Below, two educators at Manhattan’s Lower East Side Tenement Museum share their experiences giving the Museum’s Getting By tour, which includes a particularly poignant 9/11 story.
The Museum, which shares the histories of working-class, immigrant families who called the tenement home from 1864 to 1935, strives to open up dialogue around themes like labor, religion, and identity. One tour focuses on two different families, Gumpertz and Baldizzi, struggling to survive during times of economic crises. The Gumpertz family, who lived through the Great Panic of 1873, faced a particularly tough blow: one morning in 1874, the father, Julius Gumpertz, left for work and did not return home. He was never seen or heard from again. His wife, Natalie, had to find a way to support her children, eventually thriving as a dressmaker. She survived both the financial crisis and the disappearance of her husband.
The story doesn’t end there, though, as Museum visitors might expect. Echoes sound down the years and into the 21st century, where it is September 11, 2001, and a Gumpertz descendent, Frank Reisman, also leaves for work and does not return home. He was one of many whose lives were lost in the World Trade Center attacks.
His story is a continuation of the family’s story, and including it is a choice the museum made to open up broader avenues for understanding and meaningful exchange. Below, Nick Capodice and Clare Burson share what this choice means to them as museum educators.
9/11 in Kleindeutschland
By Nick Capodice
Lower East Side Tenement Museum
I used to dread discussions about September 11th. I disliked feeling the necessity to be utterly reverent, of constantly tiptoeing on NYC eggshells. Even more, I didn’t want to hear any more stories. New York is a town full of storytellers – how someone lost a friend, how someone was supposed to be in the building but chose that day to play hooky, how the streets smelled.
So when I started working at the Museum and heard that September 11th was incorporated into the content of Getting By, my favorite tour, I was terrified.
September 11, 2001 and What Connects the Past, Present, and Future
By Clare Burson
Lower East Side Tenement Museum
Before I became an educator at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, I was a visitor there, filing into the 147-year-old tenement building with 14 other people.
The educator that day, Katie Barnard, painted a particularly stark and vivid picture of what life was like for the Gumpertzes, explaining how the economic and social upheaval brought on by the Great Panic of 1873 contributed to the partial undoing of the family. Katie deftly wove in strands of success and hope, telling us how Natalie managed to support her family after Julius’ disappearance. Katie also passed around photographs of Julius and Natalie’s descendants – introducing great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren, and even their great-great-great-grandchildren.
If I hadn’t already been moved sufficiently by the story at this point, the educator then revealed that Julius’ great-great-grandson, Frank Reisman, also left for work one morning and did not come home at the end of the day.
This post is also available in: Spanish