Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tired of Fighting the Crowds at Ellis Island?

Then I have a suggestion for you...The Tenement Museum. Located on the Lower East Side and housed in the only remaining untouched building in New York City, it is an amazing piece of living history. Unfortunately I don't remember the exact statistics, but from the time 97 Orchard St was open to residents in 1863 until 1941, when it was condemned by the city of New York and boarded up, thousands of families passed through its walls. Since all visits to the museum are guided tours, in large part because of the fragile state of the physical building, I just took one tour that told the story of Jewish immigrants who lived in the building both in the late 1890s when they operated sewing factories out of their apartments and in the late 1910s when such work had been relegated to large garment factories that dotted New York city. The conditions in which these immigrants lived, especially before 1901, when outwardly facing windows were the exception rather than the norm, was pretty incredible. The fact that so many of these immigrants and their families (often large families with 6 people per apartment in a space of a studio apartment today) not only survived but thrived to the point that they were able eventually to move into larger homes, is a testament to the will of the immigrants to carve out a better life for themselves and their children.

I took a few pictures of the outside of the building, but unfortunately couldn't get any of the inside of the apartments. But, hopefully this will whet your appetite to go and see the real thing!

97 Orchard Street

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