Lower East Side Tenement Museum: Nerdy Family Dream

If you’ve never been to NYC and are interested in checking out museums, please do start with the Met (the Egyptian part is my favorite) and the Museum of Natural History (make sure to see the butterflies).

If you have been to both of those museums, then I might suggest two of my favorite NYC museums: The Frick Collection and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

The Frick is this dude’s (Henry Clay Frick) ginormous house built back in the day when you could build a ginormous house in Manhattan. Mr. Frick collected art and his home still features some kick ass European art (eg: Bellini’s St. Francis in Ecstasy) as well as his opulent furnishings. It’s pretty cool. I wish I could move into the Frick. Great location – right next to Central Park.

My recently discovered new favorite museum in Manhattan is the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

I’ve lived in NYC for 8.5 years now and have heard about the museum, but have never checked it out. To be honest, I thought it was just going through the tenement to look at it and marvel at how so many people lived in a tiny space.

News flash: It is so much cooler than that.

There are 5-7 distinctly different tours approaching families/residents who lived in the tenement at different time periods. You get a peek at what New York City and, further, the Lower East Side was like at that time, what challenges the residents faced, and what happened to them once they moved from the tenement.

And, another news flash: All of us NYC-ers are actually living in tenements as defined by the city of New York…unless you are living in your own single, family home in the city.

Anyways, my mom, sister, and I did the “Hard Times” Tour AND discussion. Most tours are 1 hour, but if you’re like us and include the discussion, you up the ante to 2 hours.

Without sounding too nerdy, the discussion encourages you to think about the different situations of the family’s lives you explore and, in turn, to express and discuss those opinons. Topics on our tour ranged from what defines an American citizen now vs in that day and age, what you would have done as a women in 187x and your husband left you and you have 4 children to feed, and what our previous thoughts on a tenement were versus after the tour.

And, best of all, there are no wrong answers! It’s like rounds [in the hospital], but you can’t say anything wrong.

My family is going to go back when they come to NYC for my graduation. The Smiths do nerdy well. We own it.

If the discussion ain’t your thing, I do think the tours themselves still give you a lot of historical information and food for thought.

And, if that ain’t your thing (thinking), well, then, don’t go.


Until next time…

P.S. One reason the Egyptian part of the Met is my favorite is because I loved Sesame Street’s “Don’t Eat the Pictures” Movie back in the day — you know the one where they get trapped in the Met overnight and Big Bird befriends this Egyptian Prince who lives in the museum (in the Temple of Dendur that resides in the museum, duh) with his cat and his parents are stars in the sky and he cannot join them until his heart is lighter than a feather? Yeah, classic stuff there.

P.P.S. I always wanted to be trapped in or live in the Met as a kid– the above movie and the book “From the Mixed Up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” must have really struck a chord with me


9 thoughts on “Lower East Side Tenement Museum: Nerdy Family Dream

  1. I found it ironic and somewhat appropriate that I passed out in this museum when we visited when I wa like 14. But I’ve been back and I guess my tolerance has improved due to te fact that I actually live in one now! Also, I loveee their museum store – so many great books.

  2. Sue and I are down there allot, after go to Russ and Daughters for the most fantastic bagel with lox. Take your time there are so many lox to choose from. My dad used to go to them when he was a kid. By the way, as for going again, love to, I grew up in one on Thompson street off of Spring street, when my dad and his parents came to NYC they live in one on Essex and Grand street.

  3. OMG I LOVED the book “from the mixed up files…” when I was a kid too! I’ve never been to any of the museums in NYC but my favorite museum from DC is the Hirshhorn art museum. I also loved the Valley Forge National Historical Park just outside Philly.

  4. I LOVE the Tenement Museum! I grew up on the LES so I first went there in elementary school, but have since gotten even nerdier about NYC history and have been on almost all of the TM tours. I interned at the Frick Collection two years ago and never got tired of walking through the galleries, such a beautiful place. I love that the two museums are in such stark contrast and really represent the Uptown/Downtown dichotomy of the city in the early 1900s. One that I haven’t been to yet is the Merchant’s House Museum which is a Washington Square townhouse preserved from 1830s, that’s on my list to hit next!

  5. My favorite museums are the Cortauld Collection at Somerset House in London, also the Wallace Collection at Hertford House in Manchester Square, London…both as much for their location and atmosphere as the art.

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