Sixteen In The City
(Washington DC USA)
Lower East Side Tenement Museum Irish Family Tour
In 2000, when I was sixteen, my school held a week-long trip to the big apple. We had been studying immigration and among the various touristy things we did, the main reason was to study the old tenement housing projects and Ellis Island.
Myself and nine other girls took the train from Washington D.C., the ride was about four or five hours and there wasn’t much to see as it was winter and very cloudy.
I'll never forget when we got out of the train station and onto the subway. I had never been to New York before and the subway was packed with people, as it turns out, we were there at rush hour. That first subway ride was a shock for all of us, we were pushed in, jostled around and way too close for comfort with the people in that car!
Dragging all of our luggage with us, we took the subway to Columbia University, where our school had arranged for us to stay in one of the dorms. It was a bit unfortunate to not have the experience of staying in a New York City Hotel, but being high school students, staying in the dorm of a university was in itself one of the best things we did, it was a nice taste of the college life that was to come in a couple of years.
NYC in TV and Movies Tour
After settling in, our teacher took us to dinner at the Seinfeld restaurant. We all thought that was really cool as the show was quite popular at the time. As it turns out, our teacher was a TV junkie and throughout the course of the trip would show us places around the city that had been featured in his favorite shows and movies like the Friends apartments and the building in battery park that was where the Men In Black supposedly worked. Yes, it was a little cheesy, but we enjoyed it.
On the first morning in the city, we went to a taping of the Today Show and were standing outside with a big sign saying our school’s name and that we were from D.C. and the most unbelievable thing happened, Al Roker actually came over and talked to our group and we got to be on TV! It was a really exciting start to the day.
After the Today show, we went to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. The tour was really interesting and we all got a strong feeling of what it would have been like to arrive on a boat from a foreign land with practically no possessions. The biggest thing we felt ourselves wondering was what did these people do from here? Where did they end up going or what did they end up doing for work? The answer to that would come the following day.
We spent the next whole day going to various tenement housing projects where the recent immigrants were able to stay for very little money. Some of these were just the dilapidated structures of the buildings and some were museums where the tenement had been restored to what it would have looked like in the early 1900’s.
Rich History on the Lower East Side
The one that stands out in my memory was the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. The building was very authentically restored and from the moment we walked in, we were treated as residents. They put about 15 of us in a room and explained that back then, these would have been our roommates in this tiny shoebox of a room with a bucket for a toilet. It was quite eye opening and I would highly recommend this tour.
We did a lot of these tenement museums, as immigration was the focus of our trip, but we also got to do other things in the city.
Culture and Museums
The Guggenheim and Museum of Natural History were also really fascinating. We had a picnic lunch in Washington Square Park on a really sunny, but chilly, day. We went to the TKTS booth in time square and bought tickets to see Cats on Broadway, which was outstanding, but I actually preferred some of the community theatre shows we went to instead. Some of these were interactive and the whole audience really got into it with no inhibitions. My teacher even went up on stage and did improv with the cast of one.
The shopping was also great, we took a stroll up 5th avenue, but none of us had enough money to buy anything so our teacher took us to Chinatown and some really cool vintage shops on Lexington where we bought everything from souvenirs for the family to clothes and accessories I splurged on a beautiful vintage leather jacket that I still have today.
Giving Back in Central Park
We also spent an afternoon volunteering for the ASPCA and walking dogs in Central Park, it was a great way to see the park and we were doing something good also. I really enjoyed that and wouldn’t do Central Park any other way. I really think that was one of the nicest things we did.
The trip was really educational, which was why we were there, but it was loads of fun too.
Enjoying NY the way Real New Yorkers do!
I think my favorite part was just walking the streets of Manhattan with my friends, having coffee in the little cafes and window shopping. We also learned to love the subway, as it was our main mode of transportation. Things like riding a NYC bus or buying fake Oakley sunglasses form a street vendor, eating a real NYC hot dog and seeing the odd political rally in a park (I think it was Bill Bradley) might sound kind of cheesy, but they were novelties that we all got a kick out of. My only regret is that we weren’t able to go to the Empire State Building as we just ran out of time.
I haven’t been back to New York since but writing this and remembering that great trip with my school is really making me want to go!