Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Window Into Time

I found a great resource while searching online last night: The History Box, which has a trove of information on immigration and immigrant groups in NYC.

Most fascinating was a photo archive taken from Jacob Riis' book, "How The Other Half Lives," which focused on the "plight of the poor" in the Lower East Side.  It was a collection of photographs and drawings based on photographs, made possible "due to the recent invention of magnesium flash" which made it possible for him to "venture into the dimly lit areas of tenements and document the wretched conditions in which the 'other half' lived and worked."

This photo (above) is of a tenement apartment in 1910.  Imagine a whole family living out their lives in this one room.  It seems unfathomable, even by today's standards, with urban legends of people renting out closets in NYC (not so much an urban legend - I once went to look at a room for rent in the West Village and it was indeed a closet with a tri-fold door and no natural light....but that's another story.)

Apparently, the work "shocked most wealthy New Yorkers who had no idea such a world existed within a few miles of their own opulent neighborhoods."

This photo (to the right) is credited to Jessie Tarbox Beals photo (Community Service Society, 105 E 22nd St., NY, NY 10010). It is a mother and her children in a tenement kitchen in 1915, just two years before our play takes place. 

As I start crafting a script based on the research I've done (and knowing that there is far more still to do), it's amazing to be able to see into this world.

I have been to The Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side (one of the best museums I've ever been to - check it out!) but it's not quite the same as actually being able to peer into that history, to see people going about their daily lives in the photographs.

It is a testament to what these families were willing to sacrifice, all for the sake of having hope in a better tomorrow, a better future.  

Are we willing to sacrifice this much?

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