Remembering Governor Mario Cuomo & The Tenement Museum

Last week when former Governor Mario Cuomo passed away at the age of 82, The Lower East Side Tenement Museum lost a friend. The Tenement Museum was created in 1988 when Mr. Cuomo was still governing the State. He didn’t actually visit the museum until a decade after his term ended. Continue reading

Looking Back on 2014

You would think time might pass more slowly here at the Tenement Museum, where the year is often 1863, 1916 or  1935. However, keeping an eye on the past can make us aware of just how quickly the twenty-first century is flying by. Here is a look at what happened in 2014.

A Tenement Museum in 2046

We know what a Tenement Museum looks like in 2014. Our Museum is a standing Tenement building, restored to demonstrate how immigrants lived within its walls from 1863 till 1935 when the building was condemned. This year Annie Polland, Senior Vice President of Education and Programs, wrote a thought-provoking piece for the Huffington Post about what a Tenement Museum might look like in 2046. Put another way, Annie asked important questions about immigrant housing in our present the we ask questions about immigrant housing in the past. Leonard Lopate invited Annie to speak with him about her questions and concerns. Listen in to their conversation on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Obama, Immigrant Families and The Tenement Museum

Here at the Tenement Museum we know immigration is not news.  Every year since our piece of the continent became a nation, immigrants have traveled to the United States to begin a new life. However, new developments, global and local, change the immigrant experience in every day American life. Earlier this year we were proud to welcome Nisha Agarwal, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Commissioner of Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. Agarwal spoke about immigration in New York today and what measures her office will be taking to address future immigration with a little of the past in mind.

Nisha Agarwal, Commissioner for the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs

In November, President Barack Obama made news by changing national policies toward immigrants, specifically immigrant families. Extending amnesty to millions, President Obama passed an executive order to protect most parents of U.S. citizens from deportation. In a further landmark order, Obama extended some benefits to immigrants who have been living in the United States for at least 10 years.

Paul Krugman, The New York Times Editorialist, and Nobel Prize winning economist, reacted to the President’s reforms by citing the Tenement Museum as his favorite museum and as an example of our country’s long relationship with immigrants can be. If you missed it the first time around, you can read the editorial online.

Krugman wrote that he gets especially emotional when touring the Baldizzi apartment, because it is so similar to one where his parents grew up, and because of the intense gratitude the Baldizzi’s have for Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal reforms which made all the difference in assisting the Baldizzi’s through the Great Depression.

Krugman wasn’t the only important visitor to the Baldizzi apartment this year…

The Tenement Museum Welcomes Back a Resident

Rita Ascione with her daughter and grandaughter visiting the Tenement Museum which was once her home.

Rita Ascione is one of the last living former-residents of our tenement on 97 Orchard Street. She lived in the Tenement with her family in the early 1930s as one of the last resident before the building was condemned. She visited this fall at the age of 88. The New York Times joined us in welcoming her home. Rita’s began her lifelong friendship with Josie Baldizzi when she lived above the Baldizzi family at 97 Orchard Street.

Read about her homecoming and watch the incredible video of her visit.

We Really Caught Up On Our Reading!

Among other wonderful guests we welcomed Gary Shteyngart and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as well as Sam Roberts who gave us New York History in a New York minute with his book, A History of New York in 101 Objects. You can watch these and other fascinating Tenement Talks on our Ustream page.

…Helped Others get on a New Learning Track

Our Shared Journeys Program. Photo courtesy of Richard Drew for the Associated Press

We are proud to share the stories of our residents with all our visitors but there are some visitors who have an even deeper connection to our immigrants than others. One of our programs, Shared Journeys reaches specifically speakers of English as a second language,  who are recent immigrants to the United States, just as our original tenants were.

Learn all about it.

…We Let Some Visitors Break the Rules

Our hallway as captured by Tod Seelie, photographer for Gothamist, during Snapshot.

In December we welcomed visitors who were all carrying the same piece of contraband – a camera!

Photography is usually forbidden in the museum because of its deleterious effects the museum experience but on December 5th we opened our doors to shutterbugs of all description. The results were beautiful!  You can track some of the photos on social media through #tenementsnaps

Our visitors were joined by professional Gothamist photographer Tod Seelie. Don’t miss his dynamic images.

Adults Just Wanna Have Fun!

In 2014 we also opened our Tenement Inspector program to adults.

For a few hours, visitors took on the role of New York municipal inspectors, hired to investigate tenements for reforms which were introduced in the Tenement Reform Act of 1901. How did the landlords of 97 Orchard Street fare? New Yorker reporter Sarah Larson  on was on the scene.

What a year!

Thought the tenement has been standing since 1863 the Museum has only been in operation since 1988. We are so grateful to everyone who helped make 2014 another wonderful year for the Tenement Museum. Thanks to our visitors, guests and of course our staff.

Feel like you missed something? Join our enewsletter list to stay informed  of all the excitement we have planned for 2015.

Happy New Year from the Tenement Museum

“Let’s Get Drunk and Make Love”: Lois Long and the Speakeasy


The debonair attitude characteristic of the prohibition, captured in this 1920s cartoon by Russell Patterson. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

On January 17th, 1920, when Prohibition became the law of the land, a new kind of woman was born; a woman who drank, smoked, and (gasp!) danced with members of the opposite sex in illegal watering holes known forever as “speakeasies.” No one, man or woman, described these dens in such delicious detail as The New Yorker magazine’s cabaret-reviewer and resident dancer til dawn, “Lipstick.” “Lipstick,” nom de plume of Connecticut-born Lois Long, was one of the original New Yorker contributors, along with such famous writers as Dorothy Parker, E. B. White, and Alexander Wollcott, and outlasted nearly all of them – her career at The New Yorker spanned nearly 45 years.
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Hanukkah’s History? Perhaps Not What You Thought

Being Jewish during the holidays can be confusing for everyone. This card available in our Museum shop might be just the thing.

With the holiday season comes holiday cheer…  for some.  Every year among those happily tuning in to holiday stations, are those who grumble and Grinch. Let’s classify them as two separate groups of people: those who have no love of life or cheer( this type of person has been in business since long before the Dickensian model,  Scrooge, debuted in 1843), and those who insist that Christmas used to be nice but “now is so commercialized that they start advertising before the Halloween candy is out of the CVS.”

Then there is the special subset of people whose grumbling also extends to Hanukkah. Continue reading

Winning Shots: Photography and Tips from our Snapshot Event

On December 5th we opened our doors to visitors, and their cameras, for Snapshot, a special evening event in which guests were given free range to break our strict “no photography” policy.  Visitors were invited to share their pictures and enter them into a contest on social media using #tenementsnaps. We called on friends from the New York Public Library and from The New Museum, as well as our own Vice President of Marketing and Communications to judge the winners. Emily Whetstone won 1st place scoring herself and 14 of her friends a free tour of the Tenement.

Emily Whetstone's winning photograph.

Shou-ping Yu won second place with a $50 gift certificate to the Museum Shop.

Shou-ping Yu 's lovely second place shot.

Rachel Aherin’s timeless staircase photo was awarded 3rd place. Rachel will receieve a book bundle from the Mueseum shop, curated by our shop buyers.

Rachel Ahrin's great Tenenement Snap.

With all these beautiful photographs floating around we got curious about the tricks of the trade. We turned to Tod Seelie, the Gothamist photographer who took his own beautiful shots while reporting on the event.  Tod let us ask him a few questions about what makes for a great photograph in hard to capture spaces.  Take notes!

When shooting in a small space like the Tenement Museum (or any new York apartment) what’s the are there some good cheats and tricks to getting a wide angle?

– I don’t know if there are any “cheats” to getting a wide angle other than having a wide lens. That said, having a wide lens IS the trick for shooting in tight spaces like the Tenement Museum.

Part of the fun of being in the Tenement Museum at night is the low-light. Is there something you try to remember when you are shooting at night or in a dark place?

– When shooting in a space with ambient lighting at night, you have to be careful to make sure you get a balanced exposure. Be careful not to blow out your highlights (light sources) too much, but don’t let your shadows all slip into total black either. Usually I blow out the light source a bit, and then try to work on the shadows in post.

For us amateur photographers flash can sometimes back fire. What’s a common mistake you think people make when using flash?

– I’m not a big fan of flash when shooting environments because my goal is to try to capture what it is actually like to be there, which includes how the ambient lighting looks. If you’re going to use flash I would say to try and be creative with it, and not just blast everything straight ahead. Angle your flash in a different direction, or try using some sort of diffusion to soften it’s look. Try to make it hard to tell if flash was used or not.

Shooting pictures with an iphone must be totally different than using the cameras you use for work. Is there something you really love about the limitations of a phone camera? Something you really hate? Or do you try to avoid using them?

– There’s not much I love about shooting with a phone, aside from the fact that people in public don’t react the same way as they would if you were using a camera. I enjoy that because it can allow me to be more subtle in situations where a camera might be too obtrusive. Other than that, I tend to use my camera phone like most people, just to snap little fun images to share on Instagram. If I’m actually interested in something visually, I will use my camera. When I was photographing at the Tenement Museum, I was so focused on figuring out the space and how to shoot it that I never thought to take out my phone once, I was totally in camera-mode.

What surprised you most about shooting in the museum?


–  How dramatically lit the space was at night was unexpected for me. Luckily I had anticipated it being very tight spaces, so I had brought my wide lens with me.

Thanks to Tod, our winners, judges and all our Snapshot guests. We are planning more fun events for the future. Subscribe to our newsletter to get the scoop on upcoming events and promotions from the Tenement Museum.


–Posted by, Julia Berick

A Study in Contradictions: A Tenement Museum Employee Visits Saudi Arabia

How do you imagine Saudi Arabia? Desert? Camels? Oil? Oppressed women? That was what I pictured. Traveling to Saudi felt more foreign than anywhere I have ever been. What would I need? Would I lose my identity and independence when the black abaya covered my body? Would its flowing fabric render me invisible or transform me into a wizard out of Harry Potter? With so many questions and so much to learn, I talked to many people in an effort to ensure that I would be respectful and stay safe. In truth, it was difficult to uncover much information. Some people warned me not to go out of fear of the unknown, while others were thrilled by the opportunity for cultural exchange that attending the National Built Heritage Forum in Abha offered.

Beautiful Saudi Arabia

Upon arrival the debunking of my assumptions began with the location of the forum itself. There is no desert in Abha – or camels for that matter. Located in the Asir region of the country, Abha is mountainous and cool. While I had pictured a singular image of Saudi, I discovered diversity, intelligent women, and lots of color. I struggled to reconcile hearing a veiled woman confidently and articulately share her scholarship and expertise with a separate seated audience. These contradictions to my established Saudi narrative kept pushing through the surface, bringing new puzzles and questions with them.

There was the inherent contradiction of attending a forum dedicated to the investment of built heritage and tourism in a country that does not distribute tourist visas. There were distinctions between heritage sites and museums that I was unaccustomed to and differing ideas regarding the authenticity of place and when it moves from real to echo of Disneyland that left me unsettled. Saudis also seem to place more value on the new and modern, a fundamental difference to my own way of thinking which gives preference to preserving the old prior to rebuilding it anew.
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The Tenement Museum Gift Guide: (because you haven’t finished your holiday shopping yet) Part Two

Brooklyn Wash Bag $24.99

You know who she is: that lady in your life who always knows where to brunch and who is able to use the word “repurposed” correctly.  It may be a little intimidating to get her a holiday gift, but she’s guaranteed to like this storage bag with its imaginative mash-up of deco and Brooklyn motifs.

Magic Fire Sticks $19.99

Forget chestnuts! These magic fire sticks will bring merriment to any fireside. Toss them (carefully) in to your roaring hearth, and watch the blaze burn a rainbow of colors. Fireplace sold separately.
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Honoring a Grandparent’s American Journey: Our Shared Journeys Program

Long-time Tenement Museum supporter Marilyn Machlowitz wanted to honor her grandmother’s extraordinary journey from Russia to the United States at the turn of the 20th century. Dr. Machlowitz asked Museum staff about opportunities to support the Museum and celebrate her grandmother, Ida Gorelick Levin, in a meaningful way.

Ida Gorelick came to the United States as a teenager, alone, passing through Antwerp and sailing to America on the Red Star Line. She settled on the Lower East Side and found work in a garment factory, saving enough money over the next few years to send for her mother and brother.

Ida Gorelick Levin, 1906

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Tenement Museum Gift Guide for Holiday 2014

The Little Book Of Jewish Celebrations $18.95

With all the sparkle and shine of the holiday season, we can sometimes forget some of the details, origins, and responsibilities of holidays we’re celebrating. This sophisticated little book could be the perfect reminder for you or someone important.

Tea Leaf Reading Kit $12.99

If you know someone who thinks a message from the great beyond is the same as a message from OkCupid, you’ve come to the right place. Because good old-fashioned superstitions are what we’re missing today, bring home this Tea-Leaf Reading Kit and reach out to something off the grid.

Letters to my Future Self $14.95

They say hindsight is 20/20 but don’t underestimate foresight. These adorable “letters to my future self” are a sweet way of forecasting  the future while finding out what is meaningful in the present tense. The gift  keeps giving long into the future; when the message is opened up years from now everyone will have fun remembering good times, trials, and that bagel place that was gone too soon.

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Giving Thanks Across the Aisle

A match your bubbie would approve of: challah and pastrami stuffing.

Last year on Thanksgiving, American Jews were giving thanks for a little something extra – Hanukkah! For my family, Hanukkah has been more about sharing flavors than exchanging favors so what better gift than the incorporation of horseradish into mashed potatoes or rye flour into our pie crust. Hannu-Giving was a magic moment and over too soon. However this year I couldn’t resist bringing the collaboration back to the table. Continue reading