Friday, June 1, 2012

Will the Real Bridget Moore Please Stand Up?

Recently, a group of our costumed interpreters gathered to trade notes on their experiences portraying Irish immigrant Bridget Moore, who resided at 97 Orchard Street in 1868. Our “Meet Bridget Moore” program was just launched this October as a way for school groups to learn the Moore family’s story as outsiders living at 97 Orchard Street. During this program, Kindergarten through sixth grade students meet a costumed interpreter portraying Bridget Moore while she is preparing for a housewarming party. Bridget tells students about her life and asks for suggestions about how to befriend her German neighbors.

Four "Bridgets" at work in the Moore apartment

 To make the program richer and more engaging, our “Bridgets” pass around period household objects that would have been commonplace in the 19th century. This month, the group looked at some newly acquired era-appropriate objects and talked about how to use them while they’re in character.

This mechanical coffee grinder is a great example; it’s interesting looking and fun for kids to examine. But there’s a back story that informs how Bridget uses it on her tour.

Mechanical coffee grinders like these were used in the 19th century

As early as 1810, coffee was available on many New York City menus, and thanks to the German influence, “coffee and cake” shops were good places to find cheap lunch in the mid-1860s. Port blockades in the Southern U.S. associated with the Civil War curbed New Yorkers’ access to coffee for a time. But by the time the Moores moved into 97 Orchard in 1868, the price had come back down.

We doubt that Bridget would have owned a coffee grinder like this one, since most Irish folks preferred tea rather than coffee. However, Bridget’s German neighbors may have had one since coffee was an important part of the German diet in the late 1860s.

As the “Bridgets” considered how to incorporate the coffee grinder into our program, they developed the interpretation that Bridget borrowed it from a neighbor so she could provide her German neighbors with something familiar at her party.

Becoming Bridget Moore is more complicated that putting on a wig and an apron—it requires an in-depth understanding of the world that Bridget lived in. By applying the historical context of objects to the life of Bridget Moore and her family, our costumed interpreters are better prepared to answer questions and provide a more immersive experience for visitors.

-- Posted by Kira Garcia and Sarah Litvin

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