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Tuesday, April 3, 2001

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Macys and tenements

We did some sightseeing today. First, I wanted to go to Macys to see the wooden escalators. They are so nice. They are metal on the lower floors but then the steps become wooden. Wow! They are so interesting. The walls of the escalators are wooden also. We went up the ones that are open to the floors but came down in ones that have their own escalator shaft and there is more wooden workmanship here. I heard about these on a forum and put them on my must see list for NYC.

We spent some time going up and then down the escalators as I stopped to take pictures and go how cool. Lisa looked at shoes, they have a lot of shoes, but didn't find what she wanted. It wasn't too busy and Lisa said she had never seen it with so few people. We must have hit it just right, middle of the week, late morning, etc. I was glad that the escalators were empty so I could take pictures.

Then we took the subway down to the lower east side to go through the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. You have to go on a tour and it was going to be an hour and a half for ours so we walked around looking for a place to eat. The fast foods were so busy we ate on a wide street median close to the museum that had benches. I wondered why the median was there as it didn't seem like a real park and we found out later on our tour that an el ran above this strip and the median was the only reminder.

We still had time so we walked to the Williamsburg bridge and took the steps up to the wooden pedestrian/bike path. There were several other people and bikes on it and I guess people use it to commute. They were working on the bridge so we didn't know if you could walk all the way across right now. We walked back to the museum along some back streets. There is quite a mix of styles and upkeep.

The tour of the tenement was great. They have restored several areas back to what they were when they were lived in from 1864 to 1934, when it was sealed as the landlord could not afford to upgrade it to comply with the laws that had come into effect. This is what kept it like it was till it could become a museum. Only one room per apartment had a window. Later laws caused "windows" to be cut in the walls so that light and air could get into the two inner rooms. There were only privies in the yard till 1905, next to the water faucet, which was probably part of the reason for the high infant death in this area.

The guide, an excellent one, took us through three apartments and related the stories of three families who had lived here at different times. The curators have made these stories as accurate as possible by searching public records, census records, etc. Some of the descendents of the people have also contributed pictures and remembrances. Some of the descendents sought out the museum when they heard of the museum and volunteered to help make the recreations as accurate as possible. The wallpaper was duplicated and people who lived here as children helped them find furniture that matched as much as possible the original furnishings.

It was very, very interesting. You often just hear horror stories about tenement dwellers but while the conditions were what we would consider apalling, the people still had lives rich in family and friends. Many of the children remember this as a time spent among loving families. The guide said this area had one of the most dense populations in the world. It's still an area for newly arriving people though now they are puerto rican or chinese rather than german or irish.

We met Joel, Lisa's boyfriend, for supper at a little macrobiotic restaurant. It was nice to see Joel again and we had a relaxing meal. The food was very good which is not always the case with macrobiotic food. Often health food people seem to think that the nutritiousness of the food should make up for the lack of (or worse) taste. I'm not sure what I ate but it was yummy. We had gotten there fairly early but when we left there were quite a few people waiting.

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Rachel Aschmann 2001.
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