Josephine Baldizzi, whose family history and personal artifacts gave shape to our Hard Times tour, had fond memories of Christmas at 97 Orchard Street. Josephine and her family came to New York from Sicily and lived at 97 Orchard from 1928 to 1935. Even though there was no money for presents during the Depression years, her father Adolfo used his skills as a carpenter to improvise a tree. Traveling around the city, he scavenged pine tree branches that had fallen from other trees or discarded wreaths. Once at home, he drilled holes into a long piece of wood and stuck in the scavenged tree branches to create a scrappy–but cheerful–Christmas tree.
In her oral history, Josephine said, “He would make his own tree, shape it, tie it to the wall, and then get ornaments and dress it all up.” The family decorated the tree with “shiny glass ornaments,” as well as lights and tinsel. On Christmas Eve, Josephine stayed up as late as possible, perched on her bed and peering at the lights on the makeshift tree.
Several years ago the Museum re-created some of these festive details for a special holiday tour of the Baldizzi apartment. For the special tour, the Museum even recreated Adolfo’s famous reclaimed Christmas tree.
Though the family didn’t exchange gifts, Christmas day was still full of treats for Josephine and her brother, Johnny. Their mother made them a holiday tray heaped with marzipan, dried fruits, walnuts, chestnuts, carob, and best of all, oranges.
The next image shows some of the items the Baldizzis might have displayed on the family dresser during the holiday season, including the fruit and nut tray. The framed icon of the Virgin Mary is an Our Lady of Perpetual Help prayer card from The Church of the Most Holy Redeemer on East 3rd Street near Avenue A.
Wishing you a happy holiday season from the Tenement Museum!
—Posted by Dana Friedman and Dave Favaloro