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"Lower East Side Tenement Museum" Top 5 Page for this destination Lower East Side Tenement Museum Tip by toonsarah

  Hallway of the Tenement Museum
by toonsarah
  • Hallway of the Tenement Museum - New York City
      Hallway of the Tenement Museum
    by toonsarah
  • A room in the Tenement Museum - New York City
      A room in the Tenement Museum
    by toonsarah
  • Sign outside the Tenement Museum - New York City
      Sign outside the Tenement Museum
    by toonsarah
  • Orchard Street (with museum on left) - New York City
      Orchard Street (with museum on left)
    by toonsarah

As soon as I read about this museum I knew I wanted to go there, and unlike other similar discoveries in the past, this one didn’t disappoint. If you have even the smallest interest in the history of New York, and especially of the city’s “ordinary” inhabitants, head to this museum for a really fascinating insight into their lives. It’s also, by the way, an excellent example of archive-based research and detective work, and of creativity in bringing history to life.

The museum tells the stories of immigrants who lived in 97 Orchard Street, a tenement built in 1863 on Manhattan's Lower East Side. In doing so, it also aims to educate visitors to the reality of modern-day immigration, challenging some of the media scare-mongering and provoking debate about people’s individual experiences.

The museum can only be visited as part of a guided tour, and there is a choice of several tours, each focusing on one or more of the families that once actually lived in the house. We did the one called “Getting By”, which is a visit to the homes of German-Jewish & Italian Catholic families surviving the Panic of 1873 and the Great Depression. Other options include “Piecing it Together”, which visits the homes & garment shop of Jewish families who lived in the tenement during the “great wave” of immigration to America, and “The Moores”, the 1869 home of Irish immigrants coping with the death of a child. You could also choose to meet Victoria Confino, a teen-age, Sephardic-Jewish immigrant of 1916 played by a costumed interpreter. This last tour is recommended for families with young children, while information on the website suggests a lower age limit for the others.

All of these families really lived in the tenement, and their lives have been meticulously researched and recreated. On our tour we learned about the German-Jewish Gumpertz family: the father disappeared during the Panic of 1873, and his wife later had to declare him dead in order to claim a small inheritance. The documentation from this process, plus birth, marriage and death certificates, has enabled the curators to recreate the family’s home and way of life. In a second apartment we “visited” the Italian-Catholic Baldizzi family, who lived through the Great Depression. This restored apartment is based not on documentary evidence but on oral history, as one of the daughters still lives in Brooklyn and was able to work with the museum to help recreate the family home of her childhood.

All the tours are an hour in length and start at the Visitor Centre at 108 Orchard Street not at the museum itself which is a few doors down the street. You can book your chosen tour online as we did, by phone or simply by turning up and hoping that there is room. Space is limited however (a maximum of 15 on each tour) so it would be best to book if you can, though I spotted that a couple of people on our tour had turned up on spec. The cost is $17 for adults, $13 for students, seniors and (I assume) children. There are discounts if you take two or more tours.

The museum also offers a walking tour of the Lower East Side, visiting (but not entering) a dozen sites important to immigrants past and present, including synagogues and churches, schools and storefronts. You see how different waves of immigrants used the same buildings: one for instance was first home to a Jewish immigrant newspaper, then became the site of a Chinese Bible tract society and is now condominiums. This tour lasts 90 minutes and doesn’t include a visit to the Tenement Museum itself. With more time, I would have loved to have done this tour and also some of the other ones in the house itself. One thing is certain: if I do make it back to New York I will certainly be heading for the Tenement Museum for another, longer visit.

By the way, no photography is allowed inside the museum but we were told that we’re welcome to download images from their website, so my interior shots are taken from there.

Do have a look at that website if you have time and have even the slightest interest in history – it’s a great site and gives a real flavour of the experience of an actual visit to the museum.

Address: 97 Orchard Street
Directions: NB all tours start at the Visitor Centre, 108 Orchard Street, 2 doors south of Delancey. Nearest subway stations are Delancey Street (line F) or Essex Street (lines J, M or Z)
Phone: %s3%cb (212) 982-8420

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Nov 25, 2011
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