John Schneider, Caroline Schneider, Jacob Burinescu, Jose Beniquez ‘Bennie’ Santiago, Crispin Ramos. We remember and honor their lives, and commit ourselves to learning what we can from their stories.
Zooming-in from the national to the personal, the stories of the Schneider, Burinescu, and Santiago Ramos families illustrate the full range of human response to contagious illness: from the community support for the Schneiders, to Jacob Burinescu’s devotion to his society brothers, to Bennie and Crispin’s friends turning away. Their stories can both restore hope and evoke unresolved feelings of loss.
This web of stories challenges the notion that scientific understanding alone advances reasoning about contagious disease. While it seems unreasonable for anyone today to attribute disease to moral failing or vague atmospheric miasma-science after all has proven otherwise for well over a century –the response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic proves that such reasoning prevails in contemporary evaluations of the sick. Structurally vulnerable populations –be they People of Color, LGBTQ+, people living in poverty, people living with addiction; be they immigrants, refugees, or citizens of Native American tribal nations —are today experiencing drastically higher rates of epidemic illness and impact from the COVID-19 virus.
The city does not equally invest in many of these communities. Yet it is here among the marginalized, the ill-judged and disenfranchised where communities of mutual aid and activism form. Created to meet the needs of the community whose needs are being structurally ignored, these grassroots support groups and radical protest demonstrations demand visibility and advocate for equality. They interrupt the silence of preceding generations. They push the local government to act, improving housing standards, advancing medical research, and supporting vulnerable populations. As such, and for many social frontiers, New York City is a driving force in national reform.
With this exhibit, the Tenement Museum hopes to illuminate the humanity of illness and loss amidst epidemic and pandemic diseases. May we remember those lost today and document their stories for the future.
Research and writing for this exhibit conducted as part of the Contagious Cities initiative, a project of the Wellcome Trust.
Major research for the sections on tuberculosis and the 1918 influenza was conducted and authored by Anna Duensing in a report titled Contagious Cities Research Report, 97 Orchard Street Content July 6, 2018.
Text for this exhibit written by Dave Favaloro, Jason Eisner, and Kat Lloyd.
The digital exhibit was designed by Jamie Salen
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Drastic steps to fight influenza, New York Times, October 5, 1918
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