NYC museum shares love stories of early immigrants
Immigrant life in New York City at the turn of the 20th century could be tough — but there was always room for love.
In time for Valentine’s Day, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum will share rarely told love stories of several former tenants who lived in the cramped conditions of a tenement building at 97 Orchard St.
The special “Love at the Tenement” tours will be offered at the building, now a museum, on Feb. 12.
The evening tours will take visitors inside the third-floor apartment of Fannie and Abraham Rogarshevsky, a Lithuanian couple who shared their claustrophobic quarters with six children. To help make ends meet, they took in a 20-year-old boarder, Morris Cohen, a Polish immigrant who made a living selling pots and pans.
That wasn’t unusual. In 1900, 10 out of the 20 households at 97 Orchard had boarders, with some taking in two or more. The situation often added more strain on already challenging living conditions, according to the museum, located inside the restored four-story tenement building that housed 7,000 working-class immigrants between 1863 and 1935.
But in the Rogarshevsky household, the tight space brought love to their eldest daughter, Bessie, a garment worker. Bessie and Cohen married and moved across the street. Later, they moved to the Bronx, where they had three children.
All went well for a while until … To find out — and learn more about the love stories of other former tenants — visitors will have to take the tour.
The museum will also share its 1993 discovery of a love letter on the building’s first floor. Much about the missive remains a mystery, including who wrote it, because part of it is cut off. But it’s believed to date to the 1910s or 1920s. It reads in part: “Nobody can keep us apart … I’ll give the usual whistle, pack — suitcase and we’ll elope … Your own only-est.”
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