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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.