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The Lower East Side Tenement Museum provides living history tours in its restored historic buildings. The buildings, on Orchard Street in Manhattan, housed an estimated 7000 immigrants from 1863-1935. The museum is a National Historic Landmark, an affiliated site of the National Park Service and a National trust Historic Site.
The tenement at 97 Orchard Street was was built in 1863. It had 22 small apartments and a saloon in the basement. These have all been restored to the time period of specific occupants and can be visited via a guided tour with a costumed actor.
First, I stopped into the visitor center to check in for my tour, which I’d booked in advance on the website. If you are a member of the Nation Trust for Historic Preservation, you can get a nice discount on the tickets. At the visitor center, I watched the introductory movie until my tour was called.
I chose the Victoria Confino tour. Confino immigrated with her family from Kastoria, Greece in 1913 and moved the family of seven into cramped lodgings at 97 Orchard. Her family’s apartment has been restored to its appearance in 1916, when Victoria was 14 years old.
A ‘social worker’ first brought us into a classroom to set the stage for the tour. Our group was to play the role of immigrants who had just arrived in the United States and had questions to ask of Victoria about acclimating to our new home. We then walked across the hall, knocked on her door and were welcomed into 1916 in the Lower East Side.
The Tenement Museum is more than just a historic building…it presents the history of American immigration by presenting the tales of real people who actually lived here. Victoria’s descendants helped the museum write the script for her story based on the stories she herself had passed down to them.
Location: 103 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002
Designation: National Historic Landmark, National Trust Historic Site
Date established/designated: April 19, 1994
Date of my visit: November 3, 2019
Click below for a short you-tube clip behind the scenes on the Confino tour.