There is no Lincoln Highway marker in New York City. Even in 1913, Times Square was more of a ceremonial origination point rather than the beginning of an actual roadway. And yet it made sense then, as it does now, to begin in New York City. This is where so many of the people who built America started out, and that’s a story I want my son to hear as we set out on this transcontinental journey.
Tenement Museum Tour
Before making our way to Times Square, we stopped in the Lower East Side for a guided tour of the Tenement Museum. Actually, I signed us up for two tours–Sweatshop Workers and Irish Outsiders–and I would gladly return for more programs, especially the new Shop Life tour or the Foods of the Lower East Side neighborhood walking tour. Typically, visitors just do one tour, choosing whichever is more relevant to their family history. But I wanted to learn more about both the garment industry and the story of Irish immigrants because of their relevance to other articles that I’m researching.
Both tours are fascinating, focusing on the lives of families who resided at 97 Orchard Street. In the Sweatshop Workers tour we learned about the life of two families whose lives revolved around the garment industry, while the Irish Outsiders tour focused on the tragic story of one of the few Irish families in a predominately German or Eastern European Jewish neighborhood. The building was closed up tight in 1935, laying dormant for 50 years, before being opened up as a museum time capsule. Some apartments, as well as the central wooden staircase, have been preserved exactly as they were left decades ago–one wall showed 22 layers of wallpaper, and 37 layers of peeling paint virtually untouched. Another was autographed by a young Ruth Katz, the signature still there when the elderly woman returned for a tour.
These stories are colorfully brought to life not just by period rooms complete with real and reproduction artifacts, but also by the masterful weaving of history, personal narrative, and sensory details by the guides. Darryl, our guide for the Irish Outsiders tour, painted such a vivid picture of just how rank conditions must have been next to the outhouses where Brigit Moore, the Irish matriarch, did the laundry that I could practically smell it. By the time we were sitting in a room that replicated the room where Bridgit’s baby lay at a funereal wake, we had a good understanding of just how desperate these immigrants were to seek out a better life for their families.
That’s one facet of American history that I hope to discuss with my son as traverse the country on the Lincoln Highway.
Where We Stopped on the Lincoln Highway in New York City
- Tenement Museum – 103 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002. Municipal parking available at Delancey & Essex; 4.50 first hour, $2 additional hours.
- Times Square Museum and Visitor Center – 1560 Broadway (btwn 46th & 47th St.), New York, NY. Travel Tip – Note that the entrance is hard to see behind scaffolding; Participate in annual ritual by adding to the Wishing Wall, written wishes will be added to the confetti to be released on New Year’s Eve in Times Square.
- Shake Shack – 691 8th Ave (at W 44th St) New York, NY 10036 Don’t be intimidated by the lines, these “modern day ‘roadside’ burgers” & shakes are worth waiting for.
For more ideas and tips on what to do in New York City with kids, check out our New York City Guide which includes New York City with Kids: Fun and Educational Things To Do, Family-friendly Hotels and Restaurants, and More!, a collection of posts by family travel experts.
Disclosure – The Tenement Museum provided a complimentary tour for the purposes of this review.