It’s been a busy year at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, and 2017 is shaping up to be even busier! As you get ready to start traveling for the holidays – or as you prepare for incoming guests, check out this list of must-read stories about the Tenement Museum from the last year to get you pumped for all the exciting things to come!
The New York Times breaks the story about our new exhibition
In August, we were finally ready to share the most anticipated story about the Tenement Museum: we are expanding! This new exhibition, set to open in the summer of 2017, will tell the story of post-war life on the Lower East Side, as seen through the lives of three immigrant families who resided at one point or another at 103 Orchard Street. The New York Times shared the stories of the Epstein, the Saez, and the Wong families, and how each were representative of the cultural changes occurring on the Lower East Side and in America following World War II.
The Lo-Down talks with Tenement Museum President Morris Vogel about the new expansion
On September 15, the Tenement Museum held our official groundbreaking for our new exhibit at 103 Orchard Street. The Lo-Down interviewed President Morris Vogel about the exciting changes in the development of this new exhibition, as well as the inherent risks of a small museum attempting to expand. “This is a chance,” he said, “to overwhelm our visitors with the fact that (the museum tells) today’s story… It’s happening on your streets. This is why your city or community looks the way it does. This is why the country faces the issues it does and this is a strength to draw on in negotiating those issues.”
The changing opinion of U.S. Immigrants throughout the century
In October, The Canadian Press covered how the same negative stereotypes immigrants endure today were often directed towards Irish and Italian immigrants at the turn of the century, a topic often discussed on Tenement Museum tours. The Museum’s goal has always been to shed new light on the present by sharing the stories of the past, but in recent times modern-day attitudes towards foreigners has made this mission of ours more important than ever.
Frank discussions of current immigration issues on daily tours after the election
Reuters first covered how, following the president election, there has been a need for Tenement Museum educators to train themselves on how to turn potential heated debates on current immigration issues into productive conversations. Shortly afterwards, Forward followed up, including an Op-Ed by Tenement Museum Trustee Zach Aarons, about how educators are constantly upgrading and enhancing their teaching methods to deliver the Museum’s message of inclusiveness and America’s endless possibilities.
Naturalization ceremony blends ethnic identity and American identity
Last month, the NY Daily News attended our naturalization ceremony where fifteen immigrants from 13 countries were sworn in as new U.S. citizens. It was an emotional evening, the ceremony taking place just days after the presidential election, and each speaker brought messages of hope and inspiration. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Powers, originally from Ireland, was also there to be honored as an Outstanding American by Choice.
Becoming a costumed interpreter of history
The NY Daily News also covered the process by which an actress steps into the lives of one of our real-life immigrant stories. The process of being Victoria Confino, a Sephardic Jewish teenage girl residing at 97 Orchard in 1916, is not only a challenging training process but an educational one, as the actress must learn everything about the life of Victoria in order to interact smoothly with visitors of all ages.
Jim Gaffigan also knows how to play dress-up
The comedian put on period clothes with his kids and hung around the apartment of Victoria Confino this summer, as reported by Bedford and Bowery, and he filmed a scene for the Jim Gaffigan Show. This was the first time a scripted show ever filmed inside the Tenement Museum, but we can safely assume Jim wasn’t prepared to perform as 14-year old Victoria.
Fantastic sets and where to find them
If any of our museum visitors saw the latest Harry Potter film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, they would have recognized some of the sets inspired by the Tenement Museum. That’s because last year director David Yates, production designer Stuart Craig, and others flew to New York looking to recreate their own New York City of the 1920s, as shown in this Pottermore article. And the production design team did us proud, importing details of the era accurately. Except for all the wizards.
On the hunt for ugly couches
And to get those perfect details the Harry Potter crew found so inspirational, the Tenement Museum turns to Pamela Keech, our curator of furnishings. The New Yorker recently profiled Pam, who tracked down all the everyday knick-knacks, tchotchkes, and decorations that bring the stories of 97 Orchard to life, and did it all in the pre-internet era. Now Pam is hard at work for the new exhibition at 103 Orchard Street, and while she does take advantage of sites like Ebay and Craigslist, a lot of the work is still done on foot.
How the other half lived
Many reform movements in the United States were sparked by pieces of art that shook audiences to their core, such as photojournalist Jacob Riis’s groundbreaking “How The Other Half Lives.” This collection of photographs portrayed the cramped and derelict conditions of many immigrant lives on the Lower East Side for the first time to upper class New Yorkers, and kickstarted much needed housing reform. Photographer Fred R. Conrad recently recreated Riis’s stunning photos for The New York Times inside the walls of the Tenement Museum, because the museum, he said, satisfied a curiosity he often felt in old New York buildings: What lives had been lived there?
Fred R. Conrad for The New York Times
Devouring American History
While some people are recreating historical photographs for major publications or recreating whole period rooms for major motion pictures, others are recreating history for dinner parties. Our own Sarah Loman, part-time educator and historic gastronomist, enjoys making recipes from bygone eras, for better or worse, and discussing the culinary changes and the impact immigrants had on our diets over time. The New York Times recently profiled Sarah on her new book, Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine.
Tasting at the Tenement
Sarah also leads guests through special food programs at the Tenement Museum, such as Tenement Kitchen, which explores the kinds of foods certain residents would have cooked and how they made do with their cramp kitchens. This article from The Wall Street Journal (subscription needed) details our other food programs, such as our food walking tours, which take visitors on a culinary jaunt through immigrant-made foods of the Lower East Side.
All you need is love
And while we love all our special event tours, our inaugural Valentine’s Day tour Love at the Tenement was definitely the most beloved. The NY Daily News covered this romantic exploration into the love lives of some of the 7,000 people who lived inside 97 Orchard Street. The seed for this tour began with a scrap of love letter found beneath the floorboard, signed by “Your only onliest.” But the best thing about this tour is that it features all kinds of love, across cultures and religions, between neighbors, friends, and family.