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Tenement Museum :: Manhattan, New York

March 2, 2010 by  
Category: Attractions

The United States of America is a hodgepodge, a mishmash, a melting pot of cultures, religions, ethnicities, and ancestry. The vast majority of its citizens hail from countries far from its promising shores. Often times, these families came here with little more than the clothes on their backs and the dream of a better life. As they crossed into the Hudson River and walked the cold floors of Ellis Island, myriad immigrants would soon find themselves living in the tenement slums of New York City. The Lower East Side Tenement Museum is a monument to these hardscrabble folk; poor working class families struggling to assimilate into American culture and society. Between 1863 and 1935 Tenement Museum was simply known as 97 Orchard Street and it saw well over 7,000 people from at least 20 different countries living their simple but hopeful lives. After 72 years, the building (minus its lower floor retail space) was boarded up and served as a sort of time capsule until 1988 when it was restored in a painstaking process. In 1992 the first apartment was opened to the public and today the Tenement Museum has 6 open apartments available to visitors interested in learning about American history in a unique and vivid way.

Tours can be somewhat shocking as you see the truly deplorable conditions that were considered suitable living standards. Its six stories originally held 20 apartments, though the four ground floor units were later converted into retail space. Your guide will show you through rooms where renters spent the first 42 years with no indoor toilets and the first 61 years without electricity. Once toilets were installed, it was by the 1901 standards of two per floor. Many of these units served a dual function as small factories and family businesses. Often families of eight to ten people would live in these tiny two or three room apartments (that’s two or three counting the kitchen). Hot water was also considered a luxury item only available to those who could afford to purchase small individual water heaters, and then only after 1905 when gas lines were installed. The museum has meticulously recreated these dwellings to reflect the people and the eras. Each of the restored rooms is a tale of one of the families that actually lived there.

Part of the National Park Service and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1994 the Lower East Side Tenement Museum takes great care in portraying the day to day lives and the fascinating history of America’s immigrant past. Open daily from 10:30 am to 5:00 pm the Tenement Museum is only viewable by guided tour and tickets should be booked in advance (though limited tickets may be available in the visitors’ center). Prices vary between $15 and $37 depending on age and type of tour requested. This amazing dwelling tells us almost in first person the stories, struggles, and triumphs of the new citizens who resided there. It’s a remarkable journey into the past that reflects well into the future as US shores continue to welcome the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

New York City (Lonely Planet City Guide)
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Retail Price: $19.99
Amazon Price: $42.44

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