The Lower East Side Tenement Museum is a remarkable monument to immigrants, millions of which had to go through the iron labyrinths of New York in search of a better fate. In a country, which started with immigrants in the first place – such museums are extremely important for those who want to understand how the country developed and through which challenges the immigrants had to go through in their strive for better life. This tenement house makes an attempt at freezing the time in order to show the daily life of immigrants fresh out of Europe without idealized improved picture.
Immigrants still arrive to the United States on a daily basis, so the house will remain relevant for at least a century to come. Moreover, new museums might be opened in the future to showcase the immigrants’ life in the 90s and today. This particular tenement museum is a great place to see the hardship which almost 7000 people from twenty different nations had to face within their first years in the country. The museum provides a unique atmosphere of poverty and hopelessness, which managed to find its way to the land of opportunity after all.
The building was constructed in 1863 and financed by an immigrant from Prussia Lukas Glockner. The house had two apartment and a saloon on the basement level. The more time progressed, the more amenities were added such as running water, toilets, gas, and electricity. The building managed to remain such a time capsule, because in 1935 all residents were evicted while only the basement level was left open for business. It remained so until 1988 when it was turned into a museum.
Some of the parts of the interior, the upper flows mostly, are still blocked because of their instability and old age. The open territory inside shows the living conditions of the late 19th century and early 20th century. What is most important these living conditions were perfectly acceptable, but from today’s point of view the living conditions seem to be downright horrible and primitive. All rooms are universally crammed having little to none space. There are lamps, a sink, but no toilet in the apartment. There is no balcony to hang the laundry, so most of it hangs inside. The texture of the walls and of the ceiling are ragged and are a far cry from cleanliness. Everything looks as if it has been used by a thousand of people and should have long been retired. The furniture is cruddy and looks very uncomfortable. If there is a bath in the apartment, it is nothing more than a piece made of metal fitting for storing water for cattle rather than washing.
Some rooms look better with the kitchens having nice lighting or some parlors featuring nice looking ornaments on the wall. The impression which remains is quite the same – people had to live in far more Spartan conditions back in the 19th century to the point that even some of the poorest holds currently have the potential to look better. On the other hand, it is no surprising that the living conditions were not ideal. After all, the exclusive dwellers of the house were immigrants who barely had any finances to make it through the day. They came without much money or without money at all and had to earn all of it from scratch having to take up jobs that no US citizen would want. So, in the big picture the living conditions were not inhumane. There were windows, four walls, there was possibility of privacy from other tenants, and different amenities were being constantly added by the owner as soon as new technologies easing mankind’s life kept appearing.
Most immigrants worked at either factories or had to apply for jobs at the households of rich people. The shops below were also simple and carried simple goods needed in everyday life: food, matches, clothes, and other paraphernalia. There was clear lots of interaction between the dwellers as there were only two toilets for the entire floor, and the shops below were also places where community could gather. We were told that the house gave shelter to more than twenty nationalities throughout its history, so the house can be rightfully regarded as the small metaphor for the United States – a melting pot of nationalities and culture in miniature.
To be fair the food displayed seemed to look nice. Bread, meat, milk – all of these things were present. Although meat hanging above the table looked very strange for the modern eye. Perhaps in many years, when there will be similar museum much later to show the life of immigrant Pakistani or Bangladeshi families, their current living conditions would also look appalling in the future just as we look at the daily life of the late 19th century (Polland 2).
The museum is essential to visit if one is interested how America was being built and still is. This was the first stepping stone for thousands of people who came to America looking for better life. The house was dealt considerable damage by the nearby construction work (Haberman), so renovation is constantly needed. The museum always holds interesting events including civic lessons about workers (Shapiro and Giachino). I wish there would be more such time capsules so that we could see the daily life of people from the previous centuries as is, because the visit to museum proved on simple truth to me: what I imagined their life to be was quite distant from reality of things.