Sunday, April 5, 2009

Tenement Museum

On Friday, my friend Smiles and I went to the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. They didn't have a walking tour, which we were really interested in, but instead, we went on a new tour called "The Moores: An Irish Family in America".

We started our tour across the street at 108 Orchard at the gift shop and were lead to to the building across the street (on the left). Our tour guide, unfortunately, was less than informative and a bit on the condescending side, but we were able to get little nuggets of information from him.

Once we were inside the building, we were told that the building was originally closed because the staircase wasn't up to firecode - hence making it into a museum. There was also severe water damage, so the museum restored most of it for tours. We went up a steel staircase in the back of the building and went to the fourth floor, where the Moores had lived.

We were immediately led into an unrestored room with a couple of benches and a screen where we listened to old Irish songs about the lifestyle of the Irish in New York City in the late 1880s. The songs probably would have been more meaningful had our tour guide been educated on the subject, but alas, he wasn't. Regardless, there was a song called "The Irish Need Not Apply" and told the story of how there was such a huge influx of Irish at the time (and a stigma) that it wasn't uncommon to see job postings with those words on it.

Then we went into a restored three-room apartment building and were told that although the Moores were Irish, they lived in a heavily German neighborhood, which is surprising since the rent in the German area is much higher than, Five Points, where most Irish resided at the time. Our tour guide speculated that it was because he was a waiter and made a lot of money, but really, who knows... The guide attempted to paint a picture of this family of five who had a young baby who died at five months. He then speculated that it was because they fed her a lot of milk that was contaminated and didn't have access to doctors because they were so poor. Blah blah. I mean, is this guy a historian or a tour guide?! Instead of rehashing his spiel that I don't even believe unless he shows me some concrete proof, I will tell you the "nuggets of information" that I do believe and were interesting....

-The milk that the poorer families received made many children sick because the milk from the outer boroughs took at least two days to get to Manhattan, and were distributed on the upper part of the island first and then after another day, came to the poorer neighborhoods. By then, the milkman would water down the milk and then, because it didn't really look like milk, would put chalk into the milk and then chemicals like ammonia were mixed in to hide the smell. the death rate of children in the area were astronomical due in large part, to this fact.
-Very often, Boss Tweed would come to funerals in the families' homes and pay for part of the expensive funeral in exchange for, of course, votes.
-There was a health code in the early 1900s that said that every room an apartment had to have a window so most often, landlords would put a window between the rooms instead of leading to the outside since they would just be looking at either a brick wall or someone else's apartment, since the tenement buildings were built right next to each other. These windows between rooms still were beneficial because it would bring light and air through the apartment.

I would definitely recommend visiting the museum because it's a very integral part of New York City history. I just hope you don't get the tour guide we did. Hopefully I'll be able to go on a walking tour and see all different kinds of tenement buildings and learn more about the history of the area in general and not just specifically about a hypothetical Irish family that lived like no other Irish family lived...

And of course, it's always interesting (for me anyway) to learn how poorer people lived and made do. It's like walking into a huge dollhouse, which is cool in it's own right.

1 comment:

  1. Shi, That's such a bummer that your tour guide was less than stellar. We did the Getting By tour and it was amazing. It took us into that same building you went into and we learned about 2 different families that lived there but they actually had facts about their lives it was not hypothetical. It was an amzing tour and one that I would recommend!