TENEMENT MUSEUM ... I wasn't sure if I would enjoy the trip through 97 Orchard Street when a school group showed up, but my tour had three people, a great guide, and so much information. One of the first things we learned was there was no way to really understand how difficult life was there because they couldn't replicate the smell (thankfully). The coal ovens, four per floor, would only be part of the problem. Then, there were the out houses and portable potties. Apparently, it wasn't the habit to change the pots every day.

Digging back through old records, they were able to research the actual people who lived in the building that was now the museum. One family living there around 1860 was German, who moved to what was once called Little Germany. Interestingly, the husband of four went to work one day and never was seen again. After that, the mother for four made a living as a seamstress.

In the 1920's the neighborhood had changed and the next dwelling visited was an Italian family's. And, as the building was being renovated, a woman who used to live in the building stopped by. She gave all kinds of information, photos, and even recordings about life at the time. At its height, around a hundred people lived in the building. It was eventually condemned in 1935 and lay empty for fifty years.

Each apartment was three small rooms. They might have been cramped and difficult in the early 1900's but now they are just cramped and expensive. The going rate for renting was just over $2000 a month! All those people who had difficult lives in those tenement buildings would spin in their graves if they knew the neighborhood was considered trendy.


Photos from the exterior, because you couldn't take them inside here either.
Copyright 2009 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.