Thursday, February 24, 2011

Visitors of the Week: Steve and Linda Pautz from Norfolk, Virginia

We're always looking to learn about the many, diverse visitors who stop by the Tenement Museum each week. Planning a visit? Send us an email to be our next Visitor of the Week.

Our latest Visitors of the Week come to us from Norfolk, Virginia. Steve and Linda Pautz demonstrate that you can take a person out of New York, but you can’t take New York out of a person. After uprooting from New York City in the mid-1970s, the couple relocated to Virginia. Visiting the Tenement Museum has the Pautzes reminiscing on their own histories here in the Lower East Side.

Steve: We like the TV show “Cash Cab” on the Discovery Channel. It’s a game show in a cab. We were watching it, and a customer got in the cab and said ‘take me to the Tenement Museum.’ We had never heard of the museum before that, but my parents both grew up in tenements. My Dad went to Seward Park High School, which is just a couple of blocks away from here. This is where my roots are, so to speak.

Did you see any connections in our tenement versus the spaces that you remember from your childhood?

S: Absolutely. Not only do I remember parts of the tenement building itself, but we also used to shop here on Orchard Street.

Linda: My mother and I used to come down here when I was growing up. She’d do all her big shopping on Orchard because back then it was mostly run by local Jewish people. They were wonderful storekeepers, and they also had a great tradition. If you were the first customer of the day they had to make that sale. If they didn’t it was bad luck for the rest of the day. My mother knew that, and she would be camping out at the storefront. She was usually shopping for ladies’ undergarments. She would argue and say, “No, I’m not paying you $10, I’ll give you $5.” When they declined she’d take her things and leave, but then they would drag her back in and say, “Okay, we’ll give it to you for $5.”

Has it changed a lot from what you remember?

L: You know, it has and it hasn’t. It doesn’t look all that different.

S: As the neighborhood has changed from different groups moving in – German, Jewish, Latino, and etcetera, we come back to the city fairly often and see that things have changed but at heart it’s still the same.

Definitely. So which tour did you go on today?

L: “Getting By.” It was great.

S: A lot of the stories from the Italian family are ones that my wife remembers hearing from her grandmother growing up.

L: And just even the photos up in the apartments. Our Lady of Mount Carmel was very popular in Italy, and they would have a feast as they now have throughout the city of New York. I remember going to that and enjoying all of the wonderful food. My mother came from a small town in Italy where they celebrated, so it brought back lots of memories.

S: And my family is German, so…

How funny. Considering both groups are represented in that tour, that’s quite a coincidence. Do you have any other plans while you’re in town?

L: We’re seeing some plays. We’re seeing “Memphis” tonight, and we saw “The Addams Family” last night, which was fun.

Posted by Amy Ganser

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What is in a Photograph?: Educator Jason Eisner on the Past and Present Program

During the dialogue component of the Past & Present (P&P) program, where we share, bring to life, and re-examine our memories, we frequently use a space in our historical Tenement informally known as “the parlor.”  Three decades ago, “the parlor” space was a storefront. Generations before that it served as an apartment -- a home to countless numbers of immigrant families. Walls were removed and painted innumerable times, locks were changed, plumbing and electricity installed, but being in this parlor you might think it had originally been designed as a communal meeting place.
The tables in the parlor are akin to the kind my grandmother had (tin topped with enamel-ized patterns and faux wood gaining), lined end to end like a banquet, and the chairs are all mismatched. There is a sense of collective memory in this parlor. Framed old photographs line the pink painted walls. 
I return time and again to the photographs on the wall -- images of people and times long gone but ever present. There are moments where discussions in the parlor heat up and the exchanging of memories provokes debate. Silently bearing witness to these rich dialogues are those people depicted and framed on the wall.
“Who are they? Where did they live and what did they do? Who took the picture -- A parent? A lover? A stranger? What became of them? And what was their story?” These are questions I have about the pictures, and in the quiet moments when I am cleaning the parlor at the end of our discussions, I am haunted by the idea that perhaps the people in the photographs are asking the same questions about us.
Photographs, like history, are slippery when you begin to look more closely. The stories they tell or conceal are not static; rather they are alive and fluid. We all have a collection of photographs and those images serve as a record of our memory. These pictures punctuate the stories we tell of our families and our history, but they may be suggesting an alternative narrative. Dare we look closer and ask of those silent mouths and far away eyes?
At two points during the tour portion of the P&P program, we share photographs of the families whose stories we tell: Natalie Gumpertz and Josephine Baldizzi. If we engage with the pictures of these women, we can more personally connect to their life.
Natalie Gumpertz is depicted wearing an elaborate Victorian style shirtwaist. As a dressmaker herself, did she make the garment she is wearing for the photo? Would this be a garment she would wear for only special occasions? Rather than looking directly at the camera, she is looking slightly to the right. Was she instructed to do this?  Or perhaps she was frightened by the photographic process? Her eyes do not betray a sense of fear. Could she have brought one of her children with her and was focusing her attention on what they were doing beyond the lens of the camera? And it looks as though she might speak, her lips caught between smile and austerity. Could Natalie be about to tell us her last memory of her husband before he vanished from her life?
Josephine and Johnny Baldizzi

And there’s Josephine on the roof with her brother Johnny- she in her summer dress, and he in his sailor suit. Are these clothes that they only wore on special occasions? Why is Josephine sitting in the picture while Johnny is standing? Was she taller than he? Is this a composition Adolfo (their father and presumed photographer) was responsible for? Was Josephine happy about the composition -- her head is turned away slightly, but her gaze is fixed on the camera. She is almost scowling! Did her father have strong words with her about her protest?

Ultimately we will never know the answers, but if we open ourselves up to the inner drama of the picture, we are overtaken by it.

Likewise, by engaging history through the filter of the families who endured it, we intimately connect to the past. The P&P program allows us to expand this connection and to add our personal narratives to it. In the process is the discovery that we are not very different from people who lived one hundred fifty years ago; immigrants from Germany, Russia, Italy, or China who worked through hardship and who suffered, who lost and found jobs just as they gave birth to and lost children, who lived and loved, argued and made amends, and died in rooms.

There are revelations along the way, old myths and preconceptions shattered, and all of this because we dare to ask questions of our past. It is challenging but essential work in continuing the search for identity. For encouragement, I take heart in the words of a German immigrant whose picture I used to have on my refrigerator -- he was standing on the streets of New York sticking his tongue out at the camera: “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning.” --Albert Einstein

     - Posted by Jason Eisner, Tenement Museum Educator

Questions for Curatorial - Material for Dresses

What material would the dress in the Levine family apartment have been made out of in the 1890s? How did this material differ from the material that would have been used for ready-made clothing purchased by working-class Lower East Siders?

The dress on display in the Levine apartment is a replica of a dress featured on the “Only Woman’s Page” of the New York Daily Tribune in June of 1898 (clothing was manufactured in advance of the season). The dress featured was made of organdy, the sheerest cloth manufactured from cotton, over a pink silk lining. Dresses purchased by immigrant working women on the Lower East Side were inexpensive versions of elegant, high-fashion design such as this.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Jewish Daily Forward on the Lower East Side: An Educator's Perspective

The Rogarshevsky apartment on our popular "Piecing It Together" tour takes our visitors into the Jewish Lower East Side of 1911. The family of eight, crowded into 325 square feet, likely spent most of their daytime hours at work or on the street. It's very likely that on occasion they might have found themselves on East Broadway by Essex Street. This is why a new object from that very location, a Jewish Daily Forward newspaper, has recently been added to the Rogarshevsky apartment; it illuminates the larger atmosphere of the Lower East Side at that time. Today this intersection looks very different than in 1911, but still possesses a hint of the energy that once pulsed there.

Image of the Jewish Daily Forward
Photo courtesy of

Just a few short blocks from 97 Orchard Street stands a majestic condominium building that faces Seward Park and the Seward Park Library. This triangular intersection is mostly quiet, except for the occasional taxicab or idling bus. Little does the average passerby realize that this intersection, so quiet and inconspicuous today, used to be bursting with fervent and empowering energy. With opinionated individuals, young and old, speaking their minds from a soapbox in Rutgers Square—where you might have even found a local intellectual celebrity like Emma Goldman or Eugene Debs debating the best course of action for Lower East Siders and the nation. And that majestic condo? The quiet and elegant bas-relief of Engels, Marx, Liebknecht and Lassalle engraved on the facade belies its former resident. This condo was originally home to the Jewish Daily Forward, the most influential voice in the early 20th century Yiddish-speaking East European Jewish community.

Founded by dissidents in April of 1897, the Forward became the source for information serving the working-class Yiddish-speaking population. The fifty socialists who served as the backbone for the paper were well aware, to lean on a later colloquialism, that the personal was political. Marginalized for their class status, their religion, their ethnicity, their immigrant status and most of all, for their language, the Yiddish-speaking population in the Lower East Side was most likely thought of as a backwards nuisance by uptown folks, if they were thought of at all. Out of this dismissal and disregard came a fierce drive for the community to pull itself up from within. Unlike most Victorian communities, the radical environment surrounding the Forward embraced all members of the community–women and men, young and old. In a world where conventional power eluded them, the community surrounding the Forward became a force to be reckoned with by organizing, through and around the newspaper as well as through unions and associations. These protests, walk-outs, and political actions would eventually profoundly influence New York City and the United States. Its contributors—both the professional writers and the readers who sent their letters and questions–debated the contours of American freedom and idealism and developed a strong social consciousness that advocated for many of the social protections and conventions that we take for granted today.

It's thrilling for a Tenement Museum Educator such as me to see a reproduced copy of the Forward lying on Bessie and Ida's cot in the Rogarshevsky dwelling. To me, it is a loud testament to the clatter of social action and a worthy struggle that is impossible to ignore. New York City has a proud history of civic engagement and empowerment for its citizens, but it is not there to be passively received. The Forward, folded politely on broadsheet paper, is a call to arms to the modern citizen; a reminder that no matter how oppressed you feel or how seemingly insurmountable the injustice that surrounds you, a strong and unified community can demand attention and change. It happened then. It can happen today.

--Posted by Emily Gallagher

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Jewish Daily Forward and the Daily Lives of the Rogarshevsky Family: Guest Post by Tony Michels -- Part II

Thanks to an NEH grant, scholar Tony Michels is advising the Tenement Museum on how we can use objects to tell stories in the Rogarshevsky family apartment. He'll be at Tenement Talks on February 17 at 6:30 pm. Here is the second in a two-part essay on how artifacts pertaining to the media have been used in the exhibit.

Image of Jewish Daily Forward headline from May 18, 1903
Courtesy of Yeshiva Institute for Jewish Research
The Forverts can also be used to reveal other aspects of immigrant Jewish life. The newspaper’s name itself provides a telling starting point. Many Yiddish readers would have noticed that “forverts” is not a Yiddish word, but a Yiddish adaptation of the German word for “forward.” This choice reflects the significant influence of German socialists (mostly Gentiles) who lived on the Lower East Side in large numbers at the time eastern European Jews began arriving during the 1870s and 1880s. In labor lyceums, saloons (perhaps even the one located at the bottom of 97 Orchard between the years 1863 and 1886), and in other places, German and Russian Jewish radicals interacted with one another. Germans exercised a formative influence on Jewish socialists, such as Abraham Cahan, who went on to become the Forverts’ editor. They offered Cahan and his colleagues (who knew little of Karl Marx and his ideas before settling on the Lower East Side) ideological tutelage, financial aid, and practical assistance in getting the Jewish labor movement off the ground. Thus, when Jewish socialists chose Germany’s Vorwarts, the leading socialist newspaper in all of Europe, as their namesake, they paid tribute to their German mentors. The Rogarshevsky family surely knew little, if anything, of this German-Jewish alliance. They arrived on the scene in a later period, when Germans had all but left the Lower East Side for other parts of New York. Nonetheless, the Forverts represents its concrete legacy.

Rogarshevsky Family
Courtesy of Tenement Museum Photo Archives

The Forverts encapsulates another important cultural development that might seem unremarkable today, but was of profound importance a century ago: the creation of Yiddish newspaper readers. At the time of the Forverts’ birth in 1897, virtually no immigrant had read a Yiddish newspaper in the old country. Censorship in the Russian Empire, where the Rogarshevskys (along with most immigrant Jews) originated, prevented the publication of Yiddish newspapers until the early 1900s. Even with the easing of censorship following the 1905 revolution, a full-fledged Yiddish newspaper market took some time to develop. The Rogarshevskys probably had never seen a Yiddish newspaper or, at least, were not regular newspapers readers in Russia. When they arrived in New York, however, the Rogarshevskys discovered a thriving Yiddish newspaper market, in which a wide variety of Yiddish newspapers were sold in newsstands and read virtually everywhere: in cafes, in places of work, on park benches, at home, and so on. And if somebody did not have sufficient literacy—as was common among older women, for instance—that person nonetheless had opportunities to hear newspapers read aloud. In the Rogarshevsky household, the father or one of the children probably read the newspaper to other members of the family on a regular basis.

Newspapers had the effect of broadening the mental horizons of immigrants. The Forverts, for instance, not only provided news (often quite sensationalistic) from near and far, but also published fiction and poetry, educational articles on history and science, and gave practical advice that helped readers navigate difficult moral and ethical problems pertaining to daily life. Learning how to read the Forverts and other Yiddish newspapers often proved difficult. Immigrants encountered much unfamiliar vocabulary regarding unfamiliar subjects. Nonetheless, hundreds of thousands of immigrants learned how to read newspapers—often with the help of friends and relatives who had arrived earlier—and, in the process, became Americanized, albeit through the Yiddish language. An American innovation, the Forverts offers a glimpse into this complicated Americanization process.

In short, the Forverts provides a crucial piece of the Rogarshevskys’ life, connecting it to the larger immigrant Jewish experience as it unfolded beyond the four walls of 97 Orchard.

The Jewish Daily Forward and the Daily Lives of the Rogarshevsky Family: Guest Post by Tony Michels -- Part I

Thanks to an NEH grant, scholar Tony Michels is advising the Tenement Museum on how we can use objects to tell stories in the Rogarshevsky family apartment. He'll be at Tenement Talks on February 17 at 6:30 pm. Here is the first in a two-part essay on how artifacts pertaining to the media have been used in the exhibit.

“Piecing It Together” vividly reconstructs the domestic life of the Rogarshevsky family, but how might we connect the Rogarshevsky domicile to the larger public arena? I raise this question because immigrant Jews spent much of their free time outside of their apartments: in parks and squares, on street corners, in cafes, and in other public and semi-public places. Unfortunately, few of those places still exist or, if they do they reveal few traces of past events. Rutgers Square, now named Strauss Square, used to be a gathering spot for young Jewish radicals, who congregated there nearly every day to discuss and argue issues of the day, but the square today gives no indication of this past. Linking the public and private realms thus presents a challenge, though not an insurmountable one.

A simple artifact—the Yiddish daily Forverts—can be used to connect the Rogarshevsky apartment to the world outside. We do not know for sure whether the Rogarshevskys read the Forverts. They could choose from no less than five Yiddish dailies during their years living at 97 Orchard. Nonetheless, we can reasonably surmise that at least one person in the Rogarshevsky family read the Forverts. This is because the Forverts was the most popular Yiddish newspaper in the United States, indeed the world. With a circulation topping 200,000 in 1917, the Forverts sold more than twice the number of copies than did its closest Yiddish competitor. Furthermore, the Forverts was not just a newspaper in an ordinary sense, but a force within immigrant public life. Its writers and editors played leading roles in Jewish communal affairs, the Jewish labor movement, New York City politics, and the American socialist movement as a whole. If an immigrant wanted to keep abreast of current events, he or she most likely turned to the Forverts (though not necessarily to the exclusion of other newspapers). Even immigrants who considered themselves traditional, religious Jews read the Forverts because they saw no contradiction between its socialist viewpoint and their Judaism. Religious articles of the kind seen in the Rogarshevsky apartment and the Forverts often shared space in a single household.

The Bintel Brief, a Yiddish advice column, began in 1906. Bintel means "bundle" and brief  means letter.
Courtesy of The Bintel Brief

Many of the events covered by the Forverts had to do with labor movement. An avowedly socialist newspaper, the Forverts’ masthead declared: “Workers of the world unite! The liberation of the working class is the task of the workers themselves!” The Forverts published countless articles on strikes, consumer boycotts, demonstrations, parades, and debates: all frequent occurrences on the streets of the Lower East Side. The newspaper did not merely report on events; it served as a tribune of the Jewish working class. Take the Forverts’ response to the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire as an example. On the day following that terrible incident, the Forverts’ front-page headline wailed: “The morgue is filled with our dead/victims! 175 workers lose their lives in a burning shirtwaist factory. The entire Jewish Quarter mourns.” The Forverts refused to adopt a dispassionate tone or removed stance. The victims were “ours.” And masses of Jewish workers, who knew firsthand the hardships and abuses of the garment industry, looked to the Forverts to articulate their grievances and lead the way…forward.

The March 26, 1911 copy of the Forverts thus opens up the Rogarshevsky apartment, bringing to bear one of the major events of the immigrant era. The presence of the newspaper invites us to imagine how the Rogarshevsky family might have reacted and discuss the public outcry that followed, culminating in the reform legislation passed by the New York State Assembly as a result.

[Part II will be posted later this afternoon]

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Heart of the City: Nine Stories of Love and Serendipity on the Streets of New York with Ariel Sabar

Anyone could tell you I’m not really into love stories. I like funny movies and depressing books. I love New York because I’m single more often than not, and because New York is the greatest place in the world to be single. So naturally, my first reaction to this year’s Valentine’s Day event, as every year, was an eye roll. Love in New York, sure, great.

I was more shocked than anyone to find myself drawn against my will into the premise of Ariel Sabar’s new book Heart of the City: Nine Stories of Love and Serendipity on the Streets of New York. Sabar, inspired by his parents having met in Washington Square, “set out to find the invisible forces at play in great public places.”

In a city of more than 8 million, the chances of two people finding each other seem slim, and Sabar admits that only a tiny percentage of couples report having met in a public place. Sabar details nine real-life love stories in narrative, novelistic form, introducing each character just before they run into each other (sometimes literally) on the subway, in a park, in the Met, on the street, or in a park.

The book’s introduction was a surprise pleasure; a fascinating discussion of how city planners use the built environment to draw people together, from Gilgamesh to Jane Jacobs’ New York and beyond. People need places to gather, and people, it seems, attract more people. No matter the location, Sabar is right in insisting that “there is an undeniable poetry to love born of chance.”

Join us tonight, February 15th as Ariel Sabar waxes philosophical on love and urban planning. I’ll be in the back, pretending not to enjoy it.

--Posted by Kat B.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love or Loneliness in New York City?: Ariel Sabar and the Heart of the City

 New York City is often described as ‘real’ with its streets pocketing communities and entire cultures. Passing strangers on the sidewalk, one attains glimpses into the most personal details of other people’s lives. National Book Critics Circle Award winning author Ariel Sabar writes, “New York City demands engagement with strangers. The sidewalks and subways are so crowded that we have no choice but to overhear private conversations and see faces at distances normally reserved for intimates.”

Photo from

The city is so often the proponent and muse for incredible ideas and events. In his newest book Heart of the City: Nine Stories of Love and Serendipity on the Streets of New York, Sabar shares stories of chance meetings and serendipity in New York. He notes, “It seemed like a quintessential New York story: two vastly different people brought together by chance in America’s greatest city. It said a lot about our country, I thought. It showed how immigrants here could leap borders of culture and class in ways unthinkable back home. It showed how in a society as fluid as America’s, any two people could fall in love, anywhere.”

In a city so bustling and alive with people both young and old, the idea of urban loneliness is frequently being challenged. Sabar recently pointed out an interesting New York Magazine article on the subject called “Alone Together.”

Does a place so full of life perpetuate isolation or does it bring people together? What do you think?  Do you have a story of serendipity in the city?

Ariel Sabar will present his new book on Tuesday, February 15th at 6:30 PM at Tenement Talks. Come and share your own thoughts and stories.

--Posted by Amy G.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Questions for Curatorial - Decent Burial

A visitor indicated that the wake process that we talk about on “The Moores” tour was called a "decent burial." The idea was that no matter how poor you were, your last obligation was to provide whiskey and good tobacco for your friends to thank them for mourning you. So even if it put you in debt, you would buy the top-shelf stuff to thank your true friends for their attention during your deathIs this true?

Moore Apartment exhibit, Photograph by Keiko Niwa, Courtesy of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum
Yes. During the 19th century, Irish immigrant families would sometimes go into debt providing a wake and burial for their relatives and loved ones. Both the wake and burial represented important passages in the life of an individual, ensuring that they had a good “send off” and were prepared for the “next life.” While the definition of what comprised a “decent” wake and burial appears to have varied, the responsibility for its provision fell upon the family of the deceased and not on the recently departed themselves. Indeed, although the specific customs of the wake varied depending on the region of origin, the provision of food, drink, and tobacco appear to have been customary throughout Irish America and part of what constituted a “decent” wake and burial.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Visitors of the Week: Roberta and Quinn from Ithaca, New York

Planning a visit to the Tenement Museum? Send us an email and be one of our Visitors of the Week.

Meet Tenement Museum members Roberta and Quinn from Ithaca, New York. Inspired by his mother’s career in architectural history, 11-year-old Quinn decided to focus his school paper on New York City tenements.

How did you hear about tenements, Quinn?

Quinn: My first research topic was Theodore Roosevelt, and he and Jacob Riis were friends. Through that, I learned about tenement buildings.

Which tour did you take today?

Q: We did Immigrant Soles and the Confino Tour.

What did you think of the Confino program?

Q: I thought it was really good. She’s a great actress.

Roberta: It was great, and the other people on the tour were really into it. We loved both tours. What was nice was because we had gone on the walking tour, some of the things that Victoria Confino was mentioning we already knew about because we’d gone on the neighborhood walking tour. I think that the neighborhood tours really complement the building tours. It makes a great package. We’d read a number of books; You can read about it and you can look at pictures. But it’s just not the same as actually being in the space. The issues that were brought up are historical, but it is a lot of the same stuff that’s happening today. How do you deal with difference? Everyone thinks of tenement life as a horrible time—they think of the Gangs of New York, and everything. With the Confino tour, she even said that they were the only [Sephardic] Greeks in the building, but they figured out how to make it work. People lived close together and were managing, even sometimes better than we are managing today.

What are some other things you like to do in the city?

Q: We love to go to museums and we do a lot of walking.

R: We like to walk the bridges. We’ve done the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, the Williamsburg. The 59th street Bridge. And his sister does NYC Swim, so she’s swum Liberty Island and Governor’s Island.

Q: That’s how we discovered Governor’s Island.

R: This July, she’s going to be part of one of the relay teams that’s going around Manhattan. She has her own experience of New York, and Quinn’s Dad grew up in Queens, and went to school in Manhattan. And I did my dissertation on a New York City topic.

You guys are very New York, through and through.

R: Yeah, we just take the bus in. We don’t live here, but I think walking the city is the only way you really learn a city.

When you’re in the neighborhood are there any other places that you like to go?

Q: Laboratorio Del Gelato.

R: Which we saw has moved. And the Essex Street Market, where we’re headed after this. There’s so much to take advantage of. We’ve just begun to pick through the area.

--Posted by Amy Ganser

Monday, February 7, 2011

Tenement Talk of the Day: Pete Hamill

Today's featured Tenement Talk is from Pete Hamill.  The author of eleven novels, a memoir, four works of nonfiction, countless articles and columns as a reporter, editor–in-chief of two city newspapers, and November’s recipient of the Louis Auchincloss Prize, Pete Hamill can in our opinion shed light on almost anything.

We were delighted in December to welcome the Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University to share his thoughts on the contributions of immigrants to New York City.  Listen again to Pete Hamill's Tenement Talk below:

Friday, February 4, 2011

Visitors of Week: Lisa and Scott from New York

Planning a visit to the Tenement Museum? Send us an email and be one of our Visitors of the Week.

Meet New York natives, Lisa and Scott. After visiting most of the museums that the city has to offer, the husband and wife duo did some researching online and came across our museum.

Scott: We’ve been to the big museums: The Met, Natural History, and MoMA. We came across your website and it seemed really interesting. We just took the Getting By tour and we loved it. It’s definitely a different take on the museum experience.

Are you two both from New York?

S: We grew up in the area. Lisa’s from Long Island and I’m from New Jersey. We’ve been here eight years now.

Do you have any personal or family history in this neighborhood?

Lisa: My grandmother immigrated here from China in the 1920s. She moved to Flushing, Queens.

S: We have no direct connection with this area, but we’ve been down here dozens upon dozens of times. We’re both Jewish and we know that this was one of the bigger Jewish areas growing up in the city back in the day. Just walking the streets you can see the history.

What are your favorite places in this neighborhood?

L: We definitely like to eat down here. There are a lot of good places.

S: Great restaurants, good pubs and shops, and Mom and Pop shops that you’re not going to find somewhere else in the city. It definitely has a lot of character. In terms of people moving to this area, it’s still an up and coming neighborhood. You can see the bigger buildings being built up. The neighborhood changing could be a bad thing. You lose a lot of that history.

And what do you think about the ‘homogenization’ of the Lower East Side?

S: I think it’s okay if it’s done in a way that doesn’t take away from the neighborhood’s history and culture.

L: For me, after this tour, it makes me realize how valuable the city’s history is. This is one of the remaining pieces of the city that still really has its roots. To see it start being modernized makes me a little bit sad.

It's interesting, I just heard that Mulberry Street is actually preserved by an Italian Cultural Institute. Only Italian businesses are able to operate there.  If it weren’t for that, there might not even be a Little Italy at this point.

S: Yeah, it would be highway central around here.

Exactly, and it’s like, what will it be in ten years?

L: A museum like this just helps you appreciate things and gives you a different perspective.

S: We loved the tour and we’ll definitely be back for another one. We’d recommend it to people who are curious to learn about the history and who want to see what the Lower East Side was like back when.

L: Or what life in general was like back in the day.

-- Posted by Amy Ganser

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Questions for Curatorial - Coal

Where did the residents of 97 Orchard Street get the coal needed to heat their cast-iron stoves? Where was the coal stored and how was it paid for?

Coal was purchased from a neighborhood coal yard and delivered to 97 Orchard Street where it was deposited in the cellar of the building. During the late 19th century, the Dougherty Family operated 2 coal yards on the Lower East Side, one at Avenue B and 12th Street and the other between 280 and 282 Madison Street. It is possible that these were still in operation by the second decade of the 20th century.

At 91 Orchard Street, there is a coal vault under the sidewalk that was accessible via a manhole on Orchard Street. The front of the cellar at 97 Orchard Street also juts out underneath the sidewalk, but there is not a brick coal vault similar to the one at 91 Orchard Street. At 97 Orchard Street, there may have been a chute for coal to be delivered into the cellar, which was perhaps placed into wooden bins that look similar to horse stalls. 

Indeed, a recently discovered 1905 Department of Buildings drawing detailing existing and proposed alterations mandated by the 1901 Tenement House Act notes approximately eight “wooden houses.” These “wooden houses” may have been used to store coal delivered to 97 Orchard Street. While Museum researchers do not know how each resident paid for the coal they used from the bin, it is possible that the cost of coal was included in each apartment’s monthly rent.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tenement Talk of the Day: Kenneth Jackson, The Encyclopedia of New York City, 2nd Edition, December 8, 2010

As part of the weekly Tenement Talks series at the Tenement Museum, we were delighted to welcome Kenneth Jackson in December to discuss the 2nd Edition of The Encyclopedia of New York City. 

Kenneth Jackson is the Jacques Barzun Professor of History at Columbia University, where he has chaired the Department of History. The author of the prize-winning Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States, he has taught New York City history for four decades.

Ken Jackson with President of the Tenement Museum, Morris Vogel

Sam Roberts wrote in the New York Times that this is an “encyclopedia sure to please and irritate.” Much has changed since the first edition appeared in 1995: the World Trade Center no longer dominates the skyline and a billionaire businessman has become an unlikely three-term mayor. Ken Jackson addressed these changes and shared highlights from the second edition—now updated with 800 new entries, including one on the Lower East Side. Ric Burns, Mike Wallace and Bill Moyers all agree that this award winner is the definitive reference book about New York City.

Ken Jackson's Tenement Talk on the Encylopedia of New York City is available to listen again to here: