Archive for March, 2009

New tour at the tenement museum

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009
The old Loew's Canal, built 1927

The old Loew's Canal, built 1927

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum is kicking off the outdoor season April 4 with a new walking tour, Immigrant Soles.

The museum has given a walking tour of the Lower East Side since 2005, but this one has a new focus on the daily lives of neighborhood immigrants from 1863 to 1935. How did they spend their time (as much as possible, outside their overcrowded and airless apartments)? How did they create an American identity? What were their everyday struggles?

Hints come from newspaper ads; from the advice column in the Jewish socialist newspaper, The Forward; and from “the historical landscape itself,” says David Favaloro, director of curatorial affairs.

Some things haven’t changed so much: just as young people today—including the children of immigrants—often work in retail, teenage girls coveted jobs at the E. Ridley & Sons department store, where the pay was not so hot, but the work sure beat the garment factories.

Favaloro led a preview of the walk this week with VP of Education Annie Polland. The tour covers shopping, worshiping, banking, politics, education, and entertainment. And because the Lower East Side is very much an immigrant neighborhood still, it’s the farthest thing from a theme park.

New York is full of walking tours, many of which are worthwhile. What I liked most about this one is that it doesn’t focus on the famous Someones or the Major Incidents. This is about ordinary life a century ago, and the ways in which people navigated its demands and complexity.

“Historians have to pick their theme,” Polland says. “Living there, you experience it all at once.”

The 90-minute tour will be offered once a day Saturday and Sunday, starting April 6, and will expand to twice daily by summer. Admission is $17 for adults, $13 students & seniors. A discount is available if you combine it with tickets for a tenement tour and make a day of it—god knows it won’t be hard to find a place for lunch.

And stay tuned for another walking tour this fall!

Time for a break

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Today marks the first anniversary of this blog. One year of posting (mostly) twice a week, and I’m going to have to take a break. Like everyone else, I have a lot of other things to do. So, for the time being, I’ll post only occasionally. I will try to keep up the parade calendar, though. Many thanks to those of you who have contributed comments and moral support.

Stories of America

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009
Great Hall, Ellis Island

Great Hall, Ellis Island

Last fall, the day before Election Day, when a feeling of historic import and tension was in the air, I paid my third visit to the wonderful museum at Ellis Island.

I’d advise visitors to go as early in the day as possible. First of all, you’ve got to stand in line at Castle Clinton to get your ticket for the ferry. Then you have to stand in a long line to go through the airport-style security, although if you buy reserve tickets (rather than flex time) you get a shorter line. (Tickets are $12 for adults; $20 with an audio tour. The museum is free, but you can’t get there without taking the ferry.)

The ferry stops at Liberty Island first. The Statue of Liberty is definitely worth a visit, but Ellis Island can easily take hours by itself; we skipped the statue and stayed on the ferry. And still, we didn’t get to see everything in the museum.

A few facts I learned:

  • The first choice for the location of the immigration station was Bedloe’s Island (now Liberty Island), but the Statue of Liberty’s sculptor, Auguste Bartholdi, considered it a “desecration” of the statue to put an immigration station there. (Peter Morton Coan, Ellis Island Interviews)
  • In 1916, presumed German saboteurs detonated fourteen munition barges at New Jersey’s Black Tom Wharf, less than a mile from Ellis Island, damaging the buildings. I had never heard of this.
  • By the late 19th century, as many as a third of immigrants traveled back and forth (at least once) between the United States and their country of origin.
Processing new arrivals

Processing new arrivals

The museum looks at the immigration experience from several angles. The Peopling of America exhibit, on the first floor, is full of charts and information. Upstairs, there are exhibits about the processing experience for new arrivals, and displays of documents, advertising, and beloved items brought from home. There’s also a genealogical research center.

Sustenance for the rest of the journey

Sustenance for the rest of the journey

You can learn about the restoration of the buildings. You can take a free tour with park rangers or watch a film. And you can eat french fries on the terrace, if you’re brave enough to fight off the gigantic gulls.

But mainly, the attraction of the museum is found in the oral histories, the pictures. The children’s shoes. The joy and the sadness. The reasons people came here, and still come here. There is no single Story of America, of course, but here you will find many, many stories of America.

And, if you go in the winter and take the last boat home, you can join everyone in snapping pictures of this view.


Interviewing parents

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Sometimes it seems I do nothing but link to the Times, but this story by Kirk Semple is a real gem. A class at Hunter College had the assignment of interviewing  a close relative about family history, and many of the students heard more than they’d ever known about their immigrant parents’ struggles to get to this country and succeed here. The feature also has audio excerpts.

Irish and more

Friday, March 13th, 2009

A quick roundup of many weekend events, mostly centered around St. Patrick’s Day:

Museum events: Music, food

Traditional Irish songs by Irish Fever at 7:30 and 9 pm Saturday, Historic Richmond Town, 441 Clarke Ave, Staten Island. $15. Reservations required; call (718) 351-1611, ext. 281.

“Bridget Murphy’s St. Patrick’s Day Celebration,” with samplings of 19th-century Irish-American foods and Irish music. 6 pm Tuesday. Call (212) 777-1089 for reservations (suggested). $30. Merchant’s House Museum, 29 E. Fourth St.

Walking Tours

Big Onion Walking Tours: “St. Patrick’s Weekend Irish New York,” meeting in front of St. Paul’s Chapel, Broadway between Vesey and Fulton. (212) 439-1090, 1 pm Saturday.

Adventure on a Shoestring: “When Irish Eyes Were Smiling!” A walk in Clinton, meeting on the northeast corner of Eighth Ave and 48th St. 2 pm Saturday, (212) 265-2663. $10.

NYC Discovery Tours: “Little Ireland and Little Italy History and Tasting Tour,” visiting cultural and gastronomic sites of importance to Irish and Italian immigration, with a sampling of foods. 1 and 3:45 pm Saturday, noon and 2:45 pm Sunday. Call (212) 465-3331 for reservations and meeting place. $22.

Gotham Walking Tours: “Immigrant New York City,” a tour of Lower Manhattan, meeting on the southwest corner of Chambers and Centre. 11 am Sunday, (646) 645-5782, $20; $18 for seniors.

Center for the Urban Environment: “The Yiddish Rialto,” a tour of the Second Avenue theater district, meeting in front of the Sunshine Theater, 143 E. Houston. 11:30 am Sunday, (718) 788-8500, ext. 217, $13.

Bowery and Canal Walking Tours: “Five Points and the Irish,” meeting at City Hall Park, Broadway and Park Row. 1 pm Sunday, (917) 602-3543. $15; $12 for seniors & students.

Joyce Gold History Tours: “Hell’s Kitchen and Its Vivid Irish Past,” meeting on the northwest corner of Tenth Ave and 42nd St. 1 pm Sunday, (212) 242-5762, $15; $12 for seniors.

Ecuadorian film festival

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

The Queens Museum of Art presents the third annual Ecuadorian Film Festival: Views from the Middle of the World this weekend.

medium_flag_of_ecuadorThe program runs from 7 to 10 pm March 13–14 at the museum in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park.

Friday’s program starts with 16 pieces of video art from Quito (or at least that’s the group title) by Ecuadorian filmmakers and continues with Este Maldito País, an hourlong documentary by Juan Martín Cueva about what traits can be said to define Ecuadorians, then wraps up with Pedro Andrade’s Trafficombo, a 36-minute documentary about immigrants.

Saturday’s program features six video artworks from Guayaquil, followed by Retazos de Vida, a drama by Viviana Cordero about three generations of women in Guayaquil.

All the features are in Spanish with English subtitles, and you can read more about them here. Suggested donation for museum entrance is $5.

Flag courtesy of Applied Language Solutions.

Gearing up for St. Patrick’s

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

The Irish of Staten Island, a program with bagpipe music, traditional dances, and a discussion about Irish immigration and the lives of the Irish-American Staten Islanders, will be held at 1:30 pm Thursday, March 12, at the College of Staten Island, Center for the Arts, 2800 Victory Boulevard, at Route 440, Willowbrook. The event is free, but registration is required. Call (718) 727-1135, ext. 123.

African stories on film

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

A couple of weeks ago the Times (yes, again) had a story by Paul Berger about the African Movie Mall at 179 E. 165th Street in the Bronx. Owner Rabiu Mohammed says he stocks 300,000 African DVDs, and the films are a big hit in African and Caribbean communities.

Nigeria boasts the world’s third-largest film industry—they call it Nollywood, of course. Production is low-budget, but the stories, they say, are compelling to the point of being addictive.