Lower East Side Tenement Museum | NYC Museums
A guided tour is the only way into the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, a five-floor landmark 1863 tenement with apartments that have been decorated to recall the lives of actual residents. This NYC Museums purpose is to promote tolerance, reminding visitors of the challenges facing modern-day immigrants by presenting the struggles faced by those in the past.
Guides encourage discussion and often begin a tour by asking visitors about their own ethnic roots—and whether any of their ancestors passed through Ellis Island or lived on the Lower East Side. Groups cluster in the narrow tenement's dim, crumbling, and surprisingly ornate entryway before heading upstairs to visit select apartments.
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Choose to learn about the trials of the Levines and Rogarshevskys, who worked in the garment industry, or about the experiences of the Gumpertz and the Baldizzi families during the Panic of 1873 and Great Depression of 1929. The family-friendly Confino Apartment tour allows children to touch things, try on clothes, and pester the “costumed interpreter” who plays a teenage Sephardic-Jew from Greece, and greets visitors as if they were immigrants just landed in America.
The museum offers three distinct guided tours: “Piecing It Together: Immigrants in the Garment Industry” (also available in Spanish); “Getting By: Weathering the Great Depressions of 1873 and 1929”; and “The Confino Family Living History.” While focusing on different ethnic groups and time periods, the tours cover much of the same ground—a brief history of Manhattan and immigration, tenement conditions and regulations, and the challenges of adjusting to American life, supplemented by personal anecdotes and artifacts. If you only have time for one tour and want the broadest overview, opt for “Getting By” (call in advance to arrange a sign language tour).
Stop here to purchase tickets for the guided tour, but be sure to carve out extra time for the fabulous browsing: black-and-white historic postcards, journals, kids’ toys, hip souvenirs, and a slew of books on New York, cultural studies, urban studies, Judaica, travel, cooking, and more. Still have time to kill? A History Channel video on immigration plays continuously in an adjoining room. The gift shop is open Mon.—Fri., 11 a.m.—6 p.m.; Sat.—Sun., 10:45 a.m.—6 p.m.
In addition to the tenement tours, the museum has organized the “Neighborhood Walking Tour,” a walking tour of the Lower East Side that takes place from April through December.
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