Six Dollars a Week

Six Dollars a Week

In New York, Vanzetti said, “my language meant little more…than the pitiful noises of a dumb animal.” (photo source: Lower East Side Tenement Museum)

The American stories of long-ago immigrants come alive at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum on—where else?—New York’s Lower East Side (www.tenement.org). In a gutsy feat of urban archaeology, planners restored 97 Orchard Street to the way it was at the turn of the twentieth century, when the neighborhood was said to be the most densely populated place on earth. Visitors can enter the rooms where immigrant families once lived—the Gumpertz and Baldizzi families, the Levine and Rogarshevsky families—and hear their stories of hard times and survival.

Bartolomeo Vanzetti came to America in 1908. He landed in New York and stayed there for about a year before striking out in search of work elsewhere. Laboring in a New York restaurant kitchen that year, he earned about six dollars a week washing dishes twelve to fourteen hours a day, with five hours off every other Sunday. He bunked in a garret so hot that he said he preferred to sleep outside in a park at night. To him, 97 Orchard Street would probably have been paradise.

The immigrant lives of Sacco and Vanzetti will be the subject of a Tenement Talk at the museum on November 27. Filmmaker Peter Miller and I will share stories about the men and their controversial criminal case. If you can’t be there in person, watch the event as it’s livestreamed at 6:30 p.m., or catch it later at www.tenement.org/vizcenter_events.php.

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