Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Way Things Were

Everyone has heard of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum and, of course, MOMA, in New York City. These are all great museums and more than worth the visit, but they are only a few of the dozens of museums that call the city home.  There are so many smaller and lesser-known collections that are really fun and interesting, and that offer different experiences from a regular art or history museum.

At the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side, my friend Shannon and I took an afternoon "Irish Outsiders" tour.  It's important to mention that the weather was not really cooperating with our day of exploration.  It was almost 100 degrees and extremely humid.  Our particular tour required us to walk up to the fourth floor, and the Tenements are not air-conditioned.  Despite the heat, we both learned so much and would visit again in a heartbeat to take a different tour (there are four or five to choose from and they run all day).

So what makes this museum so special? It's pretty darn authentic.  The tours take visitors through a tenement that was built in the late 1800's where real families lived in cramped 350 square foot apartments.  The rooms haven't been refurbished so that you can get a real sense of what they were like all those years ago.  This particular building was in use for at least 60 years until the early twentieth century and the living conditions were horrible: no running water, shared outhouses, no electricity, unsafe conditions and rampant disease.  There was intense discrimination against the Irish Catholics who were rushing into America, and poverty was a real problem in this overpopulated area of New York.  Just hearing from our guide, Ruth, about the trash-filled streets and the constant permeating stench provided a major reality check.

New York doesn't want to forget the past.  The city embraces its rich history by celebrating and sharing it, and that's just one more reason why I love this great place.

P.S. I just love this fan that we were given at the start of the tour.  Such a perfect gift that got a lot of use...

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