New York in 1900 was a city of immigrants, the gateway for immigration from Europe. Newcomers tended to settle in neighborhoods where they could preserve some of the customs and traditions of their homelands. So there were neighborhoods that were primarily Polish and east European, others that were primarily Italian. The lower east side was home to a predominantly Jewish population. Each of these cultures and nationalities contributed to the vibrant mosaic of New York City, but they also formed little cities within the great City.
Journey back in time today on this market day and browse the stalls. Look at the clothes and groceries for sale in this open air market that goes all the way down the street. Hunt for bargains and try to get the best deal on the latest gadget for the home, or delicacy. Imagine the vibrant sounds, the laughter of happy people, and the haggling of merchants and customers.
Look closely at this color photograph from 1900 and see the life of a great city flowing by:
A closeup showing greater detail of the street scene. We can make out the kids scampering around the stalls, the women in pretty dresses shopping for deals, and the well dressed men, all captured in a moment in time this beautiful day in 1900 New York.
Now look at the buildings on each side of the street. Some are finely constructed, while others seem run down. The housing conditions for new immigrants, in crowded, expensive New York were not always ideal.
View of the apartment buildings along the street. Colorful awnings and drapes can be seen.
So now it is time to end our tour of 1900 New York and this lovely market. I hope that you found what you were looking for.
Join me on a visit to 1909 and come inside this New York tenement apartment, a dirty rundown hovel which is the home of this poor family. I am sorry that we are not able to bring anything to repay her hospitality. Our time machine only allows us to observe what life is like. We cannot change or make it better.
It is a life that is a world away from the bright lights and optimism of the Belle Epoque. For this woman, a widow with 4 children ranging in age from an infant to a young teenager, life is non-stop hard work. She is lucky to be able to support her family with the kind of low paying work that many women took on in those days, because it allowed them to stay at home with the children.
Here the mother is rolling a mountain of cigarets. One after another, for pennies a dozen. Her little baby is in her arms and she has mastered the art of holding it while her hands automatically roll cigarette after cigarette. In her mind, she is counting how many she has made so far, and she knows that she must make even more if they are going to be able to pay the rent and afford to eat.
Her oldest son is helping. He is not as fast as her yet, but he is learning and hopefully, soon, the youngest ones will be able to help as well.
Notice the dirty floor, tattered walls, the dirty malnourished children. There is no radio, no television, just bleak walls with chipping paint and piles and piles of papers to roll and a calendar reminding you when the next rent is due.