If You Can Make It Here: Becoming American through the Homestead Act

 

A photograph of Daniel Freeman's homestead, the first homestead secured through the Homestead Act. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

It began as just your average New Year’s Eve party in Gage County, Nebraska Territory. With the Civil War raging on elsewhere, the folks in Gage County were trying to ring in 1863 in relative peace; However Daniel Freeman had another idea. Scheduled to leave Gage County as a Union scout, Freeman did not want to miss his opportunity to file his claim for land via the newly legal Homestead Act. At the New Year’s Eve Party, Freeman managed to convince officials in attendance from the Metropolitan Land Office to open the office a little earlier than normal  so he could file his papers before shipping out.

Just after midnight Daniel Freeman became the first participant in the Homestead Act that apportioned public lands to private citizens.

Signed into law on May 20th 1862 the Homestead Act permitted the “preemptive” ownership of land. We should note, however, that the Act did neglect the fact that during this time period most of this land was far from uninhabited. All of the territories were already home to many Native American communities across the region. The Act had long been opposed by two very different groups. The first group consisted of Northern factory owners who feared the free land would entice their pool of labor away from crowded cities. The second group consisted of Southern politicians who feared that new states created in the western territories would be abolitionist and would vote to abolish slavery nationwide. Once the South attempted succession, Lincoln was quick to pass the Homestead Act.

A sod homestead in South Dakota. Built in 1900, the homestead had seen many hardships. The photo taken in 1936 shows the homestead in the midst of a new catastrophe: the dust bowl. Photo courtesy of the LOC.

The Act allowed pioneers the opportunity to own land merely by living on it for 5 continuous years. But wait. This is 1862 we are talking about – in Nebraska and in the Dakotas. Have you ever been to North Dakota? It is still hard to live there. Living on a plot of land for five continuous years took skill, luck and unbelievable depth of perseverance. It was hard and it was lonely to settle a plot of land which by definition was wild and unpopulated. Some of the land turned out to be difficult or even impossible to farm, which was basically the only means of sustenance for settlers –  though some also survived by hunting and foraging. Plenty of homesteaders failed and fled back to territories where they could be around people, purchase goods, have electricity, and maybe even fall in love .

A photograph taken in 1886 of the William Moore and family, Sargent, Custer County, Nebraska. Photo courtesy of the LOC.

The Homestead Act was an important move west for those born on our shores and for those born abroad. The Act made the land available to anyone who was a United States citizen or who aimed to be. This legislative loophole allowed mostly European  immigrants to come to the United States with the express purpose of settling land in the west. Scholars believe that legislators aimed to build the country as an agricultural power with farm labor lured from overseas. While we think of the Homestead Act as partly responsible for “making America” it is also responsible for making any number of Americans. One of the most famous pieces of literature documenting homesteaders, My Antonia by Willa Cather, takes European Immigrants as its protagonists.  In 1973, historian Michael Lesy published Wisconsin Death Trip, a very different volume which unraveled some of the more romantic myths of pioneer life Lesy’s book examined the archives of the small town of Black River Falls in Wisconsin between 1890 and 1910. The archives told of a town barely tethered to sanity and felled by the many dangers of pioneer living.  A cult classic, Wisconsin Death Trip was not the first tale of pioneer hardships but it helped begin a trend of historical perspective which helps us understand just how challenging it was to settle the western territories – then imagine doing so an ocean away from home and in a language not your own. It almost makes tenement dwelling look easy – almost.

 

–Posted by Julia Berick, Marketing and Communications Coordinator

A Century Apart, Deadly Earthquakes Bring a Diaspora Together

A image from 1908 of the "Little Italy" section of New York. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

On December 28, 1908 one of the worst earthquakes in Europe’s history tore into the Messina Strait in Southern Italy. The devastating earthquake was subsequently followed by a Tsunami which pounded the adjacent coastal regions. The devastation was incomprehensible; an estimated 200,000 people were killed. Southern Italy was already a place with high instances of poverty. Many families were already leaving the region in great numbers to seek better opportunities in the United States. One such envoy was a group of about 500 Italians, who were on board a ship called the Germania when the earthquake hit. The steamer was not equipped with a wireless system, and while the officers and Captain were aware of what just happened, they purposely maintained a code of silence for fear of pandemonium among those traveling in steerage. The grief among the travelers when the ship finally reached U.S. shores was nearly as terrible as feared.

While time has passed and technology has transformed the world, unfortunately there are still echoes of the Messina earthquake in 2015. Last month, an earthquake that registered a 7.8 on the Richter scale killed more than 8,000 in Nepal and left many bereaved Nepalese immigrants here in New York.

Nepal is home to one of the most impressive mountain ranges on the planet. Nestled amoung the peaks are isolated villages sometimes remote from technological growth . After the last month’s devastating earthquake, friends and relatives were frantic to find news of survivors and the dead. Downed phone lines and landslides have made the remotest areas nearly impossible to reach. The tragedy in such a remote region has brought the 21st century much closer to the confusion of the Messina earthquake a century ago, when it could have taken New York relatives days or even weeks to figure out who had survived. Some Nepalese immigrants to New York have been able to make use of social media to insure the safety of their family and friends. Facebook and Whatsapp quickly created systems for users in danger zones to ‘check in’.

Today, planes are laden with aid and family members returning to Nepal to search for lost friends and family. In 1908, steamers brought frantic recent immigrants back to Sicily. Similar to Nepal, there were large governmental efforts made to support the victims of the Messina earthquake.  A Navy made powerful by President Theodore Roosevelt was directed to bring aid to the region. Congress had also voted to appropriate supplies and funding for rehabilitation.

However, Italians in 1908 and Nepalese immigrants in 2015 both felt the need to raise money and contribute what they could individually. In 1908 the staff of the Knickerbocker Hotel, many of whom were recent Italian immigrants, donated $1,500 to the Red Cross. By 1908, there were also enough Italians in New York to sustain several Italian-language newspapers, some of which sold postcards to raise money.

Among Nepalese immigrants today there is some concern regarding the effectiveness of international aid efforts and the Nepalese government. The Nepalese population of New York has dramatically increased to 74,000 from around 2,400 in 1990. Several Nepali newspapers which are published in the city have all rallied for support and funds, but just as in 1908, smaller business owners have become unexpected focal points of aid. Mingma T. Sherpa’s cellphone shop has become the gathering point for donations of first aid and other supplies. The New York Nepalese Football Club went door to door in Jackson Heights, raising around $23,000 for relief efforts.

Like Italy in 1908, the country of Nepal was losing people to opportunities in New York as well as to more accessible labor markets in the Saudi gulf. Strategists and politicians now fear that after much of the earthquake relief has been completed, even more Nepalis will leave the beautiful but isolated villages skirting Kathmandu.

Today Nepal was hit by another earthquake of 7.3 magnitude. While the full extent of the damage is still unclear our thoughts continue to be with the people of Nepal and their friends and families here in New York.

 

–Posted by Julia Berick, Marketing and Communications Coordinator 

With research from:

Italian Americans: Bridges to Italy, Bonds to America Paperback – March 28, 2010by Luciano J. Iorizzo (Author, Editor), Ernest E. Rossi (Author, Editor)

Bringing up Baby

 

Last Christmas, after dinner, I had a baby. What followed was the longest, fastest three months of my life. And while babies do not come with instruction manuals, parenting experts, mommy bloggers, family, friends, bystanders on random street corners, are all too quick with (often contradictory) advice on how to raise an intelligent, independent, compassionate, and socially-conscious individual.

This Mother’s Day, we salute moms who, for more than a century, have sifted through the fog of information, from the benign to the absurd.

 

As Tenement Museum staff we are constantly reminded that, as hard as it is to raise a baby in New York City today, it could have been worse.  In 1897, as 2.3 million people in New York City (two-thirds of the population) lived in overcrowded tenements, L. Emmett Holt, a leading pediatrician and author, wrote the bestselling book, The Care and Feeding for Children.  He urged parents to keep the nursery in “as large a room as possible … one that is well ventilated, and always one in which the sun shines at some part of the day.” As someone who is thankful that her walk-in closet is large enough to fit a crib (a rarity in New York City), this advice hits particularly close to home. And for our tenement residents, it was near impossible.

 

A mother and her child in New York City in 1905. Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library.

And what are these children to do in such spacious, well-ventilated rooms? Holt wrote that “babies under six months old should never be played with; and the less of it at any time the better for the infant…They are made nervous and irritable, sleep badly and suffer from indigestion and in many other respects.”

 

A bucolic imagining of child-rearing from a 1909 post card by Jessie Wilcox Smith. Photo credit Scribner and Sons. Photo courtesy of the NYPL

Let’s not forget about all the emotional damage caused by physical affection. In their 1916 book, The Mother and Her Child, William and Lena Sadler wrote, “If we sow indulgence we shall reap anger, selfishness, irritability, “unbecomingness”—the spoiled child. … Handle the baby as little as possible. Turn occasionally from side to side, feed it, change it, keep it warm, and let it alone; crying is absolutely essential to the development of good strong lungs. A baby should cry vigorously several times each day.”  Mothers such as Jenny Levine, who lived in the Tenement at  97 Orchard in 1897, would have had a hard enough time carrying fresh water up and down the tenement steps, keeping the coal burning stove going, making meals for her husband and his employees to worry about whether she was playing with her babies the right amount.

 

A Russian mother at Ellis Island in 1914. Image courtesy of the NYPL.

Are you on the path to putting these rules into practice? Well, don’t think pregnant women get a pass – even bathing is all too risky for the expectant mother. George Henry Napheys, in his 1889 book, The Physical Life of Woman: Advice to the Maiden, Wife, and Mother, cautions, “Foot-baths are always dangerous. Sea-bathing sometimes causes miscarriage … The shower-bath is of course too great a shock to the system, and a very warm bath is too relaxing… women of a lymphatic temperament and of a relaxed habit of body are always injured by the bath.”

 

The domain of the tenement mother. It was a tall task to keep the coal stove roaring and to keep small children out of harms way.

As foreign as these theories may sound, with a 20% infant mortality rate in the 1870s, mothers were looking for professional guidance. Many of the mothers in tenement housing during this period were foreigner. Imagine how confusing this advice was to them! Immigrant mothers, then and now, have an added challenge when considering child rearing advice. Although they may have had support and theories of their own back home, it may have been hard to raise their children according to their  traditions in the crowded Lower East Side. Even today, with access to pediatric care and modern medicine, it’s hard as a new mother not to harbor these same fears. Without training or certification of any kind, I brought a human being home with not so much as a flyer on how to keep him alive. Thankfully, as the parenting debate rages on, there is no shortage of gurus to shed some light on the daunting task. One hundred years from now, as parenting experts ridicule our current debates on pacifiers and sleep training, we’ll see how the conversation evolves with the changing times. Who’s to say what is right and wrong? Well, mother knows best.

–Posted by Tricia Kang,  Marketing Manager and new mother

Ruined, but not Destroyed: The Beauty of Disuse in an English Castle and our New York Tenement

The 'interior' of 13th century Astley Castle. Gutted by fire, neglect, vandalism both natural and man-made, before the preservation. Photo courtesy of the Landmark Trust.

 

And we thought our tenement was old… what does a 13th-century castle have in common with our Tenement Museum in New York City’s Lower East Side? There is a lot to be learned from decay.

For some Museum guests, it is not the Tenement’s restoration but the deterioration that is the most exciting part of the visit. There are some spaces in 97 Orchard Street which the Museum has elected to maintain as “ruins” – spaces that have been kept pretty much as we found them when the building was discovered in 1988, after standing empty for around 50 years. For some visitors, these ruined spaces can say as much as the restored apartments about the hardship and joys of the former tenants, the importance of memorials, and the passage of time.

A view of the 'ruined' apartment in 97 Orchard Street. Some of these apartments where left un-restored to give visitors a sense of how the building was when we found it.

True, ruins serve all of these purposes, but they would be less successful if they didn’t look so wild, as though the visitor had happened upon this pocket of history in 21st-century Manhattan. In reality, the ruined spaces had to be cleared and secured, plaster restrained, and the walls reinforced just as elsewhere in the building. Preservation in the ruined was executed in a way the visitor could maintain his or her sense of discovery.

This sense of discovery is what connects our Tenement in New York City with a ruined castle in Warwickshire, England, which has just been rehabilitated by the Landmark Trust to be a dwelling again. At first glance, these spaces and their purposes couldn’t be more different. The castle has been attended to in part because of its illustrious history. In a ranking devised by Landmark bureaus in the United Kingdom, Astley is a “grand II” because of its connection to three Queens of England. By contrast, we preserve the Tenement in part because the people who lived there were not powerful, and their stories can often be ignored. However, the thoughtful efforts of the Trust in dealing with the castle emphasizes the importance  of ruins in telling stories about history, just as we do at the Museum.

Astley shortly before it was preserved by the Heritage Trust. Photo courtesy of the Heritage Trust.

The Castle was built in the 13th century, although the Landmark Trust makes sure to note that it is, “strictly speaking,” only a fortified manor, not really a castle. Astley was crenellated (fortified) and given a moat in 1266. Monarchy was long the hottest ticket in town and laws of succession were carefully studied by aristocrats who might be eligible to become sovereigns. One of the Dukes who lived at Astley tried to put his daughter on the throne. Her rule lasted only nine days. She and her father were arrested and beheaded for treason. (The Duke was searched out and found in a hollow tree on his castle grounds.) Over the centuries however, Astley has fallen into disrepair. So, unfortunately it seems, it is not as easy to keep a castle as you might hope. The buildings were refurnished for rehabilitating soldiers during World War II and turned into a hotel after that.  When a fire gutted the structure in 1978, keeping the castle upright seemed an almost impossible task.

Images of the structures inserted in to the ruined cavities of Astley Castle, which both fortified the ruins and created a new dwelling space. images courtesy of the Landmark Trust.

Finally the Trust held an architectural competition in 2005, when the firm Witherford Watson Mann devised an ingenious plan for bolstering the structures that were near to collapse without upsetting the feeling of the ruin. The firm inserted a structure within the cavities of the collapsed building, very much like a rotten tooth, according to the architects. The new structure supports the original brick work, and visitors can stay in the original castle spaces but with the pleasures of a modern conveniences. From within the cavities of the castle, the view is much like that of standing in the ruined space. Only modern technology, a technique called Syntec drilling, has reinforced the crumbling stone walls. Syntec drilling is a patented system using a non-percussive diamond headed drill, which is low risk to the stonework. The channels made by the drill are filled with a special compound and in Astley’s case,  five-ton lintels were crane-lifted over the moat to help secure the structure.

The restored castle. Photo courtesy of the Landmark Trust.

The Landmark Trust in effect gives history back to the people in a way which is very similar to that of the Tenement Museum. Sure, Astley was once a great hall fit for a lord and his retainer, but today anyone can rent the structure, which sleeps eight. If you were to fill it up with friends or family the price for the individual comes to £27.22, currently about $41.45. A small price to pay for a date with history.

A view of the preserved castle that shows the interplay of new and old stonework in the ruined structure. Photo courtesy of the Landmark Trust.

–Posted by Julia Berick, Marketing and Communications Coordinator.

Looking at the Great Migration

The first panel of Jacob Lawrence's Great Migration Series. Each panel features a caption written by Lawrence. This panel reads "During World War I there was a great migration north by southern African Americans." © 2008 Estate of Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. This image courtesy of MoMA.

There is one tale of American Migration that is so different from the rest, that it seems at first to bear no relation to the stories we tell at the Museum. This is the Great Migration, the immense movement of African Americans from the rural South to the cities in the Northern and Western United States, including, of course, New York City. Unlike the other newly-arrived New Yorkers we discuss, these new arrivals were not immigrants. However, they left a place where their personhood was at risk and traveled hundreds of miles to a place where they hoped their American dreams would come true. Some of these migrants had their hopes realized, while others’ hopes were deferred and are still.  As one of the largest demographic shifts in American history, the Great Migration is an essential chapter in the history of our cities and our country. What can we learn about this unique movement that can also help us understand immigration and the face of our cities today?

Panel 3 "From every southern town migrants left by the hundreds to travel north." The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), Photo courtesy of the MoMA.

Historians consider the Great Migration to cover the movement of African Americans from around 1915 until about 1930.  Though African Americans in the South had gained emancipation after the Civil War, they hardly gained equality. Georgia established its first streetcar segregation law in 1891. This was only the first legal measure of that era enacted by southern state governments to assert what many felt – that Americans of color were not deserving of equal protection under the law. By 1915, all Southern states had segregation laws of some sort, which historians now refer to as Jim Crow laws. Humiliated, threatened and killed because of the color of their skin, southern black Americans moved to the north hoping for jobs, opportunities and respect. While southern states rejected their black population’s personhood, they were loath to lose the labor force they represented. African Americans who held train or bus tickets were often intimidated or arrested; trains were prevented from stopping if it seemed that a great number of African Americans were boarding for the North. Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, Isabel Wilkerson, who wrote a history of the Great Migration The Warmth of Other Suns, found that though economists often speak of soil exhaustion and the boll weevil (a pest that preyed on cotton plants) as “push factors” encouraging black Americans to move north, not a single one of the 1,200 people she interviewed mentioned this phenomenon.

The jarring change between the rural south and industrial urban north was a move that, for some was almost like embarking upon a foreign land.

Panel 45 " The migrants arrived in Pittsburgh, one of the great industrial centers of the North." © 2008 Estate of Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo courtesy of the MoMA.

Once they arrived in Northern cities, hardships hardly ceased for this population. White populations living in the North and the West were often just as racist as their southern counterparts, even if these feelings were not codified into law. Arriving with little or no resources, Southern Blacks were often forced into substandard housing conditions and were at the mercy of manipulative employment practices. These newcomers also encountered some apprehension from Americans of color who already lived in Northern cities.

Panel 54 "For the migrants, the church was the center of life." The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Mrs. David M. Levy. The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY. Photo courtesy of MoMA.

Much like between the German-Jewish immigrants who arrived first and the Eastern European immigrants who came later, African Americans who already lived in Northern cities were concerned about how such vast numbers of rural newcomers would change they way they were viewed by white society. Also, like some of the immigrants we discuss, this first generation of migrants had the sensation of “losing their children” to an urban culture in which they never quite felt at home. Wilkerson writes “The streets, with their noise and flaring lights, the taverns, the automobiles, and the poolrooms claim them, and no voice of ours can call them back.”  Like the populations who lived on the Lower East Side, Southern Black populations living in the North and West often formed social clubs and churches which reminded them of home. Wilkerson reports that there are Lake Charles Louisiana Clubs in Los Angeles and churches in New York where all the congregations came from North Carolina. Feelings of alienation for  these migrants and their descents , however, have lasted into the 21st century  due to a myriad of biases held still held nationwide.

Jacob Lawrence in 1941, the year the Migration Series was completed and immediately recognized and collected by MoMA and the Philips Collection as a major artistic achievement. Photo courtesy of the NYPL.

We are fortunate to have a few very important records of the unique experience of these migrants. Some of our best American writers and artists became part of the Work’s Project Administration. It was as a painter in the easel division of the Works Project Administration that Jacob Lawrence began work on one of the most valuable records of this movement. On view now at the Museum of Modern Art for the first time in 20 years, Lawrence’s Migration Series is an epic collection of 60 panels depicting the themes and episodes of the mass migration. Do not miss the opportunity to consider Lawrence’s work and this chapter in American Migration.

–Posted by Julia Berick, Marketing and Communications Coordinator 

 

 

The Tenement Museum Top Sellers List

The Tenement Museum Shop at 103 Orchard

The Tenement Museum Shop, located at 103 Orchard Street, is always hopping with shoppers. And one thing is clear: our shoppers are big readers. The shop has a particularly strong literary selection that includes books about the museum, immigration, New York history, and even popular fiction. With that mind, we thought we would check in with the shop to find out what our visitors are reading. So without further ado, here are the Top 10 bestselling books for the past year at the Tenement Museum:

1. How the Other Half Lives   

2. Tenement Museum Book Bundle

3. A Tenement Story: The History of 97 Orchard and the Lower East Side

4. 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Families in One New York Tenement

5. The Historical Atlas of New York: A Visual Celebration of 400 Years of New York City’s History

6. 97 Orchard St, New York: Stories of Immigrant Life

7. Biography of A Tenement House in New York City: An Architectural History of 97 Orchard Street

8. Vivian Maier: Street Photographer

9. New York City (Boardbook)

10. Five Points

So even though Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives was first published in 1889, it still is attracting readers more than 125 years later. Sometimes you just can’t beat a classic. All of these books can also be purchased online at the Tenement Museum Shop.

- Post by Jon Pace

A Door to the Past: the Photographs of Roy Colmer

A shot of Hester Street between Essex and Ludlow Streets in a series capturing the odd numbers doors. Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If government research can be respected as art, can respected art become social research? Recently, we took a look at the life and work of Lewis Hine, a photographer who used his gift to document child labor in the early 20th century for the United States government. This week we talk about Ray Colmer,  an artist whose work was not intended to be a historical document but can become one for urban observers today. Colmer was an artist who worked in painting, graphic design and film. His major project, however was a photography project, Doors NYC. Doors NYC  captured  over 3,000 doorways in Manhattan. Though the images are straight forward -each photo depicts a door on a city street- his project is semi-abstract. Colmer’s work teaches the viewer to look for sameness as well as variation. His efforts were as an artist first, but because his work meticulously captures Manhattan streetscapes, his pictures end up serving as a record of the city in the 1970s. Continue reading

Recipes for Remembrance: Victoria Confino’s Passover Seder

Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) is the ultimate food holiday. Unlike so many Jewish holidays celebrated in synagogue, Passover is observed at home, twice, by gathering around the table for a special ceremony, the Seder (literally meaning order), and enjoying a festive meal. The Seder is laid out in a book called the haggadah, which tells the story of the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt and provides prayers as well as explanations for some of the practices and symbols of the holiday. Intended to connect the Jewish people to the Jews of centuries past, the Seder encourages us to remember and to reenact the story of Passover with the indispensable help of several foods, mnemonic devices that symbolize everything from enslavement to sacrifice, freedom and renewal.

For the immigrant families of 97 Orchard Street and throughout the Jewish Lower Eastside, Passover Seders must have been especially meaningful. The themes of sacrifice, new beginnings, and freedom must have hit especially close to home for those who had recently left their own homes and all that was familiar in order to begin again in New York City. The meals that followed the service were likely more abundant than they had been in their home countries, but the tastes would have been bittersweet, reminding them not only of the Passover story, but also bringing back memories of homes they’d left behind.

The Confino Seder Plate


Continue reading

Tenement Reflections: The Tales of a Tortured Tenant

Woman crossing Astor Place with home-work. Photo Courtesy of The Library of Congress.

While many new immigrant families arrived in America seeking different opportunities than what their native land could offer, many were struck by the hardships of living in 19th century New York. Krysta O’Pharrow provides a fictional perspective of a German tenant residing in 97 Orchard Street.

August, 1880

It’s not what it’s all cracked up to be. I find myself slumped over, knees to chest, quietly sobbing as the children rest. Hands blackened with splinters caused from scavenging all afternoon for wood and coal for our stove. I close my eyes tightly for a few moments to escape our harsh realities. Counting the days until we can save enough to remove ourselves from these rackety pits. Maintaining my sanity, reminding myself today’s hardships would become memories of a tortured past. I recount and replay my fantasies as a child, longing to escape to the greatest city in the world. Tales of starting a new life in the land of the free consumed me. I look at my children sweating profusely as they all gather under our parlor windows gasping for air as they sleep. The wind blows a horrendous smell of manure. Endless chatter fills the walls with voices of patrons, tenants, and workers, waiting in our communal rear yard for water and toilets. Constant sobbing lingers through our bedroom of a neighbor’s child suffering from swill milk poisoning. Our connecting fire door somehow reflects an ongoing nightmare. I stare daily at our wallpaper, it often fills me with joy as it is vibrant with color and designs and somehow eases the burdens of life. It allows my family to escape the ugliness lying outside our doors. Fighting back watering eyes caused from the soot accumulated throughout our quarters. A useless broom full of twigs lies near our stove full of dirt and dust, in need of a harsh beating. The thought of chores means another treacherous adventure outside these walls. Each step becomes another reminder, another trip down four flights of stairs, which seem to lead to perdition.  My body cries in agony, the daily torture of battling my way through a hallway full of chaos. Each floor is a purgatory of dreams, each dreamer ultimately waiting for their imminent resting place. Struggling to handle items half of my body weight results in endless blisters on my chapped hands. Sleepless nights occur daily when I lay my head to rest. The aches and pains condemn my body to constant tossing and turning. Comfort is a luxury my family just can’t afford as my husband works tersely. Before Sunrise with the children already awake, I can see in his weary eyes, he’s on the brink of defeat. Freedom results in frequent visits to Schneider’s Saloon, a time capsule to our native homeland. We work relentlessly to keep our family values and children sheltered as this life is all they know. Cornered, isolated, and confined to Kleindeutschland, where culture and our native tongue lives. The loud voices of neighbors, crying babies, and the gaudy commotion in our halls wake me from my wretched daydream. Prompting, I cease these thoughts and disregard the aches piercing every limb in my body. The sun is almost set, within moments darkness will present itself. I must gather the lanterns and prepare for night. The children are waking from their naps and the chores await me. My realities are one of choice as I escaped to this country for a better life.  I trekked across the retched blue seas to live the dream for those I’ve left behind. America is now our home and so is 97 Orchard Street.

- Posted by Krysta O’Pharrow, Evening Events Assistant

 

 

 

Picturing Child Labor: Lewis W. Hine

 

A child at a North Carolina cotton mill, captured by Lewis W. Hine. Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library.

Once you have seen a photograph by Lewis W. Hine it is hard to forget it. Though Hine himself is largely forgotten, his work, which documents child labor in early 20th century United States, continues to haunt lawmakers, photographers and civilians alike, as an arresting example of the power of the photograph. Continue reading