On October 16, the Mennonite Heritage Center is sponsoring a unique one day tour to New York City to visit the Tenement Museum and learn the stories of immigrants on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. The tour leader is Harry Anselmo, who has a personal connection to these stories.
On July 6, 1900, 20-year-old Antonina Sanfratello disembarked from the Spartan Prince after several weeks on the Atlantic Ocean. She was likely met by her brother Matteo who came to New York a few years earlier. After she cleared inspection at Ellis Island, “Nina” traveled to the tenement house at 242 Elizabeth Street that she would share with her brother, uncle and aunt and several of their children for the next two years. In 1903 Nina would marry Giovanni Anselmo, move to New Jersey, and begin a family that would total eight children, twelve grandchildren and many great and great-great grandchildren. Nina and Giovanni were Harry’s grandparents. This is not just Harry’s family story, but the story of many of us, our neighbors, friends and the people we interact with daily.
Elizabeth Street, 1912 (photo by Lewis Wickes Hine) and a room at the Tenement Museum.
A few blocks away lies the Tenement Museum, which once housed nearly 7,000 working class immigrants between 1863 and 1935 as one of many residences for impoverished immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Sicily and Russia. Its mission is to “preserve and interpret the history of immigration through the personal experiences of the generations of newcomers who settled in and built lives on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.” Our tour will begin here, as we explore the first American home of many of the impoverished European immigrants who built the infrastructure of our cities, mined the mines that would supply our fuel, and farmed the land that gave us food. We will visit one of the apartments, hear the stories of the typical residents and form connections that will “enhance appreciation for the role that immigration has played and continues to play in shaping America’s evolving national identity.”
After our visit to the museum, we will take a 2-hour guided “Foods of the Lower East Side” walking tour of the neighborhood. Although we will not enter any buildings, we will be sharing in the immigrant experience by tasting dumplings, fried plantains, crème puffs and more as we learn how immigrant foods have shaped American cuisine. We will see how life was forever altered on the Lower East Side and how the neighborhood has changed with each new wave of immigrants. After the tour, we will eat an early dinner at an ethnic restaurant in the area.
Some logistics to think about while considering this tour: The museum (except for the first floor) is not “handicapped accessible.” There are no elevators in the tenement houses in NYC and the museum is as authentic as they come. Our tour will be on the second floor, about 12-13 steps. While the walking/food tour is two hours long, we will not be entering any buildings, so dress according to the weather expectations on that day. Wheelchairs should be able to navigate this portion of our tour.
Travel will be by Hagey Coach, boarding at 6:45 am and leaving from the Hagey Bus Terminal, 210 Schoolhouse Road, Souderton, at 7 am and returning at 6 pm. The tour cost is $140 ($130 member) and covers travel, gratuities and admission fees. Dinner cost is not included. Registration is limited. Please register by September 25, 2017.