Podcast Season 2: Episode 2

Relics Left Behind

In this Episode:

Imagine that someone came to your house 150 years later: what would they find; what would those found objects say about you, about your way of life? Sometimes it’s the ever-day things you leave behind that tell stories about your past. On this episode, we talk to our resident expert of Tenement Curiosities about some of the strangest objects found in 97 and 103 Orchard. What are these objects and why aren’t they on display to visitors of the Tenement Museum? What do mummified bagels and rusted-curry-cans tell us about mass-consumerism, immigrant food trends, and the process of ‘becoming American?’ We’ll begin our story with a visit to the Museum’s permanent collection.

We talked to:

David Favaloro is Director of Curatorial Affairs and Hebrew Technical Institute Research Fellow at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. He is jointly responsible for interpreting the history of the tenements at 97 and 103 Orchard Street, with an emphasis on research and exhibit development. He also oversees the museum’s preservation, conservation, and collections management programs. David has been with the Tenement Museum since 2004. He holds a Master of Arts in American History and an Advanced Certificate in Public History from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Tenement Museum inspiration:

The content we drew from is a part of the Museum’s permanent collection, which includes objects related to the buildings at 97 and 103 Orchard Street and to its inhabitants, including residents, shopkeepers, landlords, and neighbors.

The permanent collection contains original building materials, clothing, household accessories, document fragments, food containers, furniture, photographs, textiles, and toilet articles.

In Amanda Adler Brennan’s conversation with Dave, we focus on a rusted can of curry powder that was found in a ceiling cavity in 97 Orchard Street. This early 20th century can of Durkee Curry Powder, discovered during 2008 restoration and conservation work to create the Tenement Museum’s Irish Outsiders tour, immediately intrigued Museum researchers. The preliminary assumption was that curry powder was primarily a North African, South Asian, or Asian spice. Why was it found in an apartment at 97 Orchard Street, which during this period was home to immigrants primarily from Eastern and Southern Europe?

Through subsequent research, we learned that curry powder has a long history in the United States, with popularity dating as far back as the mid-19th century. As early as 1876, recipes featuring curry started to appear in the New York Times, indicating at least some common knowledge of the dishes as well as the general availability of curry powder.

More found items from the Tenement Museum collection:

Where we got our information:

  • The idea for this episode came from this artifact spotlight and an article written in Atlas Obscura, featuring the Museum’s collection.
  • You can learn more about some of these objects in a video interview Mashable conducted with Dave Favaloro.
  • For more on the Museum’s collection, you can read about it here.

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