It’s always riveting to be an outsider peering in. As a museum staff member, I always enjoy visiting other museums. This week my colleagues and I visited The Lower East Side Tenement Museum and The Merchant’s House Museum. Being a Mississippi native, these experiences were notable because I acquired more knowledge about the people who helped to shape New York’s rich history.
It was a great pleasure to experience the “Sweatshop Workers” tour. I saw numerous similarities between The Tenement Museum, the Merchant’s House Museum and The Louis Armstrong House Museum. First I noticed that all of the museums are preserved former homes of New York City residents. Another observation is that they are all National Historic Landmarks.
The first stop was The Tenement Museum. It was intriguing to peer into the tiny apartments of those who had sweatshops in their homes during the 19th century. The apartments were cramped with almost unlivable conditions. Many of the tenants who occupied these living quarters were recent immigrants. It was astounding to witness the poor living conditions that they had to endure, just to make ends meet. The tour accurately depicted the lives of the resilient working class families.
The Merchant’s House Museum portrayed the life of The Tredwells, a wealthy family who resided in New York City during the 19th century. Including the basement, the home stood a staggering 5 stories. There were many rooms, some elaborately decorated. The Tredwells lived a lavish lifestyle, which included having multiple live-in servants to accommodate their needs. The house boasted a luxurious garden and an impressive edifice.
My favorite aspect regarding this experience was that I felt as if each setting were preserved in time. Even though the city around these locations changed, the homes still remained true to their places in time. In The Tenement Museum I could almost still hear the constant drilling of the sewing machine in the front room in the apartment, filled with busy workers creating garments. While visiting The Merchant’s House, it was easy for me to imagine the grand parties and funerals that took place in the parlor rooms.
It seems as if The Louis Armstrong House Museum is frozen in time as well. I can easily imagine Louis in the dining room anxiously anticipating red beans and rice that Lucille is preparing in the kitchen. In my mind’s eye it is easy to picture Louis in his den spending countless hours making home recordings and decorating tape covers. It is quite charming that each place allowed me to peer into the daily lives of those who once lived and maneuvered in New York City.