Hidden Treasure on Orchard Street
By Blossom Chen
At first glance it looks like any other building on the block, an apartment building with furnished doors and wide windows. Located at 97 Orchard Street is the Tenement Museum, a small museum that has preserved over a 100 years worth of history.
This museum offers many tours with friendly, educated, and engaging guides that teach visitors an exceptional amount about the history of New York City. The three ways you can explore this museum are “Tour the Building”, “Meet the Residents” and “Walk the Neighborhood”.
“Tour the Building” is divided into four tours: Shop Life, Sweatshop Workers, Hard Times, and Irish Outsiders. On these tours, the guide leads you throughout the building and discusses specific elements pertaining to the topic of the tour.
As the Hard Times tour progresses, visitors find themselves not only learning a lot about the history of immigration, but also making emotional connections with the stories as well. After all, visitors’s families may have immigrated here and these stories may truly parallel those of their families.
The rooms inside were very small and spare. According to the tour guide, compared to the other buildings on the street, these rooms were not likely fit for living. To attract new immigrants, the landlords would offer one month’s free rent.
Another interesting detail that visitors really can’t learn from a textbook was about the type of wallpaper used in these buildings. The tour guide mentioned that although what is currently on the walls is a reproduction, it was pretty much the exact replica of the wallpaper back then. The guide noted that the wallpaper reflected light. This was needed in the tenements so the habitants could see what they were doing while working.
The restoration of the rooms makes the tenement building feel realistic, as if the visitor traveled back in time. The peeling walls, the dim lighting, and the old furniture and artifacts make it feel like at accurate depiction of tenement life in the city.
The Tenement Museum may not be as big or well known as the Museum of Natural History or the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but it is worth the time to explore and learn more about an important time in history.
To plan your visit and to find out more you can visit the Tenement Museum’s website at http://www.tenement.org/.