Building Our Collections

A worker digging in the old privy vaults in the backyard of 97 Orchard Street.
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An old outhouse hardly seems the place to find Museum quality artifacts. But a number of our objects come from 97 Orchard’s backyard, where a set of privies once sat.

In the early 1990s, archaeologist Joan Geismor led an excavation of the yard. They dug for nearly two years, carefully searching for evidence of tenement life in the old “vaults”, or the pits where waste was stored before being flushed. Geismar and her team found 319 objects, as well as telling remains of old privies.

Fittingly enough, their discoveries included an old chamber pot and a shattered beer mug, which glass experts dated back to latter half of the 19th century.