Families who sought a new life in the United States during the great era of immigration (1880–1920), often found their first American home in a building such as the gaunt six-story brick tenement on the Lower East Side which now houses the Tenement Museum.
Over a span of seven decades, this one building was home to more than 7,000 people from some 20 countries. In 1935, the upstairs apartments were sealed by the landlord, who didn’t want to bring them to code. On the discovery of this inadvertant time capsule, more than half a century later, the building was converted into a museum. One flat has been left exactly as it was found when the building was reopened, while others have been recreated to provide insight into the families’ ethnic backgrounds and daily lives. Tour guides tell compelling stories about the people who lived there and the resilience with which they sought to combat poverty and assimilate into New York life.
A visit to the nearby Eldridge Street Synagogue (pictured above), restored to its former glory after a 20-year restoration, will shed further light on the lives of immigrants, for whom religion played such an important role. Both places can only be seen by guided tour.