Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Behind the Scenes Look at Caroline Schneider's Kitchen

Do you recognize these treats?

They're traditional German cookies called "lebkuchen", and despite their humble appearance, they pack a serious punch of spicy sweetness.

Lebkuchen recipes are pretty involved, calling for a long list of ingredients include candied citron, almonds, cinnamon, and kirsch (cherry liqueur) among many other things. They would have been served by Caroline Schneider, who ran a 19th century German beer saloon at 97 Orchard Street with her husband John. Caroline managed all the cooking for the saloon, playing an important role in keeping the customers happy and the business competitive. We'll be exploring the history of Schneider's saloon as part of our upcoming "Shop Life" exhibit.

Check out the video below for more information and an invitation to our upcoming Tenement Talk on April third with Vice President of Education Annie Polland and Museum Educator and Historic Gastronomist Sarah Lohman. Annie and Sarah will give us a fascinating (and delicious) first look at Caroline's kitchen!

-- Posted by Public Relations Manager Kira Garcia

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Springtime Scrub

Last week we marked the official first day of spring, coinciding with a warm spell here in New York City. Many people are getting out mops and brooms along with their shorts and sandals, gearing up for the traditional spring cleaning.

This is a custom with diverse roots. This time of year, Chinese people clean and sweep the graves of their ancestors as part of the Qingming festival; Iranians practice Khouneh Tekouni ("shaking the house") in anticipation of Nowruz, their new year celebration; Greek Orthodox households give everything a good scrub just before Lent, and Jewish families rid the house of chametz (the crumbs of leavened bread) in preparation for Passover. Along with these culturally-prescribed traditions, there's the universal urge to throw open the windows and start fresh this time of year, ridding the house of winter's grime and musty smells.

In an 1897 article, the New York Times gave detailed advice to female readers on the spring cleaning of their homes. The article advises washing walls or having them "freshly kelsomined"(coated with whitewash or chalk paint), taking down window shutters and light fixtures for washing, swathing bric-a-brac in cheesecloth for storage until autumn, flushing sinks with scalding water and baking soda, wiping down doorways and doorknobs, and on and on...

The Times as a proto-Martha Stewart: advice for home makers in 1897

If the prospect of this work seems daunting, the Times assures its readers that "In progressive households, wherever the spirit of the new woman wields its healthful and energetic influence, the housecleaning is gradually accomplished silently and almost imperceptibly, save to the actual workers...The first the mustering of the working staff."

Of course, for 97 Orchard Street residents and other less affluent city dwellers, spring cleaning was undertaken without hired help. As we noted in a 2009 blog post, this wasn't always easy. Nonetheless, Josephine Baldizzi remembered that her mother Sadie was "extra clean", never forgetting to scrub her cooking pots--or her children. She even earned the nickname "shine-em-up Sadie" as a testament to her gleaming cookware.

The tools of Sadie's trade on display in the Baldizzi Apartment

Sadie Baldizzi's vigilant campaign against grime counteracted a prevailing stereotype that tenement dwellers were unclean. In 1917, the Times cited the "venerable conviction that the majority of tenement house dwellers are slovenly, irresponsible and indolent" and "that they are content with filthy and squalid surroundings...", but asserted that the notion was outdated, thanks to the efforts of social workers.

The article praised the city's Tenement House Committee, which "distributed an educational primer named For You to educate the huge Tenement house population to their rights under the law and their duties and the essentials of proper community living." For You served as a propaganda tool to "impress upon [its readers] the importance of cleanliness, good housekeeping and sanitation" and the "social demands of close community living."

These public campaigns for cleanliness weren't limited to tenements. In 1922, New York City Mayor John Francis Hylan issued a city-wide spring cleaning proclamation, saying "...all rubbish and useless articles, which invariably become the breeding place for diseases, germs, vermin, rats and endless pests, should be disposed of." Though it's no longer proclaimed as a civic duty, spring cleaning never seems to go out of fashion!

-- Posted by Public Relations Manager Kira Garcia

Monday, March 19, 2012

History Reveals Itself at 97 Orchard Street

Major work – and major progress -- continues on our upcoming "Shop Life" exhibit at 97 Orchard Street.  After partially exposing the base of the building's air shaft, original installed in 1905, we found a maker’s stamp on one of the supporting beams:  “Cambria,” for the Cambria Steel Company, of Johnstown, PA.  Founded in 1852 as the Cambria Iron Works, it eventually became part of Bethlehem Steel. The company survived a disastrous flood in 1898, and the works were finally closed almost a century later in 1992. 

Surviving structures from the Cambria Steel plant form one of the best-preserved sites from the “early modern” iron and steel industry, and have been named a National Historic Landmark. Read more about this here.  

The stamp is hard to see, even with raking light, but a rubbing makes it legible:

If you look closely during your subway travels, you can see the same stamp on steel elements in stations along the IRT lines, which were under construction during the same period. You’ll also see  the names of other manufacturers, including "Carnegie".

-- Posted by Project Director Chris Neville

Friday, March 16, 2012

Building a Hands-On Collection for Shop Life

Whether it sells handbags, hardware or ham hocks, every shop is defined by its merchandise. So we’re choosing objects carefully for our upcoming exhibit, Shop Life, which will explore the various businesses located at 97 Orchard Street in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Shop Life will include two different categories of objects. Many are very similar to those already on view at 97 Orchard Street. They are antique objects chosen to bring our exhibits to life. As in a traditional museum setting, visitors are asked not to touch these items.

But what’s the fun of a shop where you can’t touch anything? To give visitors a real sense of the shops of 97 Orchard, we’ll also offer “handling” objects that visitors can touch and examine. They’ll play an important role in the interactive portion of the exhibit.

From a conservation perspective, these new hands-on objects present a number of interesting challenges. First, we don’t--and can’t--expect them to last forever. With thousands of visitors handling them every year, we can expect inevitable wear, and even breakage. We accept that these objects will need to be periodically replaced, so our Curatorial Department will build a perpetual stockpile of replacements. This is an important new project, since even the humblest items help create an immersive setting, bringing to life the stories of 97 Orchard Street.

Following are a few of the special “handling objects” that we’ve collected for Shop Life:

Cocktail Shaker c.1938

A cocktail shaker like this was sold in Max Marcus’s general merchandise auction house during the late 1930s. In the c. 1938 photo of the auction house that appears below, cocktail shakers are visible in the back of the store. Pictured are Max Marcus, his brother-in-law Frank Bloom, and auctioneer Herman Brandies.

Max Marcus's Auction House c.1938

Butcher's Apron c.2010

This modern apron is similar to the ones worn by the Lustgarten family at their 97 Orchard Street butcher shop between 1890 and 1902. In the c. 1887 photograph of the Lustgarten family pictured below, you can see members of the Lustgarten family in front of their first Lower East Side butcher shop at 262 Broome Street wearing similar aprons (left to right, Goldie, Fannie, Joseph, William, Rosa, Rebecca, and Israel).

The Lustgarten Family c.1887

Pucci Bag c.1970

Customers at Sidney Undergarments might have taken their undergarment purchases home in bags like these. In the c. 1979 photograph below, proprietor Sidney Meda and his granddaughter, Batya Halpern, are pictured working in the store. Note the sign for Pucci Place in the back ground- Pucci underwear was one of Sidney’s top sellers.

Sidney Meda and Batya Halpern c.1979

-- Posted by Director of Curatorial Affairs David Favaloro and Collections Manager and Registrar Kathleen O'Hara

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A History of Saint Patrick's Day in America

Many working class Irish immigrants began arriving in the United States after 1845, fleeing famine in Ireland. The Tenement Museum’s "Irish Outsiders" tour tells the story of one Irish immigrant family, the Moores, and their struggle to survive and thrive in an unfamiliar nation and neighborhood. As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, we're exploring the history of this holiday and its role in our shared national history.

Roman Catholic Irish folks have been observing the feast day of St. Patrick on March 17 since the 9th or 10th century. Interestingly, however, the first parade held to honor St. Patrick's Day took place not in Ireland but in North America, in what would later become the United States. On March 17, 1762, Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City. Along with their music, the parade helped the soldiers reconnect with their Irish roots, as well as with fellow Irishmen serving in the English army.

An etching of St. Patrick c.1491

In 1848, several New York Irish Aid societies united to form one official New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade. Joseph Moore of 97 Orchard Street may have belonged to such a society, which would have provided his family with assistance in finding work, paying the rent in an emergency, and covering medical bills and funeral expenses.

Despite institutionalized discrimination, by the turn of the nineteenth century Irish Americans had organized a powerful political party known as the “green machine.” St. Patrick's Day parades became not only a show of strength for Irish Americans, but also as a must-attend event for political candidates courting the Irish voting bloc.

However, the role of Irish Americans in nineteenth century political and cultural arena was still hotly contested, as one can see in this image from a Harper’s Weekly magazine editorial column from 1887, now in the Library of Congress.

From Harper's Weekly, 1887

The drawing depicts an Irish-American Uncle Sam wearing a hat with pipe and four-leaf clover pulling at coat of arms under words "The Old Boston State House.” The pipe and four leaf clover were emblems of Irish pride which still appear in contemporary festivities.

 St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, c.1879

By 1911, the St. Patrick’s Day parade had grown substantially, attracting an estimated 30,000 marchers. Today, it's the world's oldest civilian parade and the largest in the United States, with over 150,000 participants and 3 million observers. In 1911, a New York Times reporter stated that, “all true Americans now delight to honor the patron saint of a people who have played so large a part in the development of the Republic.” For many Americans, that holds true today.

--Posted by Development Associate Hilary Whitham

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Conversation with Rebecca Lepkoff

Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing photographer Rebecca Lepkoff about her new exhibit: Life on the Lower East Side: Photographs by Rebecca Lepkoff 1937-1951, on display at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.  Born in 1916 on Hester Street, Lepkoff is comfortable behind a microphone. We spent a captivating 30 minutes talking her life and her art.

Rebecca Lepkoff signs a copy of her book for a fan at the Tenement Museum

Through Lepkoff’s work, contemporary audiences experience nearly a century of change and transition on the Lower East Side. In her photographs, the neighborhood acts both as a backdrop and a major subject. Art and history intertwine, producing works that are biographical and aesthetically graceful.

The Aimless Youth of Cherry Street, 1948

Speaking with Lepkoff, it's immediately clear that she maintains a fierce emotional connection to the Lower East Side: “You know I still go down to the Lower East Side. It is a piece of my history, my life. It is very familiar but it’s so very different now. But as I walk along I superimpose, the double vision...I see it then, you know, and I have it now. It’s interesting.”

Optimo Cigar Store, Madison Street, 1948

Lepkoff’s work is especially important for the Tenement Museum and the Lower East Side because her images document a forgotten place and time. She remembers earlier stages of the neighborhood's ongoing evolution. “These photographs were taken on the Lower East Side. There were some taken right here on Orchard Street…On Essex Street, when Essex Street was totally Jewish, some of the signs that were all in Hebrew letters. Little by little they disappeared until there weren’t any at all. And Spanish words started to come up…There was a candy and newspaper store that around 1950 when there was a transition of the Jewish people leaving and the Spanish people coming that there were three languages on the store window. There was Yiddish, Jewish – you know the Hebrew letters, Spanish and English on one window. It was just a time of great transition.”

To learn more about the Lower East Side and the life of this extraordinary woman, listen to the extended recording of her interview available on our website.

--Posted by Leah Mollin-Kling

Friday, March 9, 2012

Discovering Treasures With a Little Bit of Research...

Eva Silverman is a New Jersey native whose grandmother Gladys settled on the Lower East Side in 1920 as a Jewish immigrant from Poland. Eva's  "Mapping Roots" project explores New York City geography and history through her family's stories and photographs. She's currently working on an installation at the Carlton Arms Hotel here in New York City, where she'll be hosting a reception on Saturday, March 10.

In the following post, Eva finds the site in the Lower East Side where her grandmother attended school. For more information about Eva's work and the upcoming reception, visit her blog (where this post originally appeared).

I love research! There is nothing more satisfying than looking for something, following leads, and then finding it! This installation has been FULL of satisfaction on that level. Today, as I pair images of ‘now’ and ‘then’, I was looking for an image of a pushcart peddler on Hester Street. During my search, I found an image of a newspaper article that showed the inside of a school at Hester and Chrystie. This exact location is where my grandma went to ‘continuation school’ — which was what was required of her when she dropped out of high school to work in a sweatshop. Children under 16 who worked in the sweatshops, were required to work fewer hours and attend ”Continuation School’ for a half-day every Saturday.

The Lower East Side School that Eva's Grandmother attended

That corner of Hester and Chrystie streets has changed so much since then with the development in the late 30′s of the Sara D. Roosevelt park. When I returned to that corner the other day, it was hard to see where this ‘school’ could have been and I settled on the fact that maybe it had been small classrooms in some of the larger tenements. But then I found this photo and all that changed. Presumably, this was THE school where my grandma went to continuation school. It is no longer there. The above photo was taken in 1929, just a few years past when my grandma would have gone there. I read somewhere else that this was Public School 7 (P.S. 7) and that in a 1896 article was considered the dirtiest school in the city. There was an article written about it in 1905 — a little before my grandma’s time, but still interesting.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, all of these images are courtesy of the New York Public Library. They have an AMAZING archive of photos that have been digitized.

--Posted by Eva Silverman

From Poisonous Sweets to Heavenly Halvah: Notes on the History of Candy

This is the fourth in a series of 6 articles by Educator Judy Levin, originally written as research for our “Foods of the Lower East Side" walking and tasting tour.

Sugar candies were among the first products marketed directly to children. Widely available by the 1830s, these treats were crafted in a dazzling array of colors and shapes, including pressed-sugar dolls, horses, guns, stars, hats, cigars, gin bottles (a questionable choice for kids), and so on. They were notable for their cheapness—the original penny candies could be a dozen for one cent—and for the sometimes poisonous things they were colored or flavored with (like arsenic in green dye).

A candy vendor on Hester Street on New York City's Lower East Side, c.1890

Of course, reformers were concerned. Babyhood Magazine c.1879 gave worried mamas a long list of experiments to perform on candy to see if it was adulterated with poisonous flavors or colors, or stretched with additives. There was also a concern that candy would lead to “intemperance, gluttony, and debauchery,” and that children who indulged their early appetites for sugar might be more prone to sexual misdeeds or alcoholism later on.

Other concerns stemmed from the making of cheap candy and chocolate in sweatshop conditions, with women or girls dipping sugar mice in chocolate by hand and then licking their fingers, standing from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. because the boss thought sitting made them “lazy.” As with many other products, concern about candy was based on questions of consumers' health, the misery of workers, or both.

Young women at work in a candy factory in the early 20th century

Mass-produced candy wasn’t sold only to immigrant children in America. Like pickles and a few other cheap edible pleasures, candy was a strong contrast to the often bland diets of the poor. It figures prominently in tales of tenement and immigrant life—both in novels (the smallest sisters in All-of-A-Kind Family, the classic children’s novel of the Lower East Side, agonize happily over penny candy purchases) and in memoirs and oral histories. 97 Orchard Stree resident Josephine Baldizzi remembered sugar-coated almonds (confetti), torrone (either nougat or a kind of nut brittle), and 1-cent Hooter bars (her favorite—an American candy bar rather than the traditional Italian candies), and American peppermint drops.

Candy-making also became a business in which immigrants could compete. One of the candies that comes to America with immigrants and goes on to be a Lower East Side success story is halvah (also spelled halva, halwa, helwa. . . .). Its root is the Arabic word for “sweet,” and versions of halvah go back about 3,000 years. Its long history results in arguments about its ingredients, flavorings (vanilla, chocolate, orange, carrot), consistency, and historical origins. Some people also like to eat it; others say it’s “just right for spackling the walls.”

Halvah for sale by the pound

There are two general styles of halvah. The one that comes from India, Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan is semolina-based, though it includes oil, flour, and sugar (or honey). The other widely-known version is based on ground seeds or nuts and is Romanian, Russian, Greek, Israeli, Turkish, and Lower East Side Jewish.

Halvah was originally sold by “Turkish, Syrian, and Armenian street vendors”, according to author John Mariani, but the variety best known on the Lower East Side was brought here by a 22-year-old immigrant from Minsk, then the Ukraine, named Nathan Radutzky. He started making it in 1907, and it was sold on pushcarts and in delis. His company moved to Brooklyn and was renamed Joyva by his sons after World War II. These days they also make chocolate-covered jelly rings, marshmallow twists, and a hard sesame candy with a well-known logo: a drawing of a Turkish guy.

Joyva's chocolate-covered halvah
Radutzky’s recipe, based on ground sesame seeds, comes in vanilla, chocolate, marbled (mixed vanilla and chocolate), chocolate-covered (rolled in mixed nuts or not), and with and without pistachios. The “chocolate-covered” part is surely an American addition. Otherwise, Richard Radutzky, grandson of Joyva’s founder, says the stuff is made as it always was, partly by hand, in 60-gallon copper mixing bowls. Workers combine tahini with a “taffy made of corn syrup, sugar, and egg whites, elongating and aerating the blend until the halvah holds together in sinewy strands.”

Halvah’s popularity is attested to by references to it in literature and popular culture. In a play called The Centuries: Portrait of a Tenement House (Emanuel Jo Bansshe, 1927) an immigrant in need of a job is given the suggestion (among others) that he go sell halvah. In The Garret, Carl Van Vechten reports that some patrons of the Yiddish theaters are driven crazy by other patrons eating during the plays, often fruit or candy—and especially halvah. While it wasn't as iconic as lox and bagels, no one ever felt the need to explain what halvah is at that time.

--Posted by Educator Judy Levin