________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 13 . . . . March 1, 2002

cover 97 Orchard Street, New York: Stories of Immigrant Life.

Linda Granfield. Photographs by Arlene Alda.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2001.
56 pp., pbk., $16.99.
ISBN 0-88776-580-8.

Subject Headings:
Immigrants-New York (State)-New York-History
Tenement houses-New York (State)-New York-History

Grades 5 and up / Ages 10 and up.

Review by Alexander Gregor.

*** /4


For decades before Liberty's torch shone on the waters of New York harbor, they came by the thousands across the sea. Frightened, confident, hopeful, seasick, they clutched their many children, few belongings, and countless memories and stepped into America.

For many immigrants, life in the land of promise meant crowded living conditions and a daily struggle to survive. While some were defeated by the misery, others carried on to build a new and better life for themselves and their children in their adopted land. To this day, immigrants continue the voyage of hope and life of determination.

Turn the doorknob and enter the darkened hall of 97 Orchard Street, New York. Its stairways echo with the voices, sobs, and laughter of the thousands of immigrants who made the long journey from their past into their future. Here are some of their stories our stories.

97 Orchard Street, New York offers the rather unusual phenomenon of a biography of a building. The brief but large-format (8 .5" by 11") publication is in essence a prospectus for the recently established Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York. 97 Orchard Street was one of the countless tenement houses that provided the first lodging for the flood of immigrants entering the New World during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The researchers working on the development of the Tenement Museum determined that over the generations arriving between 1863 and 1935, more than 7000 people from some twenty different countries made their home at 97 Orchard Street. In recreating two of the tenement suites, the museum has provided a look inside the day-to-day existence of the families who started their new lives in the small, dark and airless rooms in the midst of an immigrant ghetto: accommodations which initially had neither indoor plumbing nor electric power. The book itself focuses on four representative families: the Gumpertz, the Confinos, the Rogarshevskys, and the Baldizzis.

inside photo

          The book, itself, is a particularly effective collaboration between an award-winning author and an award-winning photographer. The text is richly interspersed with black-and-white photographs, which succeed in giving a sense of immediacy both to the four representative families, and to the larger immigrant community in which they lived. Photographs provide details of the rooms and artifacts of daily life as they existed at the time, and make even more powerful the well crafted written details of their lives and experiences. The reader is left with a deep appreciation of the trials and difficulties faced by the immigrant families, and with an even deeper appreciation of their optimism and tenacity.

     Of interest as well is the discussion of the development of the museum, itself, which is the first such tenement conversion in the United States (where it has now been designated a national historic landmark). The museum is more than a display; it is also a focus of continuing community engagement - a notion that has intriguing implications for Canada as well. The setting for this particular study is, of course, American. But the North American immigrant experience was not unique to New York, and 97 Orchard leaves the reader with an appreciation of that experience and of the role that immigrant experience had in shaping the society of both countries. Given the interest the stories are sure to stir, it is only unfortunate that the book does not include a bibliography for further reading.


Alexander Gregor is a Professor of Higher Education, University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364