Fairytale of New York?

November 18, 2011 · 2 comments

in Acquisitions,Collections,Printed books

Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side of Manhattan

Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side of Manhattan

by Justin Furlong, Acquisitions Librarian

I recently returned from a visit to New York. One of the highlights of the trip was a tour of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum which tells the stories of immigrants who lived at 97 Orchard Street, a tenement built in 1863 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. 97 Orchard Street was home to an estimated 7,000 people from over 20 nations, between 1863 and 1935.

I took the guided tour of the apartment of the Irish family of Joseph & Bridget Moore, who emigrated to New York from Ireland in the early 1860s. They met and married in New York and initially lived at 65 Mott Street in the notorious Five Points area (as depicted in Martin Scorsese’s film Gangs of New York). Joseph and Bridget later settled in the relatively more prosperous Lower East Side, an area known as Kleindeutschland because of its predominantly German immigrant population. However within a few months of moving to Orchard Street, the Moores were visited by tragedy as their infant daughter, Agnes, died of marasmus or malnutrition.

The tour certainly brought home the real hardships endured by Irish emigrants to the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Having returned to work I wondered what literature about the Irish emigrant experience in New York and America might be available here in the National Library. Quite a lot was the answer, particularly in the Stephen Griffin Collection. This collection is constantly growing, nurtured by an ongoing donation from Mr Stephen Griffin, reflecting the history, experience and printed output of the Irish-American diaspora.

From Mrs Mahoney of the Tenement by Louise Montgomery, 1912. Illustrated by Florence Scovel Shinn.  NLI Ref. GR 3346

From Mrs Mahoney of the Tenement by Louise Montgomery, 1912. Illustrated by Florence Scovel Shinn. NLI Ref. GR 3346

It seems that the New York tenement experience was a source of inspiration for a number of fiction writers. Works such as The Angel of the Tenement by George Madden Martin (1897); Mrs Mahoney of the Tenement by Louise Montgomery (1912); and Jacob A. Riis’s short story, ‘What the Christmas Sun saw in the Tenements’ in Christmas Stories (1923) reflect that experience. Irish writer Joseph O’Connor has recently added to that tradition by fictionalising the Moore family story in What might have been: An Irish family at 97 Orchard Street (currently being catalogued). We have all of these titles here at the National Library.

One final bit of conjecture. It is known that Joseph Moore came from Dublin. While no census records survive from this period the Thom’s Almanac and Dublin Directory of 1859 lists a Joseph Moore of Parliament Row as working in a Pawnbroker’s Salesroom. Could this be the same man who was shortly to leave for New York?

Entry for one Joseph Moore, Parliament Row, Dublin in Thom’s Almanac and Dublin Directory, 1859

Entry for one Joseph Moore, Parliament Row, Dublin in Thom’s Almanac and Dublin Directory, 1859

Bean an Phoist adds:  If you click on The Angel of the Tenement or Mrs Mahoney of the Tenement, you can read either (or both!) books online via our catalogue, and thanks to the Hathi Trust.

Leave a Comment

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

frank O'connell December 2, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Wonderful, fascinating and poignant stuff. Next time in New York will definitely visit.
Interesting that the first immigrant to be admitted to the Ellis Island Centre was Irish, a very young Annie Moore. I think Ellis Island was only opened in the 1890′s so unlikely to be the same family but who knows.

Reply

Dónall Ó Luanaigh November 23, 2011 at 11:09 pm

Justin,

Read your piece on New York with great interest and liked especially your showing the relevance of the Stephen Griffin collection with its many works on and by the Irish diaspora.

Reply

Previous post:

Next post: