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.
This museum offers a number of tours, three I think. You meet in the visitor centre and then are escorted over the road into a converted tennement. When I say converted I mean run down! It is a reconstruction of the way NY immigrants would have lived in the early 20th Century.
We took the Colfino family tour. We were escorted into an appartment where an actress played the part of a Polish Jewish immigrant explained her life. We were invited to take on the role of new arrivals in the city. It lasted about one hour.
I'm not sure I got the most out of this. It is marketed as a family tour and younger children dragged there by parents liked me appeared to enjoy it. As an interested adult there was not enough information for me and the other tours would have been better.
This fascinating "hands-on" museum is focused on the presentation and interpretation of a variety of immigrant and migrant experiences on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
The heart of the Tenement Museum -- and where the tour begins -- is a tenement building that was home to an estimated 7,000 people, from over 20 nations, between 1863 and 1935.
Visitors tour the tenement’s cramped living spaces and learn about the lives of past residents and the history of the neighborhood.
The Museum also offers various programs such as walking tours, plays, art exhibits, and readings that represent the immigrant experience, throughout the year.
On my tour I was one of 10 people each of whom came from a different country. This musum is gaining in popularity becasue of the international subject matter, as well as the terrific neighborhood it's in.
The Tenement Museum can only be accessed by guided tour. The gift shop is where tickets are purchased and where you can view a 1/2 hour long video about the history of the Lower East Side, which was very interesting.
There are a few different tours available and we took the "Getting By: Weathering the Great Depressions of 1873 and 1929" tour. The guide was very informative and easy to listen to. The tour takes you through two of the apartments. One is modelled to look like the family apartment in the 1870's and the other in the 1930's. You also get a glimpse of what the building looked like in the 1980's when it was discovered empty and was subsequently made into the museum. The tour and tenement are a great glimpse into the life of New York immigrants over the years. The tour costs $10 per adult.
well, i love the East Village and all lower east side
about 10 years ago it used to be kind of dangerous and run down, i like it there now
Also i started to appreciate it more since my cousin opened a restaurant there and a wine bar, so when i am in new york i usually come to this area everyday on foot and ejnoy breathing the "air" of this part, where a lot of young people live
This is a tour of an actual tenement, lived in by many immigrants at the turn of the 20th century. You will be amazed at how tight the living conditions were, however the tour is guided and the guide was more than a little preachy. I don't need to be hit over the head a dozen times to get the picture that life was not nice back then.
This is a great complement to Ellis Island, giving an insight into the lives of many immigrants after they stepped off the boat. While there are some interesting videos in the museum’s shop/ticket area, the focus of any visit is a trip across the street to a building preserved more or less as it was when used by generations of new arrivals to New York. The spaces are extremely tight, and sometimes housed multiple families, and there’s a very poignant sense of the privations suffered by most people who passed through here, as well as a hint of their ultimate success in gaining a foothold in the US. The Museum runs tours with different themes, and the guides are exceptionally knowledgeable. The tours are very popular and because the buildings are difficult to maneuver around, the numbers allowed on each tour are strictly limited: arrive early in the day on weekends to ensure the tour you want isn’t sold out. We both found our visit extremely informative about the area as a whole, and the specifics of life on the lower edges of New York society.
Lower East Side Tenement Museum
You will arrive at a small gift shop and a movie continuously playing in another room. Buy your tickets, sit down and watch the movie. It's a great look into the experiences of immigrants who lived in tenements in the Lower East Side. The tour actually takes place down the street. You will be shown a tenement building that last had residents in 1935 and was closed-up until 1988 when the museum purchased the property. Some rooms are recreated to reflect the families that lived there in the late 1800-early 1900 hundreds. The actual families are profiled using Census reports. Other rooms are shown in their original decay. Still interesting. Be warned, this museum is not a traditional museum-nothing is behind glass or ropes. Do not touch. There are steep flights of stairs to climb, no place to sit, no air conditioning in summer or heat in the winter. The tour takes about an hour and you will stand the entire time. Well worth it though.
Visit the Lower East Side Tenement Museum
A wonderful insight into the living conditions that MANY of our ancestors endured when they arrived in America.
Presented in the form of a combination walking tour and mini history lesson, the 'museum' consists mainly of an actual tenement structure that was partially restored to depict apartmetnt living in three time periods from the early 1800's to the 1930's.
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