The Tenement Museum, Where the History is Revived

By Duan Liu

Time pauses at nineteenth century inside the Tenement Museum. Different layers of the wallpapers reveals the long and rich stories happened here, indicating the layers of human history of early immigrants in New York. There are still cutlery, bread and dresses in the living room, like its hostess Nathalie Gumpertz would come back at any moment.

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Nathalie Gumpertz was one of the 7,000 working class immigrants who lived in 97 Orchard Street, a humble, multiple family building in 19thcentury. The building was later purchased by two female historians as an exhibition of the Tenement Museum. They kept the aging wood staircases as well as the doodles on the walls. In addition, they collected different objects such as suitcase and FDR portrait to display in the apartment in order to revive immigrants’ daily life here. Officially opened in 1992, the Tenement Museum preserves the history of this building and, as its spokesman David Favaloro said, “tells the story about how the America constitute itself as a nation of immigrants.”

This German-Jewish Gumpertz family lived here in 1870s. During the economic depression, the husband abandoned the family, leaving Nathalie alone to support herself and three daughters. This was not uncommon at that time. In “Jewish Daily Forward”, the most popular Jewish newspaper at that time, there was even a column called “Missing Husband”. Through later research work, Tenement Museum found that after the husband has left, Natalie made a living by making dress for the landlords or other richer class who can afford costumes. Following the German immigration population, the Gumpertz family moved to Yorkfield later in 1886 two years after Nathalie died.

Even though it’s hard to find more details about this family, the Tenement Museum tried to complete its story for the visitors through different ways. Recently, after all the census are digitalized, Tenement Museum, with help from several genealogists, found that the missing husband of the Gumpertz family ended up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and spent his last 25 years in a local Jewish old age home.

While enriching the existing exhibition, the Tenement Museum also aims to expand and reveals stories of immigrants who came different culture background. Recently, The House Committee on Natural Resources approved its expansion at 103 Orchard Street.  “We’ll use the homes in which real people actually lived to provide accounts of the largest Puerto Rican community on the American mainland and the largest Chinatown in the Western hemisphere,” Morris Vogel, the President of the Museum, says, “their stories tell about the people we’ve become”.

 

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