I took my favorite person to Fantastic Beasts the other day. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ve likely seen the movie as well. What you might have missed was a brief shot of a street sign that read Orchard Street. This is where Jacob Kowalski lived in a tenement on intersecting Rivingston Street. If the street sign didn’t stand out to you, then you might have also missed how incredibly historically accurate this scene was.
Orchard Street was where the old world met the new in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The street was a teeming thoroughfare of ethnic shops, pushcarts and vendors. The scene in the movie of a bustling market street complete with carts, automobiles, and even the elevated train in the background are entirely accurate. This was a hot bed for immigrants and second-generation Americans to make their way in America.
Orchard Street was especially known for its Jewish heritage as the Lower East Side contained a large Jewish population. You’ll notice in the photo on the left the Yiddish on the signs. This is a woman selling cakes at 164 Orchard Street. It is certain a similar scene could be found throughout the hamlet of the Lower East Side.
Languages and traditions collided on the Lower East Side and from this melting pot sprang a host of establishments that catered to certain Old World traditions. Most are related to food traditions as food was the center of most communal gathering. Food was a means for immigrants to gather to remember the old ways, but to also help new immigrants assimilate into American culture.
In the next few weeks, I’ll be taking a look at several such establishments as they impact the writing of my current work in progress, a historical fiction book set in 1926 New York City. So come on a journey with me to the Lower East Side.
Yes, I’m recommending a movie in the read on section, because movies and fiction stories are often the gateway for encouraging a love of history in young people. Share this story with the young ‘uns in your life and promote a love of the past (and magic!).