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For My Museum Visit And Paper

For my museum visit and paper, I visited the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City. The Tenement Museum was founded in 1988 by Anita Jacobson and Ruth J. Abram. The museum’s property, 97 and 103 Orchard Street, was designated a National Historic Landmark on April 19, 1994. The purpose of this groundbreaking museum is to tell stories of working-class immigrants from around the world who settled in the Lower East Side of Manhattan between the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries. The museum held two tenement buildings which were home to approximately fifteen thousand immigrants from over twenty nations. The Tenement Museum preserves a small portion of the history of immigration here in the United States and signifies the impact that immigration has played in the United States as well.

The museum visit was absolutely wonderful and one of a kind. I was given the opportunity to go on a tour of a portion of the tenement museum and I thought the experience was incredibly unique and I’ve never had the opportunity to see something like this before. I chose to visit the Tenement Museum because the experience and concept of immigration in the United States is so fascinating. My parents emigrated to the United States in the late 1980s and in the early 1990s, so this is also something that I thought could be personal to me. I thought that this would be such an engaging tour to me because I have always believed that immigrants were essential to the growth and development of the United States even in its early history. I believe the impact that immigrants have made to our nation has been so beneficial in so many ways. Immigrants have brought a variety of goods, trade, and skills to our nation, some of which was probably unheard of before. Immigrants have also made the United States into such a diverse and accepting nation filled with different racial and ethnic backgrounds, religions, etc. I have taken many history classes in high school learning about immigration, which has most definitely shaped my thoughts regarding immigration today. I have never been told an immigration story as specific as some of the tours in the Tenement Museum, so I decided to expand my knowledge even further in this subject and book the Shop Life tour.

The Tenement Museum’s Shop Life exhibit was very intriguing. I was given the opportunity to explore an immigrant business that was once located at 97 Orchard Street in 19th century Manhattan. The exhibit featured a recreation of an 1870’s German beer saloon called Schneider’s Lager Beer Saloon, that was run by German immigrants, John and Caroline Schneider from 1864 to 1886. They ran the saloon in their own apartment in the tenement building and were known to serve German lager and food. Alcohol consumption was an integral part of daily German customs. Orchard Street was once filled with working class German immigrants who gathered at the Schneider’s saloon to end their day; the area was called Kleindeutschland, or “little Germany”. The saloon was not only a normal bar to just drink; it served as a place of social gathering for entire families. The exhibit featured a bar with tables to sit, decorations, and, of course, fake German food. The exhibit also featured a kitchen just next to the saloon in the apartment where Caroline Schneider would be to cook various German foods such as sausage, stews, cheese platters, and so much more for the guests that come every night.

The topic of German saloons in the United States were very politically controversial at the time. The amount of alcohol consumption that the Germans consumed daily was thought of as being quite skeptical to many Americans and it caused many political debates regarding whether saloons such as Schneider’s should be operating as a business or not. On the Shop Life tour, I learned that many American’s were skeptical about alcohol consumption in the even in the 19th century. I used to believe that Americans were skeptical about it only in the 20th century when the alcohol prohibition was enacted in January of 1920 to 1933; I did not think that alcohol consumption would as much of a debated topic as it was at the time. I learned about the alcohol prohibition my junior year of high school during my AP U.S. History class. I used to think that saloons were only a trend that came about as the prohibition was enacted because the concept of a saloon was so secretive. I also learned that the Schneider’s had to have a signed document approving of their business in order for them to run the saloon. I didn’t think a business needed permission from the government in the 1800s to run a business. I thought that since this was during one of the biggest growth periods in the United States with plenty of immigrants from many countries coming in that many of the businesses weren’t documented since there were so many. Lastly, I never knew that there was a significant German population in New York City. I knew that there was a significant Chinese and Italian immigrant population, but I thought a lot of the German immigrants settled in the mid-west as opposed to the east coast area.

My favorite part of the shop life tour would have to be the technology portion. After the tour around Schneider’s re-created saloon, we went on to the technology portion of the museum visit for the last twenty to thirty minutes. The technology portion of the museum visit featured a sectioned table where one was allowed to place an object belonging to the saloon in a corner and information about that object coming up on the table from a projector underneath. I placed two objects on the table, one of them was a fancy gold vase and a beer jug. I got to learn the history behind the objects placed and their purpose as well. I thought this was definitely the best part of the museum visit because I haven’t seen anything that unique during a museum tour. It was also something that was very unexpected. When I first booked the tickets to visit, I thought we were going to visit just the re-created saloon and learn about its history during the tour of the old-fashioned saloon, but I loved how the museum was able to incorporate something so modern into a museum that was based off of the 19th century.

Another part that I really enjoyed about the exhibit was how accurate the re-creation was. It looked like something I would see in history books, so it felt like I was actually there in the saloon in the 19th century. For example, the kitchen that Mrs. Schneider used to cook did not even have a window, which was something that was common in the 19th century and earlier. The heat and germs from the cooking eventually built up in the kitchen and caused many diseases that even caused Carolyn Schneider to pass away. This was when the American population learned that kitchens need windows to filter out the heat and germs from the constant cooking. In conclusion, I thought that was very interesting to learn about and see in person especially. I wouldn’t change anything about the museum. I thought everything presented was accurately depicted as well as aesthetically pleasing.

As stated before, the location of the Tenement Museum is on 97 and 103 Orchard Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The location is connected to the course regarding Unit II- Week 8 titled, “The New Immigration.” In one of the readings in this lecture from the Ellis Island website it said, “The first Census was underway, and of the 3.9 million people counted, the English were the largest ethnic group. Nearly 20% were of African heritage. German, Scottish and Irish residents were also well represented. Census takers didn’t count Native Americans.” (“Immigration Timeline”, 1) This article kept track of when certain nationalities would immigrate to the United States. When immigrants would come to the United States, they would get off at Ellis Island and settle elsewhere in America. In this case, some of the German population got off the boat from Europe and settled in a nearby area, which was the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I thought this reading was very helpful in understanding the museum visit as well. It gave information on when the Germans arrived to Ellis Island upon settling in the United States, which was in the early 1800s. The reading also stated that the Industrial Revolution had begun in 1820 and was around until 1880. As I was reading this, I assumed that businesses were created by those immigrants based their own customs in Europe, which resulted in the United States gaining new goods/technologies for trade.

My knowledge and background in labor studies most definitely change the lens in which I viewed the museum exhibit. I re-read all of the readings and looked over the power-point from Unit II- Week 8 since it discussed immigration. Through the power-point, I learned that many of the immigrants from the 19th and 20th century were low-wage workers and had strong community ties with those of the same nationality. Going into the museum, from my knowledge, I assumed that the business that was being run would be supported by other immigrants of the same nationality/socioeconomic class. I also assumed that it would be a struggling business, which was run through low-rent places, such as one’s home. Unit II- Week 6 readings also helped me understand the exhibit better. This lecture titled, “Employment Rights and Job Security” has a reading about how low-wage workers are often cheated. “In surveying 4,387 workers in various low-wage industries, including apparel manufacturing, child care and discount retailing, the researchers found that the typical worker had lost $51 the previous week through wage violations, out of average weekly earnings of $339. That translates into a 15 percent loss in pay.” (Greenhouse,1) Through reading this, even though this article pertains to low wage workers in America today, I assumed that especially in an earlier time period that the Schneider’s were given trouble about their saloon business by the American government and concerned American citizens as well.

Overall, I thought this museum visit was absolutely extraordinary. I usually am not impressed by most of past museum visit, so I was surprising that I was intrigued by this one and I thought the information given to me by the tour guide was easy to comprehend. The tenement was also recreated beautifully, so it was nice to appreciate the aesthetic while also learning about the history of immigration in the United States.