Love At The Tenement
February 9, 2016

 We found love at 97 Orchard. Well, we found a love letter. “Nobody can keep us apart,” it reads and it’s signed, “Your own, only-est.”

The museum discovered the pieces of the handwritten note in 1993. The letter, which instructs its reader to pack a suitcase and listen for the “usual whistle,” and continues with plans for running off to elope, was likely written in the 1910s or 20s. We don’t know who wrote it or whom it was for, but what is clear is the author was crazy about their object of affection.

This Friday night we open the Tenement Museum to tell the stories of how our former tenants found and experienced love in our Love at the Tenement program. Love letters, courtship and dating rituals, and marriage traditions give us a clearer picture of their relationships. Whether it was love at first sight or a matchmaker’s delight, the program explores love in its many forms.

Amongst all of the romance, one of the biggest revelations were the connections we discovered between neighbors, especially those from different generations and cultures.

Aldofo Baldizzi, an immigrant from Sicily who lived in the building with his wife and two young children from 1928 to 1935 was next-door neighbor to the Rosenthals, an Eastern European Jewish family from Lithuania who moved to 97 Orchard around 1907. By the time Aldofo had moved in, Fannie Rosenthal was a widow and janitress of the building. Many of her six children were grown, married, and had moved out. According to Fannie’s grandson, Irving Cohen, Aldofo and Fannie were close friends.

“Adolph was a remarkable man,” Cohen said during a 2006 interview. “Fact my grandmother and him were the best of friends.

“If she needed something fixed, or she needed a favor to get something, …he says, ‘You tell me what you need, I get it!’  He never said ‘no.’ I never heard that man say ‘no.’”

After the Great Depression, Cohen’s mother moved the family from the Bronx into 97 Orchard in the 1930s. During that time he and Aldofo, who would have been in his 30s, seemed to have forged a close connection as well.

“Adolph and I became very friendly.  Fact he gave me my first shave,” said Cohen, whose father died in 1924. “He taught me how to shave. Very nice man.”

As crowded as our tenement once was, there was still room for love of all kinds. And some of our former tenants were lucky enough to find their soulmates at 97 Orchard. Come to Friday night’s tour and experience the stories of young love, second chances, and friendship.

  • Post by Laura Lee, Education Associate, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum