The Tenement Museum NYC


NYC Tenement Museum View from Orchard Street 

In 1863, on New York City's Lower East Side, soon to be the most densely populated place on Earth, the first of what would be almost 7,000 working class immigrant families settled into a brand new tenement at 97 Orchard Street. For the next 75 years or so they would keep coming, from Ireland, Germany and Italy, from Russia and all over Eastern Europe, moving in and out of this crowded four-story building, starting a new life in a new world.

Working Class Family Outside the Lower East Side Tenement Museum 

Then in 1935, all the tenants were evicted, and 97 Orchard Street tenement was shuttered closed and left alone, as the neighborhood, and New York City, changed around it… until social activists Ruth Abram and Anita Jacobson stumbled through the boarded-up door in 1988 and into what turned out to be a true historical treasure trove. "It was as though people had just picked up and left," says Jacobson. "It was a little time capsule."      

Manhattan's Tenement Museum Apartment Lower East Side 

Today that time capsule is Abram and Jacobson's superb NYC's Lower East Side Tenement Museum, meticulously restored and furnished to evoke exactly how, in all of the different eras that saw life within its walls, these families worked and ate and did their chores and raised their children and struggled and played and loved and lived.

Orchard Street's Tenement Museum Apartment Kitchen View  

The only way to explore the Tenement Museum in NYC is by guided tour, and they are all excellent. The Piecing It Together tour, for example, takes you inside the homes of two Eastern European Jewish families who lived here at the turn of the 20th century: first see how the Levine family managed to have a garment factory in their apartment; then pay a shiva call to the Rogarshevsky family home, as they mourn the loss of their father from the "tailors' disease."

 Tours and Talks at the NYC Tenement Museum

We've taken the Confino Family Living History tour a couple of times with our children over the years–it's the one in which "costumed interpreter" Victoria Confino, a Sephardic Jewish teenage immigrant, shows you around her Manhattan tenement apartment, circa 1916–and both times were impressed and delighted by both Victoria as well as the incredible details of her cramped-but-clean home. The newest restoration at 97 Orchard is of the Moore's apartment, an Irish-Catholic family with lived here in 1869, and tried the cope with the death of their child. Also including in the Moore Family tour: a detailed look at the music of Irish America, and how it cuts right into the heart of the immigrant experience.  

Interior View Tenement Museum in New York City 

In addition to the tours, The Tenement Museum NYC also sponsors the outstanding Tenement Museum Talks series of free readings, discussions, and performances by the likes of Gail Collins, Kevin Baker, and the cast of Ragtime. And if can't get to Orchard Street, be sure at least to check out the Tenement Museum Virtual Tour.

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum details  

The Tenement Museum is located at 97 Orchard Street, between Delancey and Broome. All tours begin and end at the Tenement Museum gift shop, located on the corner of Delancey and Orchard in NYC's Lower East Side. For information about ticketing and times, as well as more detailed descriptions of everything, visit the Tenement Museum website.

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