This past weekend I went to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, I had heard good things about this museum and I agree - it's a very good museum. It's located at 97 Orchard Street and the museum store is across the street at 108 Orchard Street, this is where you can arrange for a tour. The museums mission: promote tolerance and historical perspective and help preserve our immigrant heritage.
97 Orchard Street was a tenement house from the 1860's until 1935 when it was deemed uninhabitable. In 1935 they sealed off the apartments and rented only the 4 store fronts. In 1997 the owner sold the building to the Tenement Museum people (Ruth Abram), the building is now a National Historical Site. Access to the museum is only available by one of the 4 tours offered inside the museum, there is also a lower east side walking tour available seasonally. The tours inside the museum are approximately 1 hour, the walking tour is 90 minutes.
I took an 11:45 tour called Piecing it Together, this tour concentrated on the growth of the garment industry on the lower east side. My tour guide, who was excellent (J.R. McCarthy), spoke a little bit about the museum from outside and then took us inside. Walking into the museum is like walking back in time, it's lack of preservation is well preserved. The formerly redish wallpaper is now soot covered and gray/black. The metal covered ceiling is peeling, dark and dirty. I think the conditions in here struck me more then they did when I walked inside the Great Pyramid in Egypt. The museum also only offers limited lighting, similar to what you would have found back when the gas lighting was added.
We were first taken to one of the tenements that had not been fixed up since it was opened. The layers of linoleum floor were peeling, the layers of wallpaper were peeling, the wallpaper on the ceiling was peeling, pieces of the walls were missing, where the wood floor was still exposed it was heavily warn. Next we went to see 2 tenements - one housed a couple there 5 children and also served as a garment factory, this was a one bedroom. The second was the home of a garment worker. My tour guide described life in a tenement and the life of a new immigrant - no matter where they were from they were all living in the same circumstances. We also learned about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and the growth of the garment industry in New York City.
I thought this was a great museum, and absolutely worth a stop for anyone visiting NYC. The building allows a genuine visualization of tenement life at the turn of the century and my guide bridged the gap of understanding the lives of the people who lived in these tenements. My guide also talked about immigration and touched on the different groups who lived in these lower east side tenements.
If you're interested in visiting the museum I would recommend booking a tour on-line or in person prior to your visit to the museum. I visited in March and several of the tours were already fully booked 2 days prior. My NYC guide book (Foders New York City 2009) recommends this museum for children. However, I'm not sure my 10 year old nephew would have the attention span for this, nor do I think he would appreciate the power of it. If you are interested in taking a child here the Confino Family Tour is recommended for children 5 and up or I would suggest looking into the childrens programs that are offered.
- I'm a 30 something who loves to travel. I have a full time job and enjoy writing (or blogging) about my travels. I've traveled through several countries in Europe as well as Russia and Egypt. I also enjoy domestic travel in the United States, including Disney. My long term travel goal is to do a round the world trip.