I was thrilled to be able to stay in a real tenement in New York earlier this month. However, I purchased the book, How the Other Half Lives, by Jacob A. Riis, at the Tenement Museum, and found how sad life in these buildings really was. I almost did not buy the book after glancing at the photos he took over 100 years ago to illustrate his points. The filth and poverty is unimaginable. The Blue Moon Hotel is built in a "newer" tenement, dating from 1879. There had been reforms by then, the most important was providing air ducts into the bedrooms. I realized my hotel room had two of these, one in the now shower. Here is the other:
So my room would have had two small bedrooms and a living room/kitchen that looked out on Orchard Street. The beam in the ceiling is likely the divider between these. The "inside" windows may have let in a bit of stale air and virtually no light, but this was an improvement on the closets which served as bedrooms in the older buildings that had no air or light.
History can be very sad, and thinking about the lives of immigrants who came to this country with high hopes of escaping poverty and starvation, only to live in these conditions is heartbreaking. It is no wonder some turned to lives of crime, and it is no wonder children died at such a high rate.