Reading E.L. Doctorow in the Old Neighborhood


The author, E.L. Doctorow brings New York of the past to life like no one else. This photograph shows the lights of Time Square in 1920. Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library.

“I was facing the wall of my study in my house in New Rochelle and so I started to write about the wall. That’s the kind of day we sometimes have, as writers. Then I wrote about the house that was attached to the wall. It was built in 1906, you see, so I thought about the era and what Broadview Avenue looked like then: trolley cars ran along the avenue down at the bottom of the hill; people wore white clothes in the summer to stay cool. Teddy Roosevelt was President. One thing led to another and that’s the way that book began.” – E.L. Doctorow

Who makes history? Though it is old, 97 Orchard Street is just a dwelling; it has been home to more than 7,000 people. Though we have been able to track their names and occupations, they were mostly ordinary people. This means they may not show up in the history books as being especially good at business, singing, or waterskiing. No matter. History is not made just by the few holders of wealth or beauty. Immigrants moved to the Lower East Side from all over Europe, Puerto Rico, and from China. Some of them notable, all of them namable- someone’s brother, daughter, uncle.  They brought us housing reform, vaudeville, and Kung Pao chicken.  When Doctorow died last week at the age of 84, he was mourned on the front page of the New York Times, yet he is famous in part for his thoughtful and colorful imaginings of the smaller moments in history, and his reimaging of the fireworks moments we all know well. Continue reading

Noah’s Arc: Diversity aboard New England’s Whaling Ships

A famous New England whaling ship, the Charles Morgan. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Everyone has their great white whale, that distant dream that forever eludes capture. For me, this whale was actually a whale, okay a whale tale, Moby Dick, the mother of all whale metaphors. Continue reading


A year and a half ago – before I started working at The Tenement Museum – I spent a day as a poor working-class woman in the Lower East Side in the year 1900. I was a background actor – also known as an “extra” – for Steven Soderbergh’s Cinemax show The Knick. Continue reading

Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act!

Alexandria Wailes, a Tenement Museum educator who is Deaf, leads a walking tour in American Sign Language.

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The All-American Hotdog? A Group Effort


Foreign food with Dick and Jane? These children enjoy hotdogs at the 1939 NY World's Fair. Photograph courtesy of the New York Public Library.

On the Fourth of July,  America’s Independence Day, millions of Americans take a good hard look at our nation’s heritage, and think about the kind of legacy we might like to have… or maybe not. The Fourth of July is overwhelmingly a time for everyone to celebrate the country we live in, in whatever way we’d like. Independence Day could look like salmon tandoor on the grill, or lamb burgers as this reporter notes. Of course, the most popular food on July 4th is easily the hotdog. As American as it gets, you say? As American as the open road, baseball, and Arnold Schwarzenegger? Well, think again. Continue reading

Outdoor Voices: The Long History of the Essex Street Market

This year the Essex Street Market is celebrating its 75th anniversary.  75 years is a long time, but  depending on how you measure it, the market has actually been around even longer than that. The vendors who now call the market home, were once part of a long tradition of pushcart venders on the Lower East Side.  This was especially the case in the early 20th century, when the Lower East Side was the densest neighborhood in Manhattan. As a result the hard-working immigrant populations mostly catered to themselves. Pushcarts sold everything from meats to sweets and spectacles. Some of the LES’s most popular institutions, including Moscot, Russ & Daughters and Katz’s Deli all started on the street as pushcarts. Jewish immigrants coming from Eastern Europe did not have a lot of capital,  because they had been forbidden to own land in many of their nations of origin these Jews did have experience in peddling… so peddle they did. Continue reading

The King of Pastrami: Looking Back at Katz’s Deli

One of the most iconic businesses in the Lower East Side is Katz’s Deli located, at 205 Houston Street. Like Russ & Daughters Café, it’s a frequent stop for visitors of the Tenement Museum before or after their tours. Remarkably, Katz’s Deli has been serving their famous pastrami sandwiches to the public since 1888. That’s a lot of pastrami over 125 years. And while the Lower East Side has gone through many incarnations since then, Katz’s Deli remains a vestige of a time and neighborhood that is all but gone. It would be a mistake to dismiss Katz’s as simply a popular spot for tourists and celebrities, so this week we will look back at the restaurant’s history to see how it all began. Continue reading

Walter Matthau: Remembering A Lower East Side Legend

Walter Matthau

Over the years, there have been many actors from the Lower East Side who have gone on to achieve great fame and success: James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Robert De Niro, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Rosario Dawson are some of the most well-known. One actor in particular, whose roots in the Lower East Side are similar to many of the stories we share here at the Tenement Museum, is Academy Award winner Walter Matthau. Despite not having traditional movie star looks, Matthau, with his memorable but craggy hangdog face, would go on to become one of the most respected actors of his generation. Continue reading

caribBEING in June

Visitors and fans of the Tenement Museum know that, up until now, we have been committed to telling the stories of 97 Orchard Street, a building that shuttered as a residence in 1935.  However, as time has progressed, this end date has become increasingly frustrating for us as an educational enterprise.  While 1935 was a practical year for landlord Moses Halpern to close 97 as a residence, it is an inconvenient year for us as an institution that wants to discuss the ongoing experiences of immigration.  To continue our commitment to the shared experiences of immigrants through American history, we are embarking on several new projects, including an upcoming digital exhibit called, “Your Stories, Our Stories,”  that collects personal object memories from modern day immigrants and migrants to NYC. Continue reading

Don’t Doubt the Immigrant: Frank Capra and the Love of the Adopted Nation

Elysian Park, Los Angeles: where fantasy and reality jockey for followers. This postcard was created in 1904, around the time when the Capra's moved to L.A. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

A friend of mine from back East moved, for college, to the west coast. Stalled in miles long traffic on a L.A. freeway she stepped out of the car along with the drivers in front of her, looked at the sun setting into the smog-swathed LA basin, sighed, and said “Converts are the worst.” What she meant was that faced with the all the horrors of freeway traffic, she still felt nothing but affection for her newfound home. Continue reading