Visitor of the Month: Wallpaper Memories
July 31, 2014

In July we had a visitor whose immigrant experience was so not far behind her.

Pamela visited us from Princeton, New Jersey, by way of Germany where she now teaches English. She was traveling with her daughter to look at colleges.

This is a photomechanical print of the SS Konig Albert, a German ocean liner. Of course, Pamela would not have traveled to the U.S. by steam ship, much less this one, which was taken by the Italian army during World War I, used as a hospital ship, then scrapped in 1926. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Pamela emigrated to the United States in 1986 when she was 14, although she has since moved back to Germany, and more than once she thought of her own immigrant experience during her visit to the Tenement Museum.

She obliged us by answering a few questions about her visit!

What surprised her most during her visit was how small and dark the apartments were. Pamela thoughtfully observed this dark environment must have had an impact on the moods of the residents as much as well as being an inconvenience.

Children's laundry sharing some of the very limited space in the Levine's recreated apartment.

When asked if she could imagine herself in the historic Lower East Side, Pamela said that she could easily imagine what it was like to live in the Levine apartment. She could conceive of all the space constraints and all the children close by. She mentioned she had enough trouble finding space while being nine months pregnant nowadays, so she could only imagine what it was like for Jenny Levine with so may children and workers underfoot.

What would she miss most about 2014 if she were to wake up tomorrow as a member of the Levine household? Answer: Fresh air and running water!

Though she immigrated to the United States in 1986, Pamela wasn’t able to get her citizenship until 2001! She noted that it was an incredibly long and frustrating process.

Wallpaper in one of the unrestored apartments in 97 Orchard Street.

 

In fact, when asked if there was a person with whom she wished she could share her visit, Pamela said she would share her trip with the members of her family who are no longer with us. She said that she wished she could convey how authentic the experience felt, especially a few little details, like the wallpaper in 97 Orchard Street. Pamela recalled how the first place she lived had wallpaper with patterns just like those we recreated from salvaged layers found the walls in the Tenement.

Thanks Pamela, for adding your layer to the stories of immigration here at the Tenement Museum!

–Posted by Emma Cohen and Ben Wigler. Julia Berick contributed reporting.