Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Great Gifts: American Girl Doll

Okay, we don't actually sell American Girl Dolls at the Tenement Museum Shop. But Rebecca Rubin (left) was sort of inspired by the Museum. She's the daughter of immigrants who confronts a whole host of growing-up issues in 1910s New York. She has to introduce her cousin, who's come straight from Russia, to American ways and help her learn English for school. There's the trip to Coney Island and a stint in silent film. And then there's this, from Changes for Rebecca:

"Rebecca goes to the factory where Ana's brother and father work, and she's horrified at the terrible conditions, but she knows the workers desperately need their jobs."

Straight from the Piecing it Together tour!

And just look at these teeny buttoned boots - adorable! Who can resist?

And her lunch set comes with a bagel, a pickle, and some rugalach!

- Posted by Kate

Monday, November 29, 2010

Great Gifts: Posters for the Irish

Looking for the perfect gift this holiday season? Stop by the museum shop at 108 Orchard! It's filled with a ton of cool items for everyone on your list: kids, history buffs, New York lovers, and even that person who's always hard to buy for. Check out 30 gifts under $30 right here.

The following are a few of my favorites and a quick look at some of the great merchandise we have at the shop.

I have grandmothers from Ireland on both sides of my family so I've always been intrigued by this poster. During the early days of Irish immigration to New York City, Irish men and women weren't always welcomed so warmly. This poster is meant to represent the old signs that may have adorned storefronts in New York, warning the Irish to stay away.

And of course, while an "Irish Need Not Apply" sign raises a lot of great questions, you'll have to get something to show your true feelings too. Don't worry. We've got you covered.

Stop by the shop at 108 Orchard Street or visit online to check out both posters and other great gift ideas!

- Posted by Joe Klarl

Friday, November 26, 2010

Great Gifts: "Low Life" by Luc Sante

On this Black Friday, our museum shop at 108 Orchard is a frenzy of sales and shoppers looking for the perfect gift. They're no doubt hunting for our favorite 30 under $30 (found right here), a list of great gift items. Having looked around the shop a bit during my time at the Tenement Museum, I have my own personal favorites.

Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York by Luc Sante might not immediately bring holiday cheer to mind, but it is an absolutely fascinating read. Sante's version of New York's history is an incredibly well-researched, honest portrayal in which he brings the past to life like a work of great fiction. Bowery thugs, robber barons, the slums of Hell's Hundred Acres - you won't believe this stuff. Even Sante's introduction is packed with more great info than most other New York history books combined.

I love this book. I've read it and I've reread it and I've read it again. When I highlighted it in an article for my school newspaper a year ago, I wrote that "Sante, like an archeologist, digs at the earth of the city to find its early remnants, uncovering its most primal truths and motivations. In true New York fashion, he goes straight for the dirt." I still think that nothing captures the spirit of New York and its roots quite like this book, so do a favor for your loved ones this holiday season and get them Low Life ($17).

And remember, your Museum Shop purchases benefit the programs at the Tenement Museum! (Unlike shopping at Amazon, which benefits... Amazon's shareholders.)

So stop by the shop at 108 Orchard Street or visit online to check out Low Life and other great gift ideas!

- Posted by Joe

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Photo of the Day

Photo by Amy Neiman, 7/2010
Photo by asneiman

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tonight at Tenement Talks: Comedy with a Serious Side

If you’ve visited the Tenement Museum, you may have been lucky enough to enjoy a tour led by Raj Varma. Raj moved to the States from New Zealand a few years ago. By day, he is one of our spirited and knowledgeable educators, helping visitors explore the history of 97 Orchard and the streets of the Lower East Side. By night, Raj is still exploring the story of immigration, but through a very different media. Raj is the co-writer and soul actor in New York’s showing of D’Arranged Marriage a comedy about Sanjay, a young man of Indian descent living in New Zealand who faces a pending arranged marriage. Raj plays all eight characters in the show, which is currently at the Triad. Tonight, those of you attending Tenement Talks will get to see Raj in action as he performs parts of the show for us.

Checking out clips of  D'Arranged Marriage proves that this week's program is sure to be a lot of laughs, but many of the themes—generation gaps, culture clashes, ambition, community, family and belonging—are similar to those we explore here at the museum. Raj told me a little about how his work at the museum, his comedy, and even his personal story relate.

I wanted to know if he saw any parallels between the characters of D'Arranged Marriage and the people whose lives are represented at the Tenement Museum:

We got serious about comedy and Raj talked about the role artists and other members of the entertainment community play in breaking through stereotypes and prejudices:

I know D’Arranged Marriage is going to be a lot of fun. Moreover, I expect we'll get some insight into more recent waves and experiences of immigration. I hope to see you there!

Join us tonight at 6:30 pm at 108 Orchard Street. Doors open at 6:00 pm. As usual, this Tenement Talk is free and open to the public.

- Posted by Julia with special thanks to Joe Klarl

Monday, November 22, 2010

From Russia with Love: A 1st Generation Cobbler and a 3rd Generation Educator

Erik Shoemaker spends most of his day behind the counter of his tiny shop on Grand Street, surrounded by boxes of shoes, jars of polish, hammers, buffers, and every tool needed to fix shoes no matter how tattered and broken. Erik moved to New York City from Russia when he was a teenager, and he quickly learned his family's trade. When he opened Erik Shoe Repair twenty-four years ago, he became a third-generation cobbler.
Erik repairing shoes at his Lower East Side store.
Erik and his family decided to leave Russia with a simple goal: to have a better life. After staying in Israel, they arrived in New York City in the 1980s. For him, the adjustment was fairly easy, because he could practice Judaism.

"You go freely to pray and wear a yarmulke without worrying," he says, comparing the US to his homeland. "It was the time of communism in Russia," and most religious practices were banned.

His faith is what brought him to the Lower East Side. When he first arrived in New York City, he learned to repair shoes with his brother-in-law on Fourteenth Street. He decided to open his shop further downtown because it was a predominately Jewish neighborhood at the time. He was able to speak Hebrew while he was learning English.

Erik has seen the Lower East Side change frequently and suddenly over the years. His Jewish community started moving to Queens and Long Island. Then there was a larger wave of Chinese immigrants. Lately, his customers have been mainly Americans and Europeans from the East Village, who he calls "the village people" with a slight smile. Despite all the changes, Erik still likes working in the neighborhood. "It's quiet," he says.

And Erik is certainly well known around here. In 2007, New York Magazine named him the best shoe repair shop in the Lower East Side. His award is proudly displayed on his door. He says he won because he's "fast, and I do a good job." How fast? The article says that Erik once did a reheeling job while a taxi idled on the sidewalk.

Back at the museum, Kathryn Lloyd, an educator who has led all of the Tenement Museum's building and neighborhood tours, also has a history deeply rooted in Eastern Europe and the Lower East Side, though hers begins with her great grandparents. Listen as she discusses how her family directly influenced her career as an educator and the way in which she approaches the hardships of immigration, past and present.

Want to know more about Russian and other Eastern European immigrants on the Lower East Side? Get the details on The Moores: An Irish Family in America, in which the title family is compared to the Russian-Jewish Katz family, or the tour Kathryn says is closest to her own family's history - Piecing It Together - here.

- Article by Kiley Edgley and Joe Klarl

And the Artifact is...

Did you guess the true use of the artifact from Friday?

This old gadget is actually a rotary knife sharpener!

A knife sharpener like this one would have been used in the Israel Lustgarten butcher shop at 97 Orchard Street during the 1890s, which will be featured in our upcoming business exhibition. The end would have been nailed onto a counter top or workspace. Then, a butcher would simply line a knife up to the sturdy metal wheel and rotate the hand crank on the opposite side. Finally, the wheel would grind into the butcher's blade to insure it was sharp and effective.

Make sure to check back on Friday to guess our next mystery artifact!

-Posted by Joe Klarl

Friday, November 19, 2010

Can You Guess the Artifact?

While looking through all of the potential artifacts we can display at our new business exhibit, some are just bound to get more attention than others. I'm happy to say the mystery object this week was a favorite among the Tenement Museum staff.

What do you think it is?

Get a good look at this one before taking your guess.

I'll give you a hint: This rusty gem is sharp and has a hand crank.

Tell us what you think and find out on Monday if you're right!

-Posted by Joe Klarl

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Questions for Curatorial: Crime on the Lower East Side

Curatorial Director Dave answers your questions. 

Did theft increase at the end of the 19th century when there was an increase in the number of people living at 97 Orchard Street? Were there locks on the doors at any point?

No, there is no evidence to indicate that an increase in residential density at 97 Orchard Street, from 72 individuals in 1870 to 110 in 1900, had any impact on the incidence of theft or other crime.

Based upon the available evidence, the front door of 97 Orchard Street was probably not locked. Describing his travels among the tenements of the Lower East Side, turn-of-the-century reformer Jacob Riis found unlocked tenement front doors opening onto a “hall that is a highway for all the world by night and by day is the tenement’s proper badge. The Other Half ever receives with open doors.”

The front doors of the residential apartments at 97 Orchard Street are not believed to have had locks during the period between 1863 and 1935 when the building was inhabited. Museum researchers are not certain, but the locks currently on the 2nd floor ruin apartments were likely installed some time after 1935 when 97 Orchard Street closed as a residence, since the lock is unlike others at 97 Orchard Street.

Museum researchers know of few crimes committed at 97 Orchard Street between 1863 and 1935. However, in the 1894 Report and Proceedings of the Senate on the Investigation of the Police Department of the City of New York, a note appeared indicating the 97 Orchard Street was the site of “policy and gambling.” Unfortunately, the Report does not specify who was responsible for this gambling operation.

Nevertheless, evidence suggests that the incidence of prostitution, crime, and gang activity on the Lower East Side during the late 19th and early 20th centuries was high.

Prostitution was a pervasive part of immigrant life on the Lower East Side. Located one-block west of Orchard Street, Allen Street stood as the neighborhood’s most notorious thoroughfare of commercial sex. There, most prostitution took place in tenements. During the 1890s, for example, one observer remarked that in “broad day light you can see them [prostitutes] at their windows and calling to passers by at night. They are so vulgar in front of their houses that any respectable person cannot pass without being insulted by them.” Another resident lamented that neighborhood women could not walk the street after dark “without becoming a victim to the because of the paramours who hang around corners awaiting the proceeds of their concubines.” For most, there was little recourse. “It is useless to appeal to the police,” decried another resident, “as the very men who are sent out in citizen clothes stand and talk with them and go in saloons and drink with them.”

Criminal activity in the form of robbery and extortion was also common on the Lower East Side during the early twentieth century. One resident remembered that, “Horse poisoning was a big problem. They were called the Jewish Black Hand. They were a bad bunch of people. They wanted tribute, a dollar a month for your horse. If you had ten horses, they wanted ten dollars a month or they poisoned your horses.” Another resident found an Italian gang also known as the Black Hand particularly menacing. In later years he remembered, “It was very tough around Avenue D. You couldn’t walk through there...they were Italians. They’d show you a knife. ‘Give me your money or I’ll kill you.’”

On December 8, 1891, an article appeared in the New York Times describing a incident of theft on Orchard Street. According to the article, burglars stole the Torah scrolls out of a synagogue at 91 Delancey, when the 3 men saw a police patrolman in front of 105 Orchard Street, they threw the Torah scrolls under a truck and ran away. The article doesn’t mention if they were caught, but the scrolls were returned to the President of the congregation, Mogan Abraham Ansche Ostrolenko.

Several years earlier in July of 1882, the New York Times reported an attempted murder-suicide at 106 Orchard Street. The incident, according to the Times, involved Mr. Martin Hoernlein and his wife, a “German couple well advanced in years.” Apparently, Mr. Hoernlein, who had a history of mental illness, cut his wife’s throat before attempting to cut his own. Although their wounds were “of a serious nature,” they were not fatal. Both husband and wife appear to have survived.

Murder and rape, however, were far less common on the Lower East Side at the turn of the twentieth century. While many local criminals stole handbags and lifted watches, violent crimes were rare, especially in the predominantly Jewish tenth ward. “East Side Jews are the most peaceful people I have ever come in contact with,” observed James Reynolds of the University Settlement. Historian Jenna Weissman Joselit writes, “…on those occasions when Jews were indicted for murder, the Jewish community was simply astounded and found the association between Jews and violence to be ‘without precedent…in the whole course of Jewish history.’”

When violence did occur, it was often rooted in ethnic tension and conflict. Youth gangs frequently battled over territory in their respective parts of the Lower East Side. One resident recalled that, “We had fights galore, the Italians and the Jews. They called us kikes and we called the wops. The Italians lived on one side of the bridge, and the Jews lived on the other side. There were terrific battles with stones and bottles, broken heads...”

While prostitution, robbery and extortion, murder and rape, and gang violence played a role in the daily lives of Lower East Siders during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, residents were much less likely to come to harm than outsiders. Lower East Siders better understood the unwritten geography and social order of the neighborhood—which areas to steer clear of, which people to avoid. Indeed, residents of the neighborhood during the 1920s and 1930s remembered a general feeling of safety when walking the streets at night. Knowing where not to venture and who not to cross no doubt mitigated residents’ likelihood of falling prey to crime and violence.

Do you have a question for Dave? Email us.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Our Neighbor on Broome Street

THIRTEEN / WNET has a web series called City Concealed, in which they visit lesser-known New York landmarks. Their latest video concerns the Kehila Kedosha Janina synagogue here on Broome Street. Since 1927, the temple has been the spiritual home of the Lower East Side's Romaniote Jews, who came from the town of Ioannina (Yanina / Janina) in Greece. Neither Ashkenazi not Sephardic, this group has their own language and cultural traditions, although they worship in much the same way that all Jews do.

My favorite part of the video comes as the congregation members are discussing the foods of their culture, naming them one by one. As they get to fasolia, which someone says means "beans," congregation member Jerry Pardo interjects his own very personal memory of the dish:

"Fasolia's not just beans. Fasolia is your mother in the kitchen, five o'clock in the morning, Friday morning, with a cigarette hanging outta her mouth, and the beans are on the stove. They're simmering, and they're simmering, and they're simmering, and they're simmering, and there's pieces of lamb in it - the one that your father sucks the middle out of it, the marrow."

This dish isn't just some pot of beans - it embodies his mother's labor and love, her devotion to her culture and her family, and the special work she put into the weekly Sabbath meal.

The City Concealed: Kehila Kedosha Janina from Thirteen.org on Vimeo.

The synagogue is open for services and also open Sundays for guided tours of their small museum. Check it out next time you're in the neighborhood.

- Posted by Kate

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Books on the Bowery

The Bowery has a long and celebrated history. Known as one of the greatest entertainment capitals in the country, this American street has inspired countless authors and historians. Tonight, November 16, David Mulkins, the co-founder and chair of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, joins Tenement Talks to discuss the rich and diverse history of the Bowery (6:30 pm, 108 Orchard Street).

Can’t make the Talk? Read about the present-day Bowery on Bowery Boogie, our co-sponsor for the evening's event, or pick up some of the following books, favorites of both Tenement Talks and the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors.

Banished Children of Eve by Peter Quinn
Set in New York during the Civil War years, this historical fiction traces stories of immigration, gangs, prostitution, performers, war, draft riots, strikes, and racism. Using these issues as a backdrop, Quinn follows the intertwining experiences of common New Yorkers, such as minstrel actors, soldiers, and domestic servants, while emphasizing the lives of Irish Catholic immigrants in the city.

Low Life by Luc Santé
This social history focuses on the messy underbelly of New York City from the 1840s up until World War II. From opium dens to the Bowery’s suicide saloons, Santé illuminates the disease, crime, and corruption that erupted in post-industrial Manhattan.

Five Points by Tyler Anbinder
Anbinder illustrates the history of Five Points, a neighborhood exists today only as a commemorative plaque in Columbus Park. At its height, Five Points was home to more riots, prostitution, corruption, and drunkenness than any neighborhood in America. Anbinder uses letters, bank records, newspapers, and diaries to piece together the slum's history.

The Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury
This book is an anthropological study in its own right. Written in 1928, Asbury examines the 19th-century history of the Bowery and Five Points. Asbury describes colorful criminals and gangs that ran rampant in the neighborhood at that time. Like the other books on this list, The Gangs of New York explores the more grisly history of New York City.

No Applause, Just Throw Money by Trav S.D
While some critics view vaudeville as crude, Trav S.D. argues that it was “the heart of American show business” in the years of 1881 to 1932. The author follows the cultural history of vaudeville, including matters of diversity and race in the theater.

- Posted by Alana Rosen

Monday, November 15, 2010

And the Artifact is...

On Friday, we asked you to guess what this artifact is:


Once it's opened up, it's easy to see that it's actually a foldable clothes hanger. Could you tell?

Here it is unfolded:
A century ago, these practical devices were typically used in trunks aboard steamships to America (though it's doubtful that the poorer immigrants to America would have had access to them).

Of course, hangers similar to this aren't odd today. You can find plenty of different collapsible clothes hanger designs on sale, typically made of plastic but otherwise very similar to our artifact.

Remember to check back Friday for another chance to guess the artifact.

-Posted by Joe Klarl

Friday, November 12, 2010

Can You Guess the Artifact?

While rummaging through the museum's collection for our upcoming exhibit, we found another cool artifact for you this week. Take a look:

This shiny metal object is surprisingly compact and might come in handy even today.

What do you think it is? Let us know your guess, and check back Monday for the answer!

-Posted by Joe Klarl

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Snapshot - A Recap

Saturday we hosted Snapshot! A Tenement Museum Photo Event at 97 Orchard Street. Forty-one folks joined us for coffee, apple cider, and donuts, then spread out inside the tenement to see the apartments and take as many photographs as they wanted.

We had a great crowd, a mix of serious amateur photographers and those who just wanted to see the entire building at their own pace. I loved talking to an entire extended family of women - from grandmothers & great-aunts down to tween granddaughters - who decided to spend the day together on the Lower East Side. Everyone was curious about the families represented in our restored spaces and about the building's history.

First we welcomed our visitors in 97 Orchard's parlor. Pedro gave a quick background on the building's history and the families whose apartments we've restored.

Then we let our visitors loose to wander the halls.

You can see some of the amazing photographs that our Snapshot participants took by visiting our Flickr Group.

Special thanks to our refreshments sponsors for this event, Red Jacket Orchards, Roasting Plant, and Doughnut Plant. Yum!!

If you missed out on this Snapshot! or the one back in July, never fear - we'll be hosting another event (or two) in the spring. We love the vibe of this program; interacting with so many lovely, enthusiastic people just makes our day. If you're curious as to why we decided to give this event a shot in the first place, read this blog post by Nina Simon, where she encourages museums to open themselves up to photography. While we still don't think allowing photography on our tours is the right move for us, we're happy to be able to open the museum up now and again for people to experience it through their camera lenses.

- Posted by Kate

Wednesday, November 10, 2010