The Tenement Museum of New York

It's been nearly two weeks since I've posted, and one of the reasons it's been so long, though admittedly not the only one,  that I was waylaid, yet again, by a sickness which has been making the rounds.  In spite of my having had it a little over a month ago, it clocked me again and kept me in bed for a good three days before I was able to rejoin the world of the ambulant.

I was still a little out of it when I participated in a tour of the Tenement Museum with my co-workers at The New York Transit Museum as part of a kind of cross-cultural training we've been doing with them.  Some of their staff had been to our museum a few weeks earlier to learn about what the transit experience would have been like for immigrants in the early part of the twentieth century, and we were lucky enough to be able to experience their museum recently to learn more about how our past passengers and staff would have lived.  Cold or not, I was determined to go, as one of the perks of my employment with a center of learning, is that I have many opportunities to experience pieces of history in a way that others might not.  Being paid to tour The Tenement Museum is one such perk.

The Tenement Museum (along with the Transit Museum) is one of a few unique spaces in the city in that it is housed in a practical space.  In the case of The Transit Museum, we are housed in a subway station that is no longer being used to transport commuters and serves educational purposes by storing vintage, accurately restored subway cars from our last century.  We have also have a program in which costumed interpreters inhabit the space much like they would have, and share their stories with visitors.

The Tenement Museum had been an apartment building in operation beginning in 1868, which had been condemned in 1935, and left much as it was at that time.  In the late eighties it was purchased and transformed into an educational space, though much of it was left exactly as it was found, and provides an authentic experience of stepping back in time to the visitor, while allowing the museum to elevate the stories of "ordinary" people.  Visitors today can meet and interact with costumed interpreters portraying people who actually lived in the building many years ago.

The Tenement as discovered in 1988.

 Both museums provide unique views of the city experience as it was, and I consider myself lucky to be a part of an organization working to keep history alive in such a vital way.  Their aim is as much to provide a "feeling" and to imbue a sense of empathy for those who went before, as it is to transmit factual information.  I consider myself lucky to be a part of an organization that values this kind of experience, and works to keep this space alive and vital.  

Joe Hartman