The Baldizzi family have given NYC a lot to be grateful for. In the time capsule that is now the Tenement Museum and was the family’s home after the first world war, visitors can see the origins of Italian-American culture. But it almost didn’t happen. Lawmakers, anxious that the homogeneity of America was being threatened by the arrival of too many Catholic Italians, (+ Asians and Jews ), closed the door selectively to these immigrants in 1924. Momma mia! So Adolfo & Rosario came uninvited and joined other newcomers in the tiny apartments of Orchard Street on the Lower East Side just a few years before the building was condemned and closed up for over 50 years.
Amazingly, there is no smell. At least not now – imagine what it was like when they jimmied open the doors in 1988? Forty layers of paint, soot and sweat. Some rooms have been left in the decrepit style in which they were found, while others have been restored to show life as it was. The floor still squeaks and the doors open between apartments – it was communal living at its best. You can even run your hand down the same wooden staircase that all those 20 families did in the dark years ago, but fortunately the 4 toilets they shared in the back yard are no longer part of the experience.
The educator on our tour had many stories to tell, the best being about Josephine, the Baldazzi’s daughter. Apparently she knocked on the door soon after the Museum opened and asked why they were giving tours through her old house? Now a grandmother living in Brooklyn, Josephine filled in a lot of historical gaps, talking about eating egg rolls around the kitchen table and listening to Italian opera on the radio. Imagine New York without the Baldizzi’s, imagine New York without pizza? Fuhgeddaboudit!
( No photography is allowed in the museum – all photos here are provided courtesy of the Tenement Museum )
Very interesting and I can imagine Josephine’s curiosity, marvellous of her to provide authentic
historical stories and I am sure had the listeners captivated.
Hi Fitzy, What do you think of our new mayor at Tumby Bay now — young Samuel Telfer from Ungarra, who is the son of Malvern Telfer. Thought that you might to be kept up to date from the ex mayor Laurie Collins. Hear you soon with RQ
Great to hear from you Laurie – thank you for keeping me up to date. I know the Telfers from Ungarra and congratulations to Samuel. Also good on you for stepping aside from the top job & encouraging new players. Hope it all goes well…!
here is some insight in to the Tenement Museum. I would make it a priority, being about the only one which exists, as most were pulled down and redeveloped. the story of how that one was saved and what their vision for it is, is also interesting.
it is the most interesting window in to the mass immigration in to NYC. not to be missed… If you are keen you can look on their website and they also have lectures at night. terrific organisation.
More info coming.
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Our 4th trip to NYC next year is in the early planning stages. The Tenement Museum tour looks very interesting & a must to visit & add to our history knowledge of the city. Also very interested in the associated food tour.
Great to hear Keith – yes, the tour is very interesting and connects with the history of NYC in a real way. We have all heard the stories about the waves of immigration and how it contributed to the makeup of NYC, but there is something alive about actually being in the same room and seeing things as they were. The food tour would also be fun, and that area is changing so much you can’t get here fast enough. Enjoy your planning!
We ventured downtown the other day to the Museum. It was as you describe a most fascinating experience to see & learn how the people coped living during that period with only 3 rooms for each family and some having upto 9 children to house. It was a most worthwhile visit.
Keith & Lil