Lower East Side Tenement Museum

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum interprets America’s urban immigrant history through guided walking tours and the preservation of historic buildings on New York’s Lower East Side.

Internship Spring 2012

Claire Wolford: Interning at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum has been a tremendously interesting endeavor. I’ve worked on a project unlike anything I’ve ever attempted before. The Tenement Museum, currently located at just 97 Orchard Street, has recently purchased 103 Orchard Street and has plans to make apartments in that building exhibits much like the ones they currently run, except focusing on the stories of immigrants from the Post-WWII period. Plans include telling the story of a family of Holocaust survivors who lived in the building in the 1950s, the story of a family who emigrated from China in the 1970s, as well as a Puerto Rican immigrant apartment from the 1980s.

My final project has focused on the challenge of interpreting two families’ stories in one large apartment. Both the Epstein family, the Holocaust survivors, and the Lau family, the Chinese immigrants, at one point lived in Apartment 7 on the third floor of 103 Orchard Street. Since their story is so tied to that unique space, I’ve been researching and writing about how that space might have been used by both families and what might be some themes that tie these two seemingly very different groups together.

Its been a really interesting thinking process. I’ve been doing research and writing in a way that I’ve never gotten to do before and its been rewarding. Telling a story in a house museum is tied to the physical layout, the furnishings plan, and the items in the rooms, so I’ve started writing about how specific things might lead to discussions about broad historical themes. Interpreting the kitchen so it might look like it did for the Epstein family could be a good spot to talk about keeping Kosher and why the Epsteins might have chosen the Lower East Side specifically because it would be easier to keep Kosher there. A bedroom with more than one mattress is a good way to show visitors how cramped the apartment would have been for the Lau family in the 1970s when all nine of them were living in the same apartment. Writing this exhibit proposal has given me the opportunity to explore the connection between narrative and object further in a way I find very useful.

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