Tenement Museum

103 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002, USA

These days, wandering the Lower East Side (the area between the Bowery and the East River, with Houston Street marking its northern border and Canal Street its southern one), it can feel impossible to recall that this neighborhood was once among the city’s most overcrowded, teeming with immigrants. Its streets were filled with Germans, Greeks, Hungarians, Poles, Slovaks, and other Europeans newly arrived in the United States, including a significant Jewish population. Today, boutiques and bars cater to gentrifiers, much of the population is Puerto Rican or Dominican, and the few traces of that earlier era are hard to find—the facades of Yiddish theaters and synagogues that have long since closed. The Tenement Museum on Orchard Street is dedicated to assuring that period of the city’s past is not lost forever. On each floor of the restored tenement building, the lives of some of its former occupants are brought to life, from the German saloon owners on the first floor to the Jewish immigrants who occupied the top one. Docents in character and costume help to make the stories of those immigrants personal. The museum also organizes walking tours of the Lower East Side and offers talks on the district’s history.

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An Immersive Historical Experience at the Tenement Museum

Whoever invented the living history museum deserves, well, a place in a living history museum. Instead of reading dry text, visitors get to meet an early 20th-century immigrant, hang out in her shoebox apartment, and join a family at its Sabbath table. Much of New York’s population took root in buildings like this. This appeared in the November/December 2014 issue.

Food Tour of the Immigrant Experience

In finding a new home, one often longs for the familiarities of the old and comfort can be discovered within the culinary traditions of one’s birthplace and home. The history of the immigrant and the introduction of their food within a new geographical and cultural context is explored within the Tenement Museum’s walking food tour of the Lower East Side. From dim sum to smoked meats and salmon bagels, many cultures are explored within the walking tour but they also analyze how the food, like the people, has undergone a immigration process—where the chefs and cooks can no longer find the same ingredients from their homeland. Using local American ingredients the immigrants tried to recreate national dishes of their home and in doing so create new comforting dishes in their new landscape.

An In-Depth Tour of the Lower East Side

Not only is the Lower East Side one of Manhattan’s most “hipster” and quirky neighborhoods, but it’s also home to the Tenement Museum. Although this museum doesn’t get as much praise as the MET or the MoMA, it’s definitely worth a visit, even if you’re only in town for three days. Telling the stories of 97 Orchard Street, a visit includes a walk inside the actual building where nearly 7000 working class immigrants lived during the 19th and 20th centuries. Moving to New York is never an easy task, and this was especially true for immigrants at this time. Learning what life was like for these families not only gives great perspective on the American Dream but also enhances the neighborhood and its unique history and transformation.

Museum Honoring American Immigrants

The Tenement Museum presents the history of American immigration through the personal stories of residents of 97 Orchard Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. It honors the generations of newcomers who shaped the national identity of our country and provided examples of true grit and courage. Nearly 7,000 immigrants lived at 97 Orchard between 1863 and 1935. The museum’s guided tours smartly focus on the specific stories of just a few families who exemplify the struggle of a particular era, bringing the experience into sharp focus. By using Census records, government documents and in some cases, oral histories of descendants, the museum has uncovered unbelievable histories. The immigrant experience comes to life in the recreated 18th and 19th century apartments, photos and documents on the tour. And it is the very personal, specific struggles of these families that underline universal themes that cannot help but move you. We owe so much to these earlier generations, whose stories also underline the struggles that many of today’s immigrants are still experiencing. Truly an educational experience. www.tenement.org

The Best Little Museum in New York

A must visit, must do for any visitor or resident of NYC. Not your typical museum experience, the Tenement Museum walks you through history and explores subject such as immigration, discrimination, housing and the history of the neighborhood through the stories of actual families that lived in this building. Certain apartments are recreated to the point in time when the families lived there. It’s fascinating to step into the story and it’s hard not to be moved and make personal connections since these are real people.

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