History Repeats Itself : Inspect & Protect Your Tenement

An unusable bathroom at 159 Suydam Street in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Credit: Jake Naughton for The New York Times.

Relics in our present often spark an intriguing interest to look back into our past. This is the framework that makes 97 Orchard Street such a compelling place to visit. Known today as the Tenement Museum, this repository of memories of New York’s humble past was the home to nearly 7,000 working class immigrants. Dated back to the early 19th century these tenement buildings were not just buildings five to six stories high but they were buildings associated with poverty, overcrowding and working-class families.  Before building codes and housing laws existed, these buildings were burdened with a lack of  lighting, central heating, running water or indoor plumbing. The poorest corners of New York City became infected with a housing crisis unimaginable to those who live in apartments today. These severe living conditions would eventually lead to reform as the city could no longer avoid the indisputable proof. Continue reading

Spicing up the Tradition of Chinese Food in NYC

Chinese restaurants have long since become a New York classic. Here is an interior from early 1900. Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library.

For many Americans Chinese culture is Chinese food. Chinese restaurants are ubiquitous in America. More common than McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King combined, Chinese food has frequently adapted to American tastes. (Join us April 1st as reporter Jennifer 8. Lee follows this story further). Continue reading

Playing With History

As a child, Oregon Trail was my first foray into the wonderful world of historical video games. It was a thriller set in year 1848 with a choose-your-own-adventure format. The stakes were high and survival was not assured. My fellow 5th grade classmates all worked diligently to earn a coveted spot at our single classroom computer where we could play the game and guide our covered wagon through the harsh realities of 19th century pioneer life. It’s from Oregon Train that I learned about hunting and hunger, and diseases like cholera and typhoid. Most importantly I learned how impactful my choices are to the survival of my family and community. Continue reading

In Northern Ireland, a Resiliant Jewish Community

The Albert Memorial Tower in Central Belfast. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The history of Northern Ireland is infamously complex but no one can dispute the importance of religion in the region. Which is why it’s all the more fascinating that Belfast welcomed a Jewish community that remains to this day. Continue reading

Dance to the Music of Time: One Building’s Many Lives in the East Village

“…he’d left Chicago and come East in a fashion that rather took your breath away: for instance, he’d brought down a string of polo ponies from Lake Forest. It was hard to realize that a man in my own generation was wealthy enough to do that…”

The Great Gatsby, that infamous chronicle of roaring 1920′s wealth, describes the heir Tom Buchanan with his string of polo ponies. Tom brought his own polo ponies from the Midwest. The less fortunate families of New York , the Vanderbilts, the Delanos, the Belmonts,bought their horses at auction houses in the city. At the turn of the century alternatives arose to literal horse power. Elevated trains and automobiles, especially for the wealthiest New Yorkers, decreased the dependence on horses and increased their value as luxurious pastime.  Auction houses became increasingly grand buildings for beautifully bred animals. These buildings required grand internal halls to host processions of horses from which customers could choose. The last of these auction houses known to exist in New York was saved just last year, largely by the efforts of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. The building was declared a landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in November 2014.

A beautiful polo athlete, and his rider. Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library.


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A Moveable Feast: A Tale of a Transporting Cookie

Mandel Bread or mandelbrot is an eastern European Jewish culinary tradition. It is not the only answer to the dreary January days or the dreary February days which are still to come– but it certainly helps.

It’s a biscotti-like cookie, meaning it is twice baked, but emerges a little softer and richer from the oven with the help of an out-sized proportion of eggs. The cookies are still crunchy enough to appreciate the company of tea or coffee and you may suddenly find that what seemed irreparable just a few moments ago seems just a little better with a cup of warm coffee and a mandel.

Piedmont: the probable birthplace of the well-traveled mandel bread. This is a hand-colored, glass lantern slide from 1925. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Joan Nathan, fairy-godmother of Jewish cooking in America, has a theory about the journey of this humble cookie. Because of its similarity to the biscotti (and for more demographically sound reasons), she believes that mandel bread traveled to Germany with emigrants from the once robust Italian Jewish community of Piedmont in Northern Italy. Mandel bread with its German name, its Italian roots and its strong foothold in your grandmother’s Midwestern kitchen is a perfect portrait of the wanderings of the modern Jewish populations of North America. Continue reading

Saluting a Queen of New York: Bess Myerson

Bess Myerson representing New York City at the Miss America pagent in 1945. Photo credit Isaac Brekken for Associated Press. Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

Crowned Miss America in 1945, Bess Myerson  first gained fame as a  national beauty queen, but in many ways her lasting reign was that of a New Yorker.

Through her many careers; in music, television and politics Myerson was both burnished and tarnished by the limelight. But in everything she did, she was fighting expectations about the roles of women, and the roles of Jews, in American society. Continue reading

Movies of The Lower East Side: Crossing Delancey (1988)

Movies of The Lower East Side…

Crossing Delancey (1988)

One of the movies that visitors to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum frequently cite is 1988’s Crossing Delancey.  It probably helps that the museum is located on Orchard Street right off of Delancey Street so it is understandable why the movie comes to mind. Many visitors who come from the North actually have to physically “cross Delancey” in order to get to the Museum. Amazingly, as a self-proclaimed film buff – especially of films released in the late 1980’s and set in New York City (I am looking right at you, Big and Working Girl) – I had not seen Crossing Delancey (though I do remember my mom renting it when it was released on VHS back in the day). Last year, after starting to work at The Tenement Museum and hearing folks often reference it when discussing the Lower East Side; I decided to watch it as I was fascinated by it on multiple levels. Continue reading

Emma Goldman: The Firebrand Still Glowing in 2015

Always going somewhere, this photography for the Library of Congress archives shows Goldman on a street car in 1917. Photo courtesy of the LOC.

Unlikely, though it may seem, one of the figures to have the most lasting impact on American labor rights is a Lithuanian born, Russian educated, anarchist named Emma Goldman. A towering and unique figure in the early activism for workers’ rights, Goldman was a charismatic speaker and a prolific writer who championed issues that are still disputed today. When University of California, Berkeley informed the editor of the Emma Goldman Archives, housed there, that after 34 years and $1.2 million in support, funding had run out for her project Prof. Falk’s reaction would have made Goldman proud. Continue reading

Tails and Scales: The Fate of the Fulton Fish Market Hangs in the Balance

The Fulton Fish Market fully-functioning and close to the height of its powers in Manhattan in 1936. Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library.

Long gone are the days  when New York City was a just a market town. At one time, our proud metropolis was just a small seaport with six municipal markets. New Yorkers who hear the word “market” today are more likely to think of Wall Street’s Stock Exchange than a gathering of food vendors. The larger markets that do exist in the city- the Chelsea Market and the Gansevoort Market – feature specialty purveyors rather than the raucous fishmongers in sturdy rubber waders. One man, Robert LaValva, hopes to change all that by bringing a market back to the former space of Manhattan’s Fulton Fish Market. How did such a vital market end up needing to be rescued?  The history of this Market is the perfect example of food consumption in New York. Continue reading