed that was possible through an overhaul of the dinner table.

“In 1876 she founded the New York Cooking School (at 8 St. Marks place btw 2nd and third), open to rich and poor, charging tuition on a sliding scale so that no one would be turned away.” (Feeding America)

A year later she self-published a pamphlet entitled “Fifteen Cent Dinners for Workingman’s Families.” It laid out a weekly plan totaling $2.63 for a family of six, about $52 in today’s money. Her pamphlet was distributed for free and reprinted in newspaper all across the eastern seaboard. It offered smart, practical advice that also reflected the dinner-table values of a meat-and-potato culture. She emphasized the ability of the working class to afford meat if economy was employed. Offal was encouraged and broth used to cook mutton for an evening meal was to be saved and drunk for breakfast the next morning. The menu is nearly devoid of fresh fruit and vegetables, but she encouraged her readers to spend extra money on bread and milk.

I became very familiar with Miss Corson’s recipes when I tried to live on her economic plan. For one week, I ate every meal on Corson’s menu, which included everything from macaroni and cheese to stewed tripe. If you’d like to read more about my experience eating like a tenement family, swing by my blog Four Pounds Flour.

Stay tuned tomorrow for more on food and immigrants.

- Posted by Sarah Lohman

Friday, September 3, 2010

Photo Database: Back to School

So after a long, hot summer, September is finally here, and it's time for many children to head back to school. If you were growing up in the Lower East Side 80 or 100 years ago, how was it different dusting off the old notebook and pencil and strapping on your school shoes? Our Photo Database held a few interesting answers.

Here's a group of students being led in the ”Pledge of Allegiance” by one of their classmates at a New York City public school. While one female student is pictured holding the American flag, her classmates are saluting her. The teachers of the class are pictured sitting by a chalkboard in the background:

Class pictures were often taken as they are today. Here's P.S. 188 on E. Houston Street, though this depicts an eighth-grade class graduating in January 1912, not starting the school year:

Here's the grammar school class photo (c. 1905) including Sam Jaffe, who was born in 97 Orchard Street in 1891 and eventually became an actor. He was nominated for an Academy Award in 1951.

Looks like children in the past had at least a few, superficial similarities to today. Keep reading through the month to learn more about school and education in immigrant neighborhoods like the Lower East Side.

Best of luck to all of you heading back to school! I am heading back to school myself - thank you for reading this summer! [Editor: Thanks to intern Devin for working on the blog this summer! We're hiring a new volunteer blogging intern this fall, so email check our website for details if you're interested in applying.]

-posted by Devin

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Windows into the Past

Enter the apartments at 97 Orchard Street and you’ll see many objects crammed into these tiny spaces. Some, like toasters, lamps, and vacuums, served practical roles, while others, such as dumb bells and books, represent the interests of specific individuals.

Regardless of their uses, objects in these apartments are more than just furnishings; they can be used to tell stories about daily life in the tenement. With a Coney Island souvenir, we can talk about how immigrant families maintained the cultural traditions of their home country while adopting American customs. By highlighting wallpaper, tablecloths, and other decorative items, we can discuss how tenants made their apartments into homes.

A recent grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is allowing the Museum to rethink the way it uses objects to talk about 97 Orchard Street and the broader history of the Lower East Side.

To kick off the grant, educators explored the apartments and wrote their own “biographies” of objects – imagining what they meant to the people who used them. Below are some of our favorites:

Josephine’s Skippy Jar Lamp

Photo Credit: Keiki Niwa
“Josephine had begged and pleaded and promised perfect behavior to Rosario. She only wanted one thing: to try peanut butter. Peanut butter made you American, made you strong, she reasoned. Rosario protested: too American, unnatural, expensive. But one week in October of 1931, the Home Relief Box contained a surprise – a jar of Skippy! It was the most delicious thing Josephine had ever tasted. She and Johnny ate one huge spoonful each the first day of the jar’s life in 97 Orchard, then carefully made it last until almost April of the next year. Not wanting to get rid of the jar, Josephine asked Rosario if she could use it. Si! She had just been given a kerosene lamp top by a woman at work whose husband made them, but didn’t have anything to use it with. The jar then lit the families’ late night stories, after they’d turned the lights off. The jar got tossed with the move out of 97 though, too much a symbol of sticky times.”

(c) Tenement Museum
Baldizzi’s School Books

“On the kitchen window sill sit books for Johnny and Josephine Baldizzi’s education. The proud parents bought them so their children would not have to use the books that were falling apart in the school. By buying the books, the parents could also have their children do homework and read at home. As Rosario bustles around the kitchen, Johnny and Josephine sit at the desk reading in between numerous distractions.

The primers and normal readers allow the children access to America. Here in the Baldizzi apartment, the school books show everyone the hopes and aspirations that Rosario and Adolfo have for their children. When the children finish, the parents may peruse the books, picking up useful words and phrases. It is a bittersweet moment, though, as they realize all their children will learn and know. The struggle of immigration becomes comprehensible and worthwhile in those fleeting moments – staring at the foreign words on the page.”

Fannie Rogarshevsky’s New Bissell’s Grand Rapid Vacuum

Photo Credit: Keiki Niwa
We imagine Fanny as an amazing housekeeper, but I think of her as a sap for new cleaning innovations. Each week, it’s a new purchase: powder/disinfectant, lino-wash.

"Oh no. The day this came home.

After repeated protestations to Abraham and family that they NEEDED a vacuum, that all of her friends had them (even though her son, Sam was the first to point out they didn’t have a rug), even though Ida said they had a Bissell’s at the factory and it was a piece of junk, the family finally caved.

It cost $65.

When it arrived, everyone crowded around it. Fanny had just cleaned, so there was nothing to vacuum up. “What are we going to do?” they all cried. A piece of bread was summoned. But it wasn’t stale enough. So they toasted it for a while so they could crumble it on the floor.

A pause.

A roll over the crumbs.

And the crumbs remain.

“It must have a switch wrong somewhere…” Hours disassembling and reassembling the Bissell. The crumbs remain. Finally, Fanny cleans them up with a wet rag, just as she always has done."

Rogarshevsky Family Toaster

Photo Credit: Keiki Niwa
“Hanging on the wall above the stove in the Rogarshevsky apartment is a metal circle with holes in the bottom and four wire sides that connect to form a base. People often ask about this object, which I have imagined to be a toaster. I imagine that this wasn’t a very expensive item. It could probably be purchased in a 'hardware' store, some place that sold metal items. Perhaps it was something made locally and sold everywhere. It doesn’t seem important enough to bring from the home country.

Because it’s a rather small object, I don’t imagine the neighbors having much interest. Maybe one of the other women in this building suggested that Fannie should purchase a toaster. Maybe it was seen as a time saver. Maybe the same woman suggested which shop or peddler had the best price.

It’s not a special object. It’s not something to be passed on from one generation to the next. Perhaps for this family it meant that they were settling in to their new American lives and schedules.”

Natalie Gumpertz’s Clock

(c) Tenement Museum
"Natalie was beside herself as she watched from the carriage her home fade into the distance. She had sold all her belongings in the past days and now had enough money for her journey to America.

In America, Natalie felt scared, but she was getting more accustomed to life here every day. Her neighbors all spoke German, although many didn’t speak her dialect. Mr. Glockner’s wife was Prussian and had a close friend, who introduced her to some young men, potential suitors, although she was staying with her cousin and didn’t have much room to herself. She enjoyed shopping and thinking about a home for herself.

She walked by William’s Clockworks that week and something caught her eye. It was a clock, a clock that reminded her of her grandmother’s home in Prussia. As the wave of nostalgia passed over her, she knew she had to buy it. She took out her small savings and went into the store.

For years Natalie had kept the clock inside her suitcase covered in cloth. But today was the day she would take it out. She and Julius had just married, and Mr. Glockner had an apartment in his building for them. Finally, a home."

What’s your favorite object from 97 Orchard Street? Share your own object biography with our readers.

-posted by Shana Weinberg

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ask a Curator

It's Ask a Curator Day on Twitter! Visit your Twitter account or and search for the hashtag #askacurator. You'll be able to see questions by Twitter users and answers from museums around the world about just about everything. Log on to your Twitter account to ask a question yourself. Museum curators are on call in their libraries awaiting your queries. See our curatorial director Dave*:

So, ask anything that comes to your mind! Want to know what we love about museum work, or what we loathe? Want to know how to keep moths out of your textile collection? Curious about child labor and the National Consumer's League? Ask away! Just remember that our answers have to be shorter than 140 characters...

*Disclaimer: Dave Favaloro does not really smoke or condone smoking and our collections manager does not actually allow smoking inside the museum library.