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Exploring the 19th-Century Rooms (and Ruins) of the Tenement Museum

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All photos by Scott Lynch

The Tenement Museum offered one of its rare "Snapshot" tours last night, allowing visitors to not only walk into every apartment on all five floors of the great old 1863 building, but also take pictures throughout, breaking the institution's usual "no-photos" rule. The cost was $30, it included an excellent spread from Russ & Daughters and Economy Candy, and it lasted about 90 minutes.

As always in the Tenement Museum, the Snapshot tours were guided, and because there were about six groups of a dozen people each moving through the space at once, our time within each apartment and hallway area was strictly limited and tightly enforced.

Which was fine! Our guide Renee did a nice job giving a quick overview of each home—who had lived here, and during which era from the 1860s through the 1930s—rather than the detailed story you usually get when you spend the entire tour in one room. And as cool as it is to explore these old homes completely furnished in period detail, the areas still in ruins have almost as interesting a story to tell, as you can see the layers of wallpaper, paint, various renovations, and flooring.

Among the apartments we visited: the 1870s German saloon of John and Caroline Schneider in the building's storefront level; the Irish-Catholic Moore's family home, circa 1869, a time when there were very few Irish in the neighborhood; the Levine's apartment, which doubled as a garment workshop at the turn of the 20th century; the Rogarshevsky's home, staged as it would have been on the Sabbath, from the same era; and the Italian-Catholic Baldizzi apartment, where they lived during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

It's a lot to take in, especially if you're photographing like crazy at the same time, but the Snapshot tour is a terrific way to get a look at the entire building in one evening, as you can see from the pictures here.—Scott Lynch